Sport Specialization Status and Athlete Burnout, Engagement, and Motivation
Johnson, William H
Early sport specialization, in which athletes compete in one sport nearly year round at a young age, is common in today's athletic culture. Several national sport organizations advise against early specialization due to its potentially increasing the risk of burnout and maladaptive motivation outcomes (Côté et al., 2009; CSFL, 2016; NASPE, 2010). However, the few empirical studies that have examined the association of specialization with burnout, engagement, or motivation have found mixed results (Gould et al., 1996; Russell & Symonds, 2015; Strachan et al., 2009). This might be in part due to researchers not differentiating between early and late specialization. Theoretically, early specialization creates greater risk of maladaptive outcomes compared to late specialization based on the Developmental Model of Sport Participation (Cote & Vierimaa, 2014). Purpose: This study examined if differences existed between early, late and non-specializers on burnout, engagement, and motivation. Methods: Two samples of athletes participated in this study. The first sample was comprised of 276 female club soccer players with an average age of 14.94 (SD = 1.39). There were 112 early, 22 late, and 113 non-specializers. The second sample consisted of 106 wrestlers and swimmers (70 male and 36 female) with an average age of 15.67 (1.38) years. Of the sample, 30 were early, 25 were late, and 51 were non-specializers. Athletes completed a sport-specific demographic survey that included questions assessing their sport involvement and specialization status. In addition, athletes completed the Athlete Burnout Questionnaire (Raedeke & Smith, 2001), the Athlete Engagement Questionnaire (Lonsdale et al., 2007b), and the Behavioral Regulation in Sport Questionnaire (Lonsdale, et al., 2008). A series of one-way ANOVAs were used to examine differences between early (i.e., 13 or younger), late, and non-specializers on burnout, engagement, and motivation. Cohen's d was used to measure effect size. Results: For the soccer athletes, ANOVAs found no significant differences between specialization groups and burnout (p < .05). For the engagement subscales, the three groups did not differ on any subscale other than vigor (p = .04) with early specializers having higher scores (M = 4.56, SD = .52) than late specializers (M = 4.36, SD = .66). No differences existed between specialization groups on self-determined motivation. They did, however, differ on non self-determined motivation with non-specializers reporting significantly higher introjected (Cohen d = .37) and external regulation (Cohen d = .42) than early specializers. For the second sample, ANOVA results revealed no significant differences between specialization groups on burnout, engagement, or motivation subscales at p < .05 with effect sizes all small in magnitude. Conclusions: In contrast to position statements advising against specialization, findings from the current study do not support hat early specialization is associated with increased risk of burnout, lower engagement, and maladaptive motivation. However, it is important to recognize that the current samples were young in age and the impact of specialization may not occur later in athletes' sport careers. In addition, athletes experiencing maladaptive outcomes may have discontinued sport and thus not have been sampled. Finally, rather than being seasonal athletes, the non-specializers were equally involved in the amount of time they devoted to their primary sport as the early specializers which may have impacted results.
Johnson, William H. (November 2017). Sport Specialization Status and Athlete Burnout, Engagement, and Motivation (Master's Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/6477.)
Johnson, William H. Sport Specialization Status and Athlete Burnout, Engagement, and Motivation. Master's Thesis. East Carolina University, November 2017. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/6477. April 19, 2021.
Johnson, William H, “Sport Specialization Status and Athlete Burnout, Engagement, and Motivation” (Master's Thesis., East Carolina University, November 2017).
Johnson, William H. Sport Specialization Status and Athlete Burnout, Engagement, and Motivation [Master's Thesis]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; November 2017.
East Carolina University