School of Education News

UW-Madison researchers examine what young athletes think about sports specialization

May 31, 2018

A team of UW-Madison researchers published a new article in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine examining the attitudes and beliefs of young athletes who specialize in one sport, including thoughts on whether or not such efforts are likely to lead to a college scholarship.

The article is titled, “Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs of Youth Club Athletes Toward Sport Specialization and Sport Participation.”

The study indicates that most youth athletes surveyed for the report believe that specialization in a sport increases their performance and ability to make not only a college team, but also their high school squad. Highly specialized athletes were also more likely to believe that they will receive a college scholarship.

Nosbusch_soccer09_3975Alison Brooks, with UW-Madison’s Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, is the lead author, while co-authors Eric Post, Stephanie Trigsted, Daniel Schaefer, Daniel Wichman, Timothy McGuine and David Bell all have ties to the School of Education’s Department of Kinesiology. Post (2018) and Trigsted (2017) both received a Ph.D. from the department, while McGuine earned a master's in kinesiology in 1986 and a Ph.D. from the School of Education in 2005. Bell is an assistant professor with the department's Athletic Training Program and is the director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory (WISL). Schaefer is a third-year Ph.D. student with the department, while Wichman is an undergraduate with WISL. UW-Madison’s Andrew Watson also is a co-author.

The report’s abstract notes that “there are a variety of proposed motivations for sport specialization, such as improving sport skills to an elite level, making all-star or travel teams, or receiving a scholarship or professional contract. However, there has not been a quantitative examination of the attitudes and beliefs that may be contributing to the trend of sport specialization and year-round sport participation.”

The aim of the study was to “describe the attitudes and beliefs of youth club sport athletes regarding sport specialization and sport participation. A secondary objective was to investigate whether an association exists between the level of sport specialization and the belief in receiving a college scholarship.”

The researchers had 974 youth complete an anonymous questionnaire focused on these topics.

The results indicated that 45.8 percent believed that specialization increased their chances of getting injured either “quite a bit” or “a great deal.”

However, 91 percent believed that specialization in a sport increased their chances of getting better either “quite a bit” or “a great deal.”

The report adds that most believed that specialization in any given sport increased their chances of making their high school team (80.9 percent) or a college team (66.9 percent) either “quite a bit” or “a great deal.” And 15.7 percent of the athletes who filled out the questionnaire believed that they were either “very” or “extremely” likely to receive a college scholarship based on athletic performance. In addition, highly specialized athletes were almost twice as likely to have a high belief in receiving a college scholarship (20.2 percent) compared with low-specialization athletes (10.2 percent).

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