What is it about?

Early specialization is often blamed for burnout and dropout from youth sport. However, in our sample of youth swimmers, we found no relationship between markers of early specialization and burnout or dropout. In fact, some aspects of specialized training were associated with increased intentions to continue swimming. The social environment in which training takes place may have a greater impact on burnout and dropout than characteristics of the training itself.

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Why is it important?

There has been much debate over the costs/benefits of early specialization as compared to early diversification (sampling multiple sports at a young age). There is a good case for monitoring the training volume of young athletes, (especially when they are focused on one sport), in order to prevent overuse injuries. However, there is less evidence regarding the relationship between early specialization and psychological or behavioural outcomes, like burnout and dropout. This study adds key evidence to the debate.


I was initially surprised by our findings, because of the persistent warnings in the literature about the dangers of early specialization. However, when I looked more closely at the evidence base for those warnings, it wasn't as strong as I thought. I hope that this study sparks further research on the topic, using rigourous methods and appropriate sample sizes.

Heather Larson
University of Alberta

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Markers of Early Specialization and Their Relationships With Burnout and Dropout in Swimming, Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, March 2019, Human Kinetics,
DOI: 10.1123/jsep.2018-0305.
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