The Growing Concern of Youth Sport Specialization, Child Obesity Rates, and Physical Activity

Discussions revolving around youth sports continue to grow as we investigate factors for participation, training style, and overall health. To understand the importance of proper youth sport programs, we must dig deep into the topics of issues such as the increased musculoskeletal pain of youth athletes, the influence that social class has on physical activity, youth sports and it’s influence on preventing obesity, and the controversy of youth specialization.

In the article presented by Abe, Kamada, Kitayuguchi, Okada, Mutoh, & Uchio (2017), musculoskeletal pain in youth sports and how extrinsic risk factors such as team size could effect MSP likelihood was examined. The study collected 632 participants, with ages ranging from 12 to 18 years, to complete a questionnaire with questions related to “overall, upper limbs, lower back, and lower limbs” (Abe, et al 2017) musculoskeletal pain and player or team status. Player status is explained as either a regular or non-regular participant, while team status is examined via Teammate Quantity Index (Abe, et al 2017). The results presented that 272 (44.3%) athletes had experienced some form of musculoskeletal pain at least several times in a week duration (Abe, et al 2017). Close to 50% of athletes should not be experiencing these issues in a youth sport setting. Along with MSP from a generalized standpoint, we must now glance at specific areas of pain and probable cause. Lower back pain seemed to be more prevalent in regular players with a lower number of teammates (21.3%) as opposed to non-regular players with a higher number of teammates (8.3%) (Abe, et al 2017). This could be a result of over activity within a competition setting, wear-and-tear on over trained body parts through a training setting, or tension in myofascial sites due to lack of recovery and rehab methods. The source of the pain is not identified in the study, but reference to the team size and status of the player could help us infer the nature of the pain.

Social class and it’s relation to physical activity can be studied in order to understand the relation between the two. Bosma, Van De Mheen, and Mackenbach (1999) explore this relationship through their research with a group of south east Netherland participants. The study assessed 2,174 males and females ranging from 25 to 74 years of age by investigating the likelihood of social class effecting the participation rate in physical activity as one ages (Bosman, et al 1999). If we can classify social class as a vital factor for predicting physical activity participation later on in life, then we can make an extra effort to target and fund this population with health and wellness programs. The individuals that grew up in a low social class was more likely to indicate poor health as an adult (Bosman, et al 1999). Participants that had a father who worked in some form of manual labor were more likely to possess “unfavorable personality profiles and more negative coping styles” (Bosman, et al 1999).

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States that deserves the attention of researchers. A study conducted by Turner, Perrin, Coyne-Beasley, Peterson, and Skinner (2015) explores the relation that the involvement in organized team sports has on the rate of obesity in the subject group. The research consisted of gathering the 6,667 participants to completed the 1999 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (Tumer, et al 2015). Participants were aged between 12 to 19 years. Out of the male participants, 16.6% that were involved in leisure time sports were classified as obese versus the 23.6% of the non athlete participants that were classified as obese (Tumer, et al 2015). Not only was there a correlation of male participant obesity and sport involvement, but there was also a trend with female subjects as well. Out of the females, 15.3% of females that participated in leisure time sports were classified as obese versus the 17.0% of non athlete individuals that were classified as obese (Tumer, et al 2015). Understanding the importance that sports have on preventing childhood obesity, could help us prevent obesity at later stages in an individual’s life. The study showed that between middle school and high school, there was a drop off rate of participation in sports (Tumer, et al 2015). Taking measures to understand the primary factors behind this fall-off rate could hold the key to decreasing obesity as a whole. This may also encourage physical activity of an individual for the span of their life time.

Sport specialization in youth sports has become a huge area of discussion among different platforms of coaching staff. Is specializing in a sport year round and eliminating the participation of other activities to prevent loss of skill and focus hurting the child? The question strive to understand but first we must acquire the perspective of the children that partake in these physical activities. Brooks Post, Trigsted, Schaefer, Wichman, Watson, and Bell (2018) assessed “974 youth athletes (578 female; mean age, 14.2 ± 1.6 years)” by having participants complete a questionnaire revolving around the subjects of sport specialization and participation. 45.8% of participating subjects believed that specialization increased their risk of injury either “quite a bit” or “a great deal” (Brooks, et al 2018). Due to the fact that majority of the athletes did not believe that specialization would cause injury, we can only infer that athletes in general partake in this form of training without considering the risk of injury caused by such. Aside from examining the chance of injury, a high of over 90% of athletes suggested that specialization would improve their ability of the specific sport or skill at least “quite a bit” or “a great deal” (Brooks, et al 2018), further providing evidence that athletes might perform sport specialization to be a better athlete. The desire to become a better athlete could derive from the need to make the cut for a select team. 80.9% of participants has noted that specialization would increase their chances to be selected for their high school team, along with 66.9& of participants noting that specialization would increase their chances to make a college team (Brooks, et al 2018). This data helps us understand further extrinsic motivation as incentive to perform specialization training habits as a youth athlete.

