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Not a Crystal Ball But a Good Prediction for Growth of Sports in 2020

11 Dec, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When it comes to predicting what’s going to be the hot sport in coming years, we don’t have a crystal ball and the black plastic Magic 8-Ball sure isn’t going to be much help. What we do have, however, is the annual Fitness Trends Report from the American College of Sports Medicine. Released every year at this time, it gives an analysis of what the popular fitness trends are going to be – which generally reflect up and coming sports.

This year’s report, which can be downloaded here at no cost, shows the top 20 trends and offers analyses as to why they are expected to be popular.

While the report does contain many trends more applicable to a fitness setting than to sports, some key trends (highlighted in yellow) are good at telling us which way the market is headed:

1 Wearable technology

2 High intensity interval training (HIIT)

3 Group training

4 Training with free weights

5 Personal training

6 Exercise is Medicine (EIM)

7 Body weight training

8 Fitness programs for older adults

9 Health/wellness coaching

10 Employing certified fitness professionals

11 Exercise for weight loss

12 Functional fitness training

13 Outdoor activities

14 Yoga

15 Licensure for fitness professionals

16 Lifestyle medicine

17 Circuit training

 18 Worksite health promotion and workplace well-being programs

19 Outcome measurements

20 Children and exercise

Training with free weights, new on the top-20 list this year and entering close to the top, is something that can fold into sports such as weightlifting, powerlifting and body building – as well as into show events such as overall fitness competitions.

And there’s no doubt that strength sports are growing; an article on Red Bull’s website notes that between 2012 and 2016, USA Weightlifting’s overall membership rose roughly 125 percent. In particular, female membership is surging. Weightlifting among girls is growing at the high school level; the National Federation of State High School Association’s sports participation survey showed a gain of more than 1,000 girls in weightlifting between the 2018 school year and the 2019 school year. Planners of weightlifting events should be ready for this demographic in years to come.

Fitness programs for older adults is almost an evergreen item on the survey, and it’s no secret that participation in sports among the (ahem) non-youth demographic is growing.

Statistics from the National Senior Games Association bear this out. In the organization’s most recent Games, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, hosted more than 25,000 attendees, guests and spectators. The economic impact of $34 million and the 24,000 room nights used are benchmarks: the baby boomers and generations prior are primed and ready to stay active, as well as to compete – and they love to travel.

Some sports, which skew older, such as pickleball, are also making tremendous inroads in the 50-plus demographic; expect growth here to continue as athletes abandon other sports to take up this one, which has smaller courts and a famously social, welcoming vibe.

Functional fitness training, one form of which is trademarked by CrossFit, has been on the survey for a while, but continues in popularity. The 2019 Reebok CrossFit Games, which wrapped up in August, included not only men’s and women’s competition, but teenagers’ divisions as well, including categories for girls and boys 14-15 and 16-17.

Outside of the CrossFit name, there are multiple events held independently in gyms and by local functional fitness organizations nationwide. Interesting point: the ACSM study notes functional fitness is growing among older athletes as well.

Outdoor activities, number 13, on the list, is a large category, including hiking, cycling, fishing, outdoor water sports such as SUP or kayaking, running and others. The survey defines these as organized activities; examples might be gran fondos or century rides in cycling, fishing tournaments, etc. As sports like bass fishing continue to grow in popularity, and as media coverage of it also increases, expect plenty more people to become interested. High school fishing, for example, as well as college fishing, are booming.

Yoga has become not only a gym activity but a competitive sport, with national competitions by USA Yoga. Additionally, it’s something increasingly being seen as an adjunct event at large sports and wellness fairs as well as at running festivals and multi-sport events. Camps and retreats dedicated to sport-specific training often include yoga to enhance relaxation, increase flexibility and promote overall health.

Children and exercise jumped back into the survey after several years out of the top 20. While the youth sports market has always been strong, this trend seems to be driven by concerns over childhood obesity. This may result in more programs designed to get children active and enjoying sports – perhaps not as high-performance athletes but with an eye to developing a healthy lifestyle.

Some trends on the survey, such as group training, can be distilled into more interests in sport-specific camps and training programs. Expect there to be a spike in these as more event owners and rights holders capitalize on the phenomenon of youth (and adults) who want to improve their skills. For youth, such camps will be seen as valuable if marketed as a way to polish up on a skill set for combines in which athletes try to showcase their skills to prospective college coaches. (And with more sports, from cheerleading to lacrosse, organizing combines, it’s likely that camps and training clinics will continue to grow as well.)

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