Sport specialization has been assumed to have psychosocial ramifications for athletes, including on autonomous motivation which has been linked with continued sport participation. Sport dropout is common in youth athletes, yet it is unknown how sport specialization may affect this population psychosocially.


To determine the association of sport specialization with sport autonomous and controlled motivation and amotivation in middle school-aged athletes.

Study Design



An anonymous online questionnaire was distributed to athletes via schools, club sports, and social media.

Patients or Other Participants

A total of 178 athletes (Male=59%, private school=51%, grade: 6th=20%, 7th=32%, 8th=48%) completed the questionnaire.

Main Outcome Measures

The questionnaire assessed sport participation, motivation using the Youth Behavioral Regulation in Sport Questionnaire, and demographics. Sport specialization was defined using a modified 3-point scale (low, moderate, and high) and multisport versus single-sport athletes. Non-parametric tests were used to analyze the differences between the types of motivation and specialization levels and multisport versus single sport athletes.


Sport specialization categories were not significantly associated with autonomous motivation, controlled motivation, or amotivation. There were no statistically significant associations between multisport or single sport athletes with any type of motivation. However, exploratory analysis revealed multisport athletes had significantly higher scores for intrinsic motivation, a subscale of autonomous motivation, compared to single sport athletes (single sport: median=5.00 25th–75th quartile=4.50–5.00; multisport: median=5.00 25th–75th quartile=5.00–5.00; p=0.04).


Sport motivation did not differ between sport specialization groups in middle school athletes. Dropout of sport is common in middle school-aged athletes but is multifactorial in nature. Lack of sport motivation could be a factor for some athletes, but all specialization groups appeared to have similar outcomes. Out exploratory analysis suggests that clinicians may consider having an open dialogue with single-sport athletes, their parents/guardians, and coaches to ensure athletes are enjoying their sport.

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