Broader Impact

October 20, 2017

Much has been said about the potential negative implications of sport specialization. Now, new research says it could lead to decreased overall well-being.

The study followed 49 female youth soccer players through a four-month season. The participants reported previous sports participation and soccer experience during a preseason evaluation. Athletes were considered “specialized” if they had quit other sports and only played soccer. Throughout the soccer season, researchers had the participants record the amount of sleep they got each night, along with reporting their daily mood, fatigue, stress, soreness, perceived exertion, and training load. 

“After controlling for age and training load, we found that the athletes who participate in only soccer reported worse ratings of sleep quality and all four measures of subjective well-being than those who also participate in other sports throughout the yet,” Drew Watson, MD, the study’s lead author and Assistant Professor in the Division of Sports Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said in a news release.

An abstract of the study’s findings was presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 2017 National Conference and Exhibition. Prior research on sport specialization has suggested that it could impact athletes’ injuries or lead to their discontinued participation in a sport.

“This study doesn’t answer whether sport specialization itself interferes with a youth athlete’s sleep and well-being,” Dr. Watson said. “But it does suggest there are differences between single and multi-sport youth athletes that could affect injury risk, performance, or lifelong athletic participation. Further research is needed to determine whether this can help explain differences in injury risk or long-term athletic success.” 

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