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Early Sport Specialization: Roots, Effectiveness, Risks

Malina, Robert M.

doi: 10.1249/JSR.0b013e3181fe3166
Special Populations: Section Articles

Year-round training in a single sport beginning at a relatively young age is increasingly common among youth. Contributing factors include perceptions of Eastern European sport programs, a parent's desire to give his or her child an edge, labeling youth as talented at an early age, pursuit of scholarships and professional contracts, the sporting goods and services industry, and expertise research. The factors interact with the demands of sport systems. Limiting experiences to a single sport is not the best path to elite status. Risks of early specialization include social isolation, overdependence, burnout, and perhaps risk of overuse injury. Commitment to a single sport at an early age immerses a youngster in a complex world regulated by adults, which is a setting that facilitates manipulation - social, dietary, chemical, and commercial. Youth sport must be kept in perspective. Participants, including talented young athletes, are children and adolescents with the needs of children and adolescents.

Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX; Department of Kinesiology, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, TX

Address for correspondence: Robert M. Malina, Ph.D., FACSM, 10735 FM 2668, Bay City, TX 77414 (E-mail:

© 2010 American College of Sports Medicine