By: Kyle D. Souza, August 10, 2022

I. Introduction

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) follows most high school sports rules prohibiting high school athletic teams from practicing out-of-season. Recently, more states are “bucking the trend” of the majority and allowing teams to practice out-of-season, such as New York and Arizona. There is speculation that Connecticut may follow New York’s footsteps and be one of the next states to deviate from the majority and follow the minority trend to pursue the benefits of practicing out of season under the impression it will lead to more athletes competing at an elite level; however, allowing high school sports to practice out of season has negative consequences too, namely early sport specialization which leads to undesired consequences such as overuse injuries and burnout.

This paper examines the CIAC rules prohibiting out-of-season practices. It looks at scientific studies to determine whether high school students specializing in a sport are net positive or negative while considering the pros, percentage of athletes that play at an elite level, and the cons, overuse injuries, burnout, and lack of transferable skills developed.

II. Out-of-season Practice Policies

A. CIAC’s Policies

CIAC has strict bylaws that prohibit high school coaches from coaching their athletes out of season. “Member schools may not organize or permit coaches to organize, supervise or operate athletic practices or interscholastic athletic contests for their school or potential team members. A school or coach may not organize and conduct practices with any incoming ninth graders or students not on the eligibility list prior to the start of the sport season.”

These rules also apply to athletes who are about to become the high school coaches’ athletes through either transferring or entering ninth grade. “Member schools may not permit their coaches to coach or instruct their member school athletes whose names appeared on the CIAC eligibility list for the sport in the preceding season and have CIAC eligibility remaining in the sport which they coach….”

There are some exceptions to these strict rules, such as:  (1) The student-athlete is the coach’s son or daughter; (2) the coaching service is provided by a recreational institution with a diversion purpose, (3) the coach coaches one non-school team per year abiding by all number of athlete requirements (discussed in-depth infra); (4) full club membership in an outside club for golf, gymnastics, swimming and/or tennis; (5) coaching athletes qualifying for a national level competition that is sanctioned by the CIAC and National Federation.

The one non-school team per year has many complexities. Essentially, if a coach is coaching on a club sport team out of season, he can coach his own athletes so long as he has less than the number of athletes proscribed by CIAC Bylaws Article XII §2.3(a)— which is different for every sport but is can generally be summarized as half of the players on the field of play at a time (i.e., boys’ lacrosse has ten people on the field at a time so a coach cannot coach more than five of his athletes on a club team out of season; basketball has five players on the court at a time so coaches can coach no more than three of their basketball athletes on a club basketball team out of season).

B. The Purpose of Out-of-Season Policies

The purpose of CIAC’s strict out-of-season rules is to encourage high school students to play multiple sports, to have fun, and avoid the negative consequences of playing the same sport for the same coach year-round. The National Federation of High School of State High School Associations  (NFHS) notes that only seven percent of high school athletes compete collegiately, and less than half of them earn a collegiate athletic scholarship. The NFHS takes the position that this low number of high school athletes that compete at an elite level, like college, as evidence that the primary focus on high school sports should be to have fun and develop transferable skills such as problem-solving and communication. The NFHS also points out that A critical issue of high school athletes specializing in one sport and playing that sport year-round is overuse injuries along with burnout from overscheduling. The NFHS and Connecticut are examples of the majority philosophy of high school sports, so many states, such as Washington, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, have similar rules as Connecticut.

C. The Practical Reality of Out-of-Season Policies

i. CIAC’s Difficulty Enforcing Current Restrictions

Arizona and New York both allow coaches to coach their players year-round. Rules allowing high school coaches to coach year-round come with concerns about specialization and not allowing high school students to play multiple sports. 

While Arizona and New York’s leniency compared to states like Connecticut with out-of-season practices seems groundbreaking, many coaches in Connecticut point out that such lenient policies make it permissible to do what some coaches already encourage their athletes to do. Some coaches who abide by out-of-season practice barriers push their athletes to work out with the team off-season and play for off-season clubs to hone their skills.

