Superspecialisation in young athletes means greater risk of injury burnout

injury burnout in young athletesThere has been a significant increase in the number of young athletes partaking in sport ‘superspecialisation’. Believing that focusing on one sport and dedicating 110% to it from a young age will lead to them becoming a much better athlete, these young athletes are actually at great risk of burning themselves out.

Not only that, but they are also setting themselves up for an injury which could jeopardise their career. Surgeons are seeing an increasing number of young athletes seeking treatment for overuse injuries, especially in the shoulder.

Here, we’ll look at how superspecialisation can lead to a greater risk of injury burnout in young athletes.

Why superspecialisation poses a risk of injury burnout in young athletes

It’s easy to see the logic behind young athletes wanting to focus specifically on one sport. After all, the more you practice just one sport, the better at it you’ll become right?

Unfortunately, there isn’t actually any evidence to suggest that superspecialisation does make you a better athlete. In fact, there’s even been some evidence to suggest that partaking in multiple sports rather than just one, is what creates a better athlete. Partaking in multiple sports also greatly reduces the risk of injury.


The trouble is, when young athletes over-train in one sport, they’re placing themselves at a high risk of repetitive injuries. Overuse shoulder injuries are especially common and can prove damaging to a young athlete’s career. Those who do multiple sports, on the other hand, are continuously using different muscles groups, reducing the risk of injury.

Female athletes at greater risk of overuse injury

Interestingly, the type and frequency of the injuries developed through superspecialisation is totally different between young men and women. In fact, it’s estimated that young women are up to seven times more likely to develop an injury through superspecialisation.

It is thought that hormonal and anatomic differences contribute towards the greater risk in young women. The type of sport also makes a difference, with young women more likely to suffer an injury playing softball, volleyball and football. For young male athletes, overhead sports tend to pose the greatest risk.

Common shoulder injury burnout in young athletes

The main shoulder injuries young athletes partaking in superspecialisation risk, are overuse injuries. Any athlete can develop a shoulder injury because of overuse of the arms, but young athletes are particularly susceptible due to the fact the ligaments, tendons and muscles are not yet fully mature. This means they haven’t yet developed maximum strength, making them prone to tears and stretching. Tendonitis, rotator cuff tears and shoulder instability are just some of the common injuries young athletes face.

If caught early enough, shoulder injuries can often be repaired via plenty of rest and strengthening exercises. However, if left untreated, the shoulder injury is likely to worsen, leading to potentially months out of the field and a long and painful recovery.

While superspecialisation may seem like the best option to become a better athlete, young people do need to be aware of the increased dangers it brings. Shoulder injuries can lead to significant time out and in some cases, could completely destroy a young athletes career. Those who believe they have injured their shoulder should always seek immediate diagnosis. The earlier the problem is diagnosed, the easier and less painful it will be to treat.