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Background: Young athletes who specialize early in a single sport may subsequently be at increased risk of injury. While heightened injury risk has been theorized to be related to volume or length of exposure to a single sport, the development of unhealthy, homogenous movement patterns, and rigid neuromuscular control strategies may also be indicted. Unfortunately, traditional laboratory assessments have limited capability to expose such deficits due to the simplistic and constrained nature of laboratory measurement techniques and analyses. Methods: To overcome limitations of prior studies, the authors proposed a soccer-specific virtual reality header assessment to characterize the generalized movement regularity of 44 young female athletes relative to their degree of sport specialization (high vs low). Participants also completed a traditional drop vertical jump assessment. Results: During the virtual reality header assessment, significant differences in center of gravity sample entropy (a measure of movement regularity) were present between specialized (center of gravity sample entropy: mean = 0.08, SD = 0.02) and nonspecialized center of gravity sample entropy: mean = 0.10, SD = 0.03) groups. Specifically, specialized athletes exhibited more regular movement patterns during the soccer header than the nonspecialized athletes. However, no significant between-group differences were observed when comparing participants’ center of gravity time series data from the drop vertical jump assessment. Conclusions: This pattern of altered movement strategy indicates that realistic, sport-specific virtual reality assessments may be uniquely beneficial in exposing overly rigid movement patterns of individuals who engage in repeated sport specialized practice.
Riehm (firstname.lastname@example.org) is corresponding author, https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7396-5055