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Reuters puts spotlight on sports specialization research of UW-Madison’s Bell

September 04, 2018

The Reuters news agency recently put the spotlight on research conducted by UW-Madison’s David Bell.

The Reuters report explains: “Children and teens who specialize in one sport may be more likely to get injured than those who play a variety of sports, a new study suggests. Researchers examined data from five previously published studies with a total of about 5,600 athletes age 18 or younger. Compared to athletes who played the widest variety of sports, youth who specialized the most were 81 percent more likely to experience an overuse injury, the study found."

David Bell
“Being a highly specialized athlete means that you can identify a primary sport, you train more than eight months/year for that sport, and you have quit other sports to focus on your primary sport or have only ever played your primary sport,” David Bell tells Reuters via email. “Theoretically, this intensive training results in repetitive motions that result in muscle imbalances and increase injury risk.”

Bell is a faculty member with the Department of Kinesiology’s Athletic Training Program and the director of the Wisconsin Injury in Sport Laboratory (WISL)

The smaller studies in the analysis, Reuters reports, examined a wide variety of popular youth sports: soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, football, track, cross country, wrestling, swimming, ice hockey, lacrosse, baseball, cheerleading and gymnastics. Sports specialization was determined based either on how many sports athletes said they played or on a scale ranking the proportion of their focus on each sport they played.

Across all of the studies, about 13 percent to 38 percent of the young athletes specialized in a single sport, researchers report in Pediatrics.

The study being reported on appeared in the journal Pediatrics, and is titled, “Sport Specialization and Risk of Overuse Injuries: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis.”

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