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Team Sports in America: What Sports Are Popular? Who is Playing?

Date: 9/22/10

SILVER SPRING, MD – September 22, 2010 – Overall participation in the top seven team sports in the U.S. has declined in the last year……participation in seven ‘niche’ team sports in the U.S. is on the rise……the surge in participation in team sports for females has stabilized…..and number of two and three-sport athletes is dropping as more athletes are focusing on just one sport. Those are the key findings of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) annual participation study on team sports -- U. S. Trends in Team Sports (2010 edition).

According to the SGMA, those seven ‘niche’ team sports which had respectable gains in participation since 2008 are fast-pitch softball (up 13.8%), ice hockey (up 12.2%), rugby (up 8.7%), beach volleyball (up 7.3%), lacrosse (up 6.2%), indoor soccer (3.7%), and gymnastics (3.6%).  Those top seven team sports which had drops in participation in 2009 are basketball, baseball, outdoor soccer, touch football, slow pitch softball, court volleyball, and tackle football. 

“In 2009, all major youth sports groups reported increases in participation in league and sanctioned play which supports our findings that organized recreation continues to be strong while ‘pick up’/casual play is on the decline,” said SGMA President Tom Cove.  “One of the strongest elements of the entire team sports universe is that young people remain strongly committed to team sports through their schools and local recreation programs.  Three of the biggest reasons why people don’t play more team sports is lack of time, scheduling concerns, and the issue of specialization where athletes, specifically younger ones, are dedicating their time to just one activity with the goal of getting the attention of a college coach, pro scout, or possibly winning a state, regional, or national championship.

“While we are aware that a growing number of athletes are focusing on a single sport, we strongly feel it’s important to promote athletes playing multiple sports,” said Elliot Hopkins, director educational services for the National Federation of State High School Associations (Indianapolis, IN).  “It is our wish that more schools and coaches should encourage their student-athletes to play more than one sport.  It helps produce more well-rounded individuals.  It also helps cut down the physical stress on certain parts of the body which are subjected to the same repetitive motion with single-sport athletes."

“These days, there are so many outlets for single-sport athletes to continue playing throughout  the year in a single sport,” said Sean Benevidies, co-owner of Athlete’s Advantage, a fitness center which helps athletes with year-round conditioning and strength training (Wellington, FL).  “These athletes are spending time in the offseason working on their strength, speed, quickness, and agility in pursuit of a state championship or in their attempt to earn a potential college scholarship.”

“I am noticing that female athletes are getting more specialized in their athletic careers,” said Wayne Ryan, the athletic director/girls basketball coach at Summers County High School (Hinton, WV).  “There are simply more opportunities for female athletes to be competitive in their favorite sport throughout the calendar year.”

“Interest in rugby and indoor soccer is strong in the mid-Atlantic region – for both males and females of all ages,” said retailer Matt Godek, owner of Godek Rugby & Soccer (Merrifield, VA).  “And we see interest in both of those sports increasing which is great for business.  One of the biggest issues for indoor soccer is getting access to a facility.  Demand is strong and supply is limited.”

Participation in high school sports rose again as a record 7,628,377 students played high school sports in the U.S. in the 2009-10 school year according to the NFHS.

Listed below are a few newsworthy points about team sports listed in U.S. Trends in Team Sports:

  • Big Picture Perspective:  With the exception of beach volleyball, slow pitch softball, rugby, touch football, and paintball, team sports participation in the U.S. is dominated by players under age 24.
  •  Household Demographics:   Lacrosse has the highest percentage of participants (48%) whose families have annual incomes of $100,000+.
  • Age Group Leaders:  Gymnastics has the highest percentage of overall participants in the 6-12 age group (48%); track & field has the highest percentage of overall participants in the 13-17 age group (44%); and rugby has the highest percentage of overall participants in the 18-24 age group.
  • Casual Play:  While casual/pick-up play is on the decline, there are four activities where more than 50% of their participants are casual/pick-up players – basketball, touch football, beach volleyball, and grass volleyball.

Also contained in this report are editorial summaries or charts on the following:

  • Participation in High School Sports – a summary on high school sports, including a list of the top ten most popular sports for high school boys and girls.
  • Participation in Community Recreational Sports Leagues.
  • The Churn Rate and ‘Leaky Bucket’ Syndrome – every year, we look at those people that continue to play a specific sport plus those that return for one reason or another against those that quit playing that same sport.  This is known as the ‘Leaky Bucket’ Syndrome.

The team sports featured in U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2010 edition) include baseball, basketball, cheerleading, field hockey, football (flag), football (tackle), football (touch), gymnastics, ice hockey, lacrosse, paintball, roller hockey, rugby, soccer (indoor), soccer (outdoor), softball (fast pitch), softball (slow pitch), track & field, volleyball (beach), volleyball (court), volleyball (grass), and wrestling.

To request a copy of U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2010 edition), access www.SGMA.com.  This report is available free-of-charge to full members of SGMA and the editorial media. To access this report click here.

Click here to register for the U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report Webinar that will be held on October 13, 2010 at 2:00PM EST.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA), the #1 source for sport and fitness research, is the leading global trade association of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the sports products industry.  SGMA helps lead the sports and fitness industries by fostering participation through research, thought leadership, product promotion, and public policy.  More information about SGMA membership, SGMA Research, and SGMA's National Health Through Fitness Day can be found at www.SGMA.com.

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