Previously we investigated social class and it’s influence on fall-off rate of individuals performing physical activity throughout their lifetime. Deelen, Ettema, and Kamphuis (2018) conducted a study to explore other factors for the drop out rate of subjects involved in the sports of football and tennis. The study assessed 2,555 adolescents participants with ages ranging from 13 to 21 via online surveys conducted in 2015-2016. The researchers could not conclude a relation between the determinants of football drop out rates and those of tennis. Between the two, there did not seem to be a relation between environmental determinants and the probability of predicting drop out rates (Deelen, Ettema, & Kamphuis 2018). Although the research did not seem to produce an outcome that could help us predict factors for participation fall-off, the authors did conclude that participation in more than one sport seemed to increase the likelihood of dropping out of tennis. The article also presented that those who traveled a farther distance seemed to stay involved with the sport (Deelen, Ettema, & Kamphuis 2018).

Sport psychologists and their coaching staff must work together to provide the best growth and development atmosphere for the youth athletes. In order to prevent the influence of musculoskeletal pain in youth athletes, coaches must implement proper and time efficient recovery practices. These practices could include duration between competitive bouts, supervised mobility and recovery sessions, increased understanding of exercise physiology, and overall communication with parents. With social class being seen as a possible factor for physical activity involvement, we can only encourage our student athletes to partake in sports and provide the most motivating and inspiring settings possible. Social class is a factor that sport psychologists can’t control, but just making sure the coaching staff is very uplifting and motivating could help make team sports more inviting for all students. Obesity might always be a battle for children, but encouraging small bouts of physical activity practices at home and educating on helpful nutrition habits might decrease the rates of obesity with your sport teams. Sometimes, due to the age of the athlete, nutrition talks with parents via seminars, letters, or just general team meetings could help aid in providing proper education. Anytime there is someone trying to be the best they can, sport specialization will always be a huge factor in the sport world. Sport psychologists can only help coaches understand the negative effects that could arise from over training, and help educate parents on the benefits of recovery or partaking in multiple activities. Last but not least, understanding that there isn’t a specific reason for sport fall-off rates should help us realize that we need to simply be encouraging and motivating to the youth population. We must make sure that coaches provide the athletes with a positive experience and help improve the quality of life of the participants. Coaches are most likely seen as role models, and they can impact the future of their athletes.


Abe, T., Kamada, M., Kitayuguchi, J., Okada, S., Mutoh, Y., & Uchio, Y. (2017). Is being a regular player with fewer teammates associated with musculoskeletal pain in youth team sports? A cross-sectional study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 18, 105. Retrieved from

Bosma, H., van de Mheen, H. D., & Mackenbach, J. P. (1999). Social class in childhood and general health in adulthood: questionnaire study of contribution of psychological attributes. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 318(7175), 18–22. Retrieved from

Brooks, M. A., Post, E. G., Trigsted, S. M., Schaefer, D. A., Wichman, D. M., Watson, A. M., … Bell, D. R. (2018). Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs of Youth Club Athletes Toward Sport Specialization and Sport Participation. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(5), 2325967118769836. Retrieved from

Deelen, I., Ettema, D., & Kamphuis, C. B. M. (2018). Time-use and environmental determinants of dropout from organized youth football and tennis. BMC Public Health, 18, 1022. Retrieved from

Turner, R. W., Perrin, E. M., Coyne-Beasley, T., Peterson, C. J., & Skinner, A. C. (2015). Reported Sports Participation, Race, Sex, Ethnicity, and Obesity in US Adolescents From NHANES Physical Activity (PAQ_D). Global Pediatric Health, 2, 2333794X15577944. Retrieved from

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