Sports Specialization and Parental Influence Interview Interview with:

Dr. Charles A. Popkin, MD Orthopedic Surgeon NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center

Dr. Popkin

Dr. Charles A. Popkin, MD
Orthopedic Surgeon
NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

CAP: Sports participation offers multiple benefits for children and adolescents, but there is growing concern about the rise of early sports specialization (ESS). ESS is defined as intense, sport specific training for greater than 8 months a year at the exclusion of other sports and activities in children younger than 12 years of age (pre-pubescent). ESS has been linked with decreased enjoyment, burnout, injury risk and the impact of specialization on long term athletic success is unknown. The extent to which parents exert influence, both directly and indirectly on the phenomenon of ESS was the major focus of the study. What are the main findings?

Direct influence: 57% of parents surveyed wanted their children to play collegiate or professional sports and 50% of the parents encouraged their children to specialize in a sport.

Indirect influence: Parents who hired Private Personal Trainers or specialized coaches were much more likely to believe that their child held collegiate or professional aspirations. 80% of parents who hired personal trainers for their children believed that their child aspired to play professionally or collegiately (compared to 51% of parents who did not hire specialized trainers) (p=.01)

Take Home point: Parental influence on their children’s sports experience can be substantial. This study highlights both direct and indirect pressures exerted from parents on children to specialize in sports.

“Culturally, we have to look at the ramifications of parents setting unrealistic expectations with regards to achieving athletic success. If we are defining success as the attainment of a college scholarship or professional contract there are going to be a lot of unhappy parents and more importantly children.”

What are the main findings? What should readers take away from your report?

CAP: Children pay attention to what their parents say and do. Parental encouragement and behavior strongly modify the child’s sports experience and expectations. Most sport parents transport the kids to and from practice, games and tournaments. They purchase equipment and in certain cases arrange for personal trainers or private coaching for additional instruction. When parents are investing this much time and resources, there can be a lot of indirect pressure to specialize in a sport.

What are the main findings? What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

CAP: More and more data is coming out about early sports specialization and that it may not be necessary for athletic success down the road. (Scientific Exhibit SE27- Pediatric AAOS Reality vs Myth of Early Sports Specialization as an example. ESS was rare in Division 1 athletes in this study). Parents need to realize they are a strong influence on their child’s sport experience and they exert both direct and indirect pressures on their child’s decision to specialize in one sport.

Advantages of Delayed Sports Specialization:

  • Multi-sport diversified kids can develop a far more useful skill: How to learn
  • Allows time for the child to find the intrinsic drive to improve and work on skill development
  • Have a better chance to stay emotionally healthy and avoid the all the eggs in one basket pressure that goes with specialization

What are the main findings? Is there anything else you would like to add? Any disclosures?

CAP: Other secondary findings of the study worth noting:

Young athletes with an injury history were more likely to practice more than 9 hours a week (27.6%). While only 8.9% of players without an injury history practiced more than 9 hours a week. (p=.02)

Athletes who received instruction from elite coachers or trainers were much more likely to sustain a sports-related injury compared to those who did not receive specialized instruction.

As the lead author on the study I have no disclosures.