CIAC, for example, allows coaches to set up off-season fitness training for their athletes so long as “Mandatory attendance at out-of-season physical fitness programs is not permitted.” CIAC’s bylaws also state that a coach may not organize a summer club to coach his own athletes if he does not abide by the exceptions listed in §2.1(e).

While the penalties for coaching out-of-season that do not fall under one exception are severe, another question is how often governing bodies enforce such penalties. Penalties include monetary fines, CIAC assigning a probationary period for the given school’s specific sport, requiring the violating coach to take a module, and disqualifying the coach from coaching the team for 20% of the regular season for first-time offenders and 50% for repeat offenders.

Most state high school associations operate under the premise that member schools will self-monitor and self-report. The association only gets involved after a violation is reported. CIAC even acknowledged in 2014 that the out-of-season coaching rules are frequently “inadvertently or intentionally are broken.” By repealing the rules prohibiting out-of-season practices, CIAC would even the playing field by allowing more cautious and rule-abiding coaches to get the same advantage the fast-and-loose coaches already violating the out-of-season rule are receiving.

ii. Club Sports Price-Out Lower-Income Families

Fifty percent of high school athletes who specialize in a single sport also participate on a club team in the same sport. Out-of-season clubs are expensive. Travel baseball costs an average of $3,700 a year; travel softball about $1,000 per year; basketball costs up to $5,000 without a sponsorship; lacrosse clubs cost about $3,000 per year. Therefore, playing club sports year-round to hone a player’s skills is not available to every player— only a family with large amounts of disposable income can afford to sign their child up for year-round lessons.

“[M]ost coaches want to provide kids opportunities to get better without running the risk of getting in trouble.” Taking away the CIAC rule prohibiting off-season practices would allow coaches to continue to coach their players year-round— regardless of how much income that player’s family has in their bank account.

iii. Scientific Studies on the Benefits and Detriments of Sport Specialization

Determining how many high school athletes specialize in a sport is difficult because of a lack of reporting on the issue. Some information, however, does exist which examines the relationship between specializing and achieving an elite level of play (college or professional), the correlation between specialization and overuse injuries, and correlations between specialization and burnout.

a. Chances of Elite Level of Play are Not Improved by Sport Specialization

Sixty-eight percent of high school student-athletes specializing in one sport do so to pursue long-term success and attempt to reach elite-level play (such as college or professional levels). Despite the perceived benefit of specializing, however, there are significant benefits for youth athletes playing multiple sports. “Participation in multiple sports may lead to skill and decision-making transference and overall athletic fitness….” Ironically, diversified sports training during early and middle adolescence may be more effective in developing elite-level athletic skills than specialization because of transferable athletic skills and decision-making abilities. Notably, there is no significant difference between male athletes who specialize early (14 years old or younger) and specialize late (15 years old or older) in obtaining athletic scholarships in the NCAA. 

The NFL serves as a counterexample to the common belief of high school athletes. In the 2015 NFL Draft, 87.5% of players drafted played multiple sports in high school. In the 2017 NFL Draft, nearly 90 percent played multiple sports in high school. 88% of the 2018 NFL draft class were also multi-sport high school athletes. This trend continues today; of the five first-round edge rushers selected in the 2022 NFL draft, all five played multiple sports in high school.

b. Overuse Injuries are More Common in Athletes that Compete Year-Round

About half of all sports injuries are due to overuse. Athletes who play a sport year-round are 42% more likely to sustain an injury than athletes who compete in three or fewer seasons per year. High school athletes specializing in a sport are more likely to report sustaining previous injuries in their lower extremities.

“[I]t is generally recognized that overuse injuries occur due to repetitive submaximal loading of the musculoskeletal system when rest is not adequate to allow for structural adaptation to take place.” During sports, athletes load and stress their biological structures, which causes microtraumas. Overuse injuries include injuries to muscle tendons, bone, articular cartilage, physis, bursa, or neurovascular structures. Overuse injuries are significantly more common in younger athletes than adult athletes because of adolescent athletes’ ongoing growth and development.

