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Study: Girl soccer players who give up other sports may feel more stressed, less rested

September 15, 2017

CHICAGO - An abstract of new research being presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics 2017 National Conference & Exhibition found sport specialization was associated with significantly worse mood, stress, fatigue, soreness, and sleep quality among female youth soccer players, even after controlling for factors such as age and hours spent training.

The abstract, "Sport Specialization Is Associated with Impaired Sleep and Well-Being in Female Adolescent Athletes," will be presented on Saturday, Sept. 16, at Chicago's McCormick Place West conference center.

For the study, conducted in Wisconsin, 49 female youth soccer players between ages 13 and 18 underwent pre-season evaluation to determine soccer experience and previous sports participation. During the four-month soccer season, study participants reported daily training load using perceived exertion. They also recorded how many hours of sleep they got each night and rated several factors related to their perceived well-being every day. Players were considered specialized if they participated in soccer exclusively and had previously quit other sports.

The study found no differences between the 19 specialized 30 and non-specialized athletes with respect to age, years of experience, or in-season training load. However, despite getting roughly the same amount of sleep--with both groups getting just over 8 hours a night--non-specialized athletes were found to report better sleep quality, mood, stress levels, fatigue and soreness than specialized athletes.

"After controlling for age and training load, we found that the athletes who participate in only soccer reported worse ratings of sleep quality and all 4 measures of subjective well-being than those who also participate in other sports throughout the year," said Drew Watson, MD, MS, the abstract's lead author and an assistant professor in the Division of Sports Medicine within the Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He also serves as team physician for University of Wisconsin Athletics.

Dr. Watson said previous research suggests early sport specialization may influence whether athletes will be injured or drop out of a sport, but the underlying causes are unclear.

"This study doesn't answer whether sport specialization itself interferes with a youth athlete's sleep and well-being," he said, "but it does suggest there are differences between single and multi-sport youth athletes that could affect injury risk, performance, or lifelong athletic participation. Further research is needed to determine whether this can help explain differences in injury risk or long-term athletic success."
Watson will present the abstract, available below, between 3:35 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. in room S104A at McCormick Place West.

Please note: only the abstract is being presented at the meeting. In some cases, the researcher may have more data available to share with media, or may be preparing a longer article for submission to a journal.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit

Abstract Title: Sport Specialization Is Associated with Impaired Sleep and Well-Being in Female Adolescent Athletes

Background: Sport specialization has been found to be associated with increased injury risk in youth athletes. Sleep and well-being have also been shown to be modifiable risk factors for injury in this population, but the relationship between specialization, sleep and well-being is unknown. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the relationship between sport specialization, sleep and subjective well-being in female youth soccer players. Methods: Forty-nine female youth soccer players (ages 13-18) underwent pre-season evaluation to determine age, soccer experience, and sport participation. During a subsequent 4-month soccer season, participants reported daily training load as session-rating of perceived exertion and every morning participants recorded sleep hours and rated stress, mood, fatigue, soreness, and sleep quality from -3 (worst) to +3 (best). As all of the athletes participate in soccer for more than 8 months of the year, players were considered specialized if they participated in soccer exclusively and had previously quit other sports. Linear mixed effects models were used to compare mood, stress, fatigue, and soreness throughout the season between groups after adjusting for age, prior day training load, and prior night sleep hours as fixed effects and individual athlete as a random effect. Nightly sleep hours and sleep quality were compared between groups using linear mixed effects models adjusted for age and prior day training load as fixed effects and individual as a random effect. Least square means are reported for all comparisons. Results: No differences were identified between specialized (n=19) and non-specialized athletes (n =30) with respect to age, years of experience, or in-season training load (p>0.05 for all). On the other hand, despite similar hours of nightly sleep (8.32±0.1 v 8.09±0.1, p=0.22), non-specialized athletes were found to have higher (better) mood (1.76±0.13 v 1.30±0.10, p=0.017), stress (1.39±0.2 v 0.94±0.1, p=0.037), fatigue (1.55±0.1 v 0.99±0.1, p=0.017), soreness (1.35±0.1 v 0.86±0.2, p=0.003), and sleep quality (1.43±0.1 v 1.08±0.1, p=0.039) than specialized athletes. Conclusions: Among female youth soccer players, sport specialization is associated with significantly worse mood, stress, fatigue, soreness, and sleep quality, even after controlling for the influences of age and training load.

American Academy of Pediatrics

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