The Relationship Between Sport Specialisation, Participation Volume, and Injury History in New Zealand Youth Basketball

Fossum, Andreas
Whatman, Chris
Kung, Jaron
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Master of Sport, Exercise, and Health
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Auckland University of Technology

The surge in youth basketball participation in New Zealand (NZ) prompts an investigation into the associations between participation volume, sport specialisation, and injury history among young New Zealand basketballers. With secondary school basketball witnessing a 45% increase in participation over the last two decades, concerns have been raised about players specialising and the potential for increased injuries. This dissertation aims to address three key research questions: (I) Is there an association between sports participation volume and injury history? (II) Is there an association between sports specialisation (in basketball) and injury history? (III) Does the ratio of organised sports participation to free-play relate to injury history in young New Zealand basketball players?

This cross-sectional study surveyed three hundred and sixty-six (50% male, aged 10-19) New Zealand basketball players from the 2020 Basketball New Zealand (BBNZ) junior nationals’ selection camp. Electronic tablets with SurveyMonkey were used to gather the data on sports specialisation, injury history, weekly sport participation volume, and free-play hours over the previous 12 months. A previously published questionnaire (McGowan et al., 2020) was adapted for basketball-specific purposes. One-way ANOVA, Pearson's Chi-squared test, and multiple logistic regression analyses adjusted for sex, age, and participation hours, assessed associations between sport specialisation, sport participation volume recommendations, and injury outcomes. The threshold for statistical significance was set at p<0.05. Fifty-five per cent of players reported at least one injury, with lower-limb injuries constituting 70% of total injuries. Forty-six per cent were highly specialised, 40% moderately, and 14% low specialised. Weekly sport participation volume averaged 9.5 ± 4.67 hours, with no significant differences between specialisation groups. Over half of the participants exceeded the 2:1 organised sport-to-free-play ratio, and 88% played basketball for more than 8 months per year. After adjusting for age, gender, and weekly participation hours, neither medium nor highly specialised players showed increased odds of 'any injury' or 'lower limb injury' compared to the low specialisation group. Males had significantly higher odds of reporting any injury, while the medium specialisation group was less likely to report lower limb injuries than the low specialisation group. Exceeding participation volume recommendations showed no significant association with injury history.

Our study of New Zealand youth basketball players found a higher prevalence of high specialisation (46%) compared to previous studies (McGowan et al., 2020). Exceeding participation volume recommendations showed no significant association with injury history, challenging established norms. Notably, basketball players who participated for more than 8 months per year did not exhibit increased odds of injury, contrary to previous literature. Recreational free-play did not show a protective effect, possibly reflecting changing activity patterns among young athletes. While our study provides valuable insights, limitations include potential recall bias, a lack of injury detail, and a lack of generalisability outside the New Zealand basketball population. Further research is necessary to further our understanding of youth sports specialisation and participation volume, considering regional and sport-specific factors.

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