I recently read an article that conducted a study on high school sport specialization and the risk for lower extremity injuries. It was conducted with 29 high schools in Wisconsin and it involved 1500 students equally divided, male and female.

The study states that student-athletes that specialize in one sport had a 46% increased chance to sustain a lower extremity injury than student-athletes who did not specialize 24%. Plus, the specialized student-athletes had a 60% increased chance at sustaining a new lower extremity injury.

The most common type of previous injuries were ligament sprains (51%) and muscle/tendon strains (20%) to the ankle (43%) and knee (23%). New injuries occurred most often to the ankle (34%), knee (25%), and upper leg (13%), with the most common injuries being ligament sprains (41%), muscle/tendon strains (25%), and tendonitis (20%). 

Thirty-four (34) percent of the student-athletes involved in the Wisconsin study specialized in one sport, with females (41%) more likely to specialize than males (28%). Soccer had the highest level of specialization for both males (45%) and females (49%). After soccer, the rate of specialization for females was highest for softball (45%), volleyball (43%), and basketball (37%). The top specialization sports for males after soccer were basketball (37%), tennis (33%), and wrestling (29%).

The study asked several questions to determine what was considered “specialization” in one sport along with indicating 50% participated on a club team outside the school setting, and 15 percent of those individuals did so while simultaneously competing in a different sport within the school. Seventeen (17) percent of the student-athletes indicated that they took part in 60 or more primary sport competitions (school and club) in a single year. Among those student-athletes in this group who sustained new lower-extremity injuries during the year, 27 percent were athletes who specialized in one sport.

What are your thoughts on early specialization in one sport?