Concerns About Specialization in Youth Sports
In recent years, many involved in youth sports have noticed the trend that young athletes are specializing in a single sport at an ever-younger age. However, little research exists on what impact this might have on these athletes, as well as how sports programs impact the wider community. ENS professor Dr. Eric Post is providing some data on the impact of sport specialization in youth.
Why do students end up specializing in sports so much earlier than used to be common? Parents in Post’s study noted that they were aware of the increased risk for injury, but they still felt pressured to have their children specialize in a specific sport, often well before the end of elementary school. Post has been researching why parents are feeling the need to have their children specialize in sports so early. Some of the reasons that Post identified include:
- All parents want their children to be successful. They see celebrity athletes who specialized in a specific sport, such as Tiger Woods with golf, and want their children to have the same success.
- In many neighborhoods, children need to be involved in sports teams to have opportunities for physical play. As more children are involved in organized sports, there are far fewer casual neighborhood opportunities for pick-up games of any type. The pressure on schools for more academic classroom instructional time often limits time for sports and even recess during the school day.
- Children’s sports organizations often don’t support students playing a variety of sports. The increased use of elite club teams means that children are playing their sport throughout the year, rather than during a specific season. This makes it difficult to participate in more than one sport because of the high demands on the athlete’s time, as well as the high cost of participation.
- The competition for college athletic scholarships is fierce and families want their children to have the best chance to stand out. Parents frequently over-estimate the chances of receiving these scholarships, and the $15 billion-a-year youth sports industry does little to raise awareness of the unlikelihood of getting a scholarship.
Most coaches, however, would like to see their athletes sample different sports before specializing, and note that many elite athletes tried many different sports as children. In addition to the increased risk of injury and burnout for individual children, Post also sees a risk on a community or societal level. With the advent of so many elite club teams, families with fewer resources to dedicate to children’s sports are left out. These children have fewer options for sports play and are often less physically active overall. The increase in pay-to-play youth sports leagues has also resulted in fewer school-based sports activities, further widening this gap. These could be significant factors in the increase in childhood obesity rates and the poor health consequences associated with it.
If youth sports specialization results in greater injuries for the young athletes and fewer opportunities for many children, can the situation be changed? Post advocates for great community awareness and increased opportunities for all children to enjoy sports. He would like to see children’s sports organizations offer more options for multi-sport participation and less expensive sports options. He would love to see professional athletes push for these changes as well. Now that his research has shed some light on parental attitudes towards sports specialization, he is hoping to turn his attention to finding new structures and options for healthier sports participation by a greater number of children.
How Do We Help Those With Food Insecurity?
Dr. Amanda McClain is an Assistant Professor who joined SDSU in the Fall of 2018. She is using a variety of research methods to study community nutrition and food insecurity (when a household is uncertain about having enough healthy, safe, and culturally-appropriate food) within a wider community context. She aims to develop interventions that address food insecurity and healthy diets to promote better health outcomes (e.g. reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes) for entire communities. Her research fits into the one of the larger research specialties that cross many areas of CHHS – disparities in health and health care within various communities.
McClain observes that some communities have better health outcomes than others, even as they face similar challenges to health brought about by low incomes and lower socio-economic status. How is it, she wonders, that communities that face similar challenges to accessing affordable, healthy foods have differing degrees of health? Are there distinct human, social, or culture influences to food security, and subsequently health?
McClain is looking for answers to these questions by studying the available resources that can protect against food insecurity in different households, how these households interact with community resources, and the impact of food assistance programs on food security and diet. She notes that food security is more than just, “Is there healthy food that is available and affordable?” There is also the questions of, “Is the food that is available culturally-appropriate and can it be obtained without losing one’s dignity?”
McClain is also examining how stress plays into this equation. Individuals, particularly parents, often feel extreme stress if their family is faced with food insecurity – no one wants to see their children go hungry. How does that stress impact the mental and physical health of those experiencing it?
McClain is looking at what resources are, or should be, available in the community and how those resources can be leveraged to benefit as many families as possible. In some communities, she has seen that existing resources are better utilized than in others. How are communities using their resources to expand and strengthen the safety net for more people? These are all questions that McClain is seeking to answer, so that successful strategies can be more widely disseminated and better health can be achieved for more people.