Examination of the relationship between youth sport specialization and motivations for youth sport participation.

William Russell, Missouri Western State University, USA

Theme: Youth sport

Poster Number: 71

Program ID: POS-1

Presentation: October 3, 2013 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm

Room: Napoleon


As more youth participate in organized sports, these settings are becoming more structured and adult organized (Wiersma, 2000), and intensive participation is beginning at earlier ages. As such, early sport specialization has become more prevalent, and there is concern that “specializers” may be at greater risk for dropout, burnout, injury, and social isolation. Yet given these concerns, little research exists on psychological aspects of youth sport specialization (Baker, Cobley, & Fraser-Thomas, 2009; Gould, 2010). Therefore, the purpose was to examine how former youth athletes’ sport motivation was related to whether they specialized in one sport as a youth athlete. Two-hundred undergraduates (93 males, 107 females; M age=19.09, SD=1.26) were surveyed on retrospective perceptions of their youth sport experience. Surveys included questions regarding reasons for youth sport participation, current sport and exercise participation, physical activity enjoyment (Physical Activity Enjoyment Scale, Kendzierski & DeCarlo, 1991) and youth sport motivations (Sport Motivation Scale, Pelletier et al., 1995). “Specializers” did not differ from “non-specializers” on physical activity patterns or physical activity enjoyment as young adults. However, specializers participated in youth sport more than non-specializers to stay in shape (F(1,198) =6.84, p =.03), improve skills (F(1,198) =10.20, p=.002), and feel competent about their physical abilities (F(1,198) =10.49, p=.001). Specializers were less likely to participate in their youth sport as young adults (X2 (2) =6.43, p<.05). Finally, specializers were significantly higher on IM-know (F(1,198)=4.83, p=.03) and EM-introjected regulation (F(1,198)=4.18, p=.04) than non-specializers. Results indicate the need to examine specific motivational elements of youth sport climates to determine whether early youth sport specialization has deleterious outcomes. Higher intrinsic motivation of specializers in this study indicates that specialized settings are not necessarily more detrimental per se, but only when an athlete’s self-determination is compromised.

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