Context: A single, widely accepted definition of sport specialization does not exist. A consensus definition is necessary to guide youth sport stakeholders on issues associated with sport specialization.
Objective: The aim of this study was to develop a consensus definition of youth sport specialization and to identify elements that support the construct of specialization.
Design: Delphi Study
Setting: Directed Surveys
Patients or Other Participants: A consensus panel of 17 experts was created to provide a broad multidisciplinary perspective on sport specialization in youth athletes.
Data Collection and Analysis: The final definition was developed per an iterative process that involved four rounds of review. A comprehensive review of literature and expert input supported our initial proposed umbrella definition that included six additional elements. The study team reviewed the results after each round and changes were made to the definition based on panel feedback.
Main Outcome Measure(s): Panel members were provided with the definition and six elements and then asked to rate each specific to importance, relevance, and clarity using a 4-point Likert scale.
Results: In four Delphi consensus rounds, 17 experts reviewed the umbrella definition and six elements before consensus was reached. The umbrella definition and three of the initial six elements achieved >80% agreement for importance, relevance, and clarity after the fourth round of review. The remaining 3 components did not reach >80% agreement even after iterative edits and were removed. The process resulted in a final consensus definition: Sport specialization is intentional and focused participation in a single sport for a majority of the year that restricts opportunities for engagement in other sports and activities.
Conclusions: A consensus-based conceptual definition for sport specialization has been developed using a Delphi method. This definition has important implications for clinicians and sports medicine professionals who support youth athletes.