The clear trend is that year-round sports produce overuse injuries, not necessarily sport specialization. There is a correlation between overuse injuries and sports specialization. Although scientific studies have not demonstrated a causal relationship between sports specialization and overuse injuries due to intervening variables. A leading hypothesis is that sports specialization increases overuse injuries due to the repetitive loading of the same parts of the body, which cause microtears and create injury.

c. Athletic Burnout is Much More Likely in Athletes the Specialize in One Sport.

Another issue that is more prevalent with specializing high school athletes is burnout. Athletic burnout has been defined as “ ‘a cognitive-affective syndrome comprised of emotional and physical exhaustion, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and sport devaluation.’ ” Burnout occurs when a young athlete ceases a previously enjoyable activity due to chronic stress caused by such sport. There is a clear correlation between burnout affecting more specialized athletes than multi-sport athletes. Another clear correlation is that emphasis on skill development over-focus on competition and winning creates an atmosphere less likely to burn out young athletes.

IV. Considering the Benefits and Detriments of Out-of-season Practices

Reviewing the data reveals that it is in a high school athlete’s best interest not to specialize in one sport early. The data is clear that high school coaches should not encourage their athletes to specialize in a single sport instead of enjoying sports and developing athletic skills.

The most-used argument in favor of off-season practices was to prepare athletes to achieve an elite level of play. Many scientific articles and anecdotal evidence, such as the NFL draft classes, show that sport specialization does not entail higher quality of play but that playing multiple sports in high school help athletes achieve a higher level of play. Therefore, allowing out-of-season practices may inhibit high school athletes from playing various, which would cause them to lose their edge of being multi-sport athletes.

While the chain of causation that specialized athletes suffer more overuse injuries is not as strong as once perceived, it is still something to monitor. The number of intervening factors may never allow researchers to definitively conclude whether specializing in a single sport produces more injuries. Playing sports all four seasons, however, does prove to increase injury rates dramatically and thus should be discouraged to spare high school athletes from injuries. If CIAC begins to allow out-of-season practices, it should limit practices to nine months or less out of the year to give high school athletes a proper off-season. 

Another complicating factor when evaluating out-of-season practices is burnout in specialized athletes. Youth athletics is to promote fun, fitness, and achievement. While sports are not for everyone, artificially draining interest in activities that promote these goals is undesirable. Therefore, coaches should not force high school students to attend mandatory out-of-season practices for their sport. 

The most compelling argument in favor of CIAC allowing coaches to run practices with their teams out-of-season is that such practices would serve as an alternative to expensive club teams that are not affordable to lower-income households. Allowing out-of-season practices would solve the issue of club sports pricing out high schoolers from specializing in a sport year-round; however, it would still promote high school students to specialize in a sport. If CIAC promotes athletes to specialize in a sport year-round, CIAC would indirectly raise the rates athletes suffer overuse injuries and athletic burnout and would not notably boost athletes’ potential to play such sport at an elite level.

Indeed, off-season practices are preferred over students doing nothing in the off-season. Still, there is a fine line between allowing students to practice and condition in the off-season and forcing them to attend mandatory off-season practices.

V. Conclusion

Considering this research, it is in Connecticut High School Athletes’ best interest for CIAC to not merely abolish their out-of-season practice rules like New York and Arizona. CIAC may wish to consider scaling back some of its out-of-season restrictions to allow high school coaches to bridge the gap for families who cannot afford to pay for club sports in the off-season. Still, mandatory practices in the off-season is a slippery slope that will likely lead to forced specialization of high school athletes. 

If CIAC would have trouble enforcing optional off-season practices, then it would be in the best interest of student-athletes for CIAC to keep the current rules forbidding out-of-season play to preserve the ability for students to play multiple sports if they choose— and still allow athletes who desire to specialize year-round in one sport the ability to specialize on their own dime. 



