Early sport specialization is a growing concern among youth sports athletes, particularly in baseball. Motivation to participate in sports is an important factor in determining which sports youth athletes participate in and why.
The purpose of this study was to qualitatively investigate youth sport participation behaviors and motivations of college baseball players.
We conducted 25 semi-structured interviews with college baseball athletes who were classified as either high-level (n=8), moderate-level (n=9), or low-level specialists (n=8) prior to college.
Participants completed an individual semi-structured interview to develop an understanding of the participants' youth and high school sports experiences and associated motivations to participate in those experiences. A framework analysis approach was used to analyze transcript data to identify themes among the three specialization groups.
From our interview analysis, six overall themes emerged among the groups: (1) Motivation, (2) Stress, (3) Quitting, (4) Barriers, (5) Facilitators of Success, and (6) Future Directions. Moderate and high-level specialists described higher levels of passion, participating in deliberate practice, higher levels of performance-related stress, and a desire to quit sports more than low-level specialists. None of the groups described parents as an overbearing external motivator to participate in sports at an early age.
Participants who were classified as low-, moderate-, and high-level specialists described different experiences related to their motivation, stress levels, desire to quit, barriers to participating in baseball, facilitators of success, and their overall future career goals after completing baseball. This information may be useful for parents, coaches, and health care professionals to better communicate the benefits and risks associated with sport specialization to youth athletes. Future research is needed to determine if differences in motivation levels exist in younger populations.