The pandemic didn’t change everything. Take pickleball, for example. The fun activity with the funny name remains the fastest-growing sport in the United States, according to the recently released “Topline Participation Report” from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).
In fact, for the fifth consecutive year, physical activity in the U.S. continued to climb. More than 76% of all Americans, or 236.9 million people, participated in at least one activity during the 2022 calendar year. Based on trend analysis into and out of the pandemic disruption, the United States saw a 9.2% increase in total participation rates from 2017 and a 1.9% increase from 2021.
Big picture: More Americans participated in at least one sport, fitness exercise, or outdoor recreation activity in 2022 than in any of the five previous years.
“This year’s report reinforces that Americans are prioritizing physical activity as they establish habits and routines in a post-pandemic environment,” SFIA President and CEO Tom Cove said in a statement. “But, we will make a mistake if we take some good signals for granted. Looking forward, sports and fitness delivery systems must commit to providing accessible, reasonably priced and high-quality experiences to keep athletes engaged.”
Team Sports Hold Steady, But Facility-Based Fitness Drops
Considered the sports and fitness industry’s essential reference document for sports participation, the 2023 SFIA “Topline” report tracks participation rates of Americans ages six and older across 124 different sports, fitness and outdoor activities, and it also includes a section dedicated to the impact of COVID-19 on participation rates.
Pickleball participation nearly doubled in 2022, increasing by 85.7% year-over-year and by a whopping 158.6% over three years. But pickleball is not the only racquet sport to see continued growth. For the first time since 2015, every racquet sport increased its total participation number compared to the previous year, according to the report.
When it comes to team sports, the overall participation rate approached (but did not exceed) the 2019 rate. Basketball, outdoor soccer and flag football all posted three-year increases of more than 4.5%, with basketball leading the way with a 13% increase since 2019. Notably, “CORE participation” cumulatively across all team sports (a frequency measure to capture those most active) continues to lag, suggesting that while athletes are playing, they may not be playing as much as they used to, SFIA officials say.
Lifestyle sporting activities, meanwhile, generally remained popular. Golf and tennis participation grew more than 20% since 2019, and yoga increased more than 10% over the same time period. Trail running and day hiking participation climbed for the fifth straight year. But facility-based fitness activities — such as elliptical usage, group stationary cycling and machine-based weight resistance — suffered, as clubs were shuttered during COVID and struggle to return to pre-pandemic levels.
The report also includes 10-year trend analyses by activity category, data dives into inactivity and surveys of Americans’ aspirations to take on new activities in 2023. It is available for free to SFIA members and for purchase ($350) to nonmembers.