  1. CIAC Bylaws, Article XII § 2.1(c), Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, CIAC 2021–2022 Handbook, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/
  2. Id. at Article XII § 2.1(b).
  3. Id. at Article XII § 2.1(e).
  4. Mark Rerick, The Importance of Multi-sport Participation, NFHS, June 1, 2016,
  5. Id.
  6. Id.
  7. Mark Rerick, The Importance of Multi-sport Participation, NFHS, June 1, 2016,
  8. Guidelines for Athletic Directors: WIAA Out of Season Rules, Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association, 2018–2019, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/; 2021–2022 PIAA Constitution and Bylaws, Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, March 7, 2022, chrome-extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/; 1009 DIAA High School Interscholastic Athletics,,
  9. Annaliese Leon, New Bylaw Allows High School Coaches to Hold Year-Round Practices, Arizona Daily Independent, May 9, 2017,; Nancy Haggerty, Summer high school sports training: Is it over the top? Lohud, July 25, 2018,
  10. Ariz. football year-round practices go full throttle; sport-specialization concerns arise, USA TODAY High School Sports, June 16, 2017,
  11. CBS DFW, Where Have Multi-Sport High School Athletes Gone? CBS, April 29, 2016, Kilar Hughes, Student-athletes face pressure between high school and club sports, Fairmont Flyer, March 29, 2019,
  12. Id. at CIAC Article XII § 2.6(a)(5).
  13. Id. at CIAC In-season and Out-of-season Questions.
  14. Id. at Article XII § 2.8, Penalties for Coaching Out-of-Season.
  15. Id.
  16. J. Cookson, Concerns Arise Over Out-of-Season Coaching Violations, CIAC, September 23, 2014,
  17. Timothy McGuine, Ph.D., ATC, Risks Associated with Sport Specialization in High School Athletes, NFHS, May 9, 2018,
  18. Jason Smith, Paying to Play: How much do club sports cost? USA Today High School Sports, August 1, 2017,
  19. Oilers Lacrosse,
  20. Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, Consideration for Coaches Working with Athletes Out-of-Season, NFHS, April 14, 2020,
  21. Timothy McGuine, Ph.D., ATC, Risks Associated with Sport Specialization in High School Athletes, NFHS, May 9, 2018,
  22. Id.
  23. Id.; Caitlin M. Rugg, Early Sport Specialization Among Former National Collegiate Athletic Association Athletes, The American Journal of Sports Medicine 2021; 49(4):1049–1058
  24. Rugg, supra note 23, at 1054.
  25. Id.
  26. Id. at 1052.
  27. Danielle Elliot, H.S. multi-sport athletes dominate NFL Draft, Yahoo Sports, May 4, 2015,–multi-sport-athletes-dominate-nfl-draft-181142432.html.
  28. Brandon Hall, New Study Reveals Whether Multi-Sport or Single-Sport Athletes Have a Better Chance For Success, Stack, July 25, 2017,
  29. Brian Spilbeler, Tracking Football finds 88% of 2018 NFL Draft picks were multiple sport athletes in high school, Tracking Football, April 28, 2018,
  30. Gabe Brooks, Reviewing NFL Draft first-round edge picks as high school prospects, 247 Sports, April 28, 2022,
  31. John P. DiFiori, Overuse Injuries and Burnout in Youth Sports: A Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Clin. J. Sport. Med. 2014;24: 7.
  32. Id.
  33. Timothy McGuine, Ph.D., ATC, Risks Associated with Sport Specialization in High School Athletes, NFHS, May 9, 2018,
  34. John P. DiFiori, supra note 31, at 3, 7.
  35. Id.
  36. Id. at 7.
  37. Id.
  38. Patrick Buckley, et al., Early Single-Sport Specialization, 5 The Orthopedic J. of Sports Med. 7 (2017).
  39. DiFiori, supra note 31, at 7, 15.
  40. Rugg, supra note 23, at 1056.
  41. DiFiori, supra note 31, at 5.
  42. Id.
  43. Id. at 16.