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New Report Details Which Sports Teenagers Are Playing

5 Sep, 2018

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

When they’re not in high school, what are teenagers doing? They’re playing soccer, they’re cheering and they’re …bowling and bass fishing. At least according to a survey – which shows the number of students involved in school sports programs is continuing to rise.

The survey, the annual High School Athletics Participation Survey, conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), shows the overall number of participants in high school sports increased for the 29th consecutive year in 2017-18.

An increase of more than 15,000 girls participated in their schools’ sports programs, creating an all-time high of 7,979,986 students, according to figures from the 51 NFHS member state high school associations, which includes the District of Columbia.

The number of girls participating in high school sports reached an all-time high of 3,415,306, and the number of boys participation also set a new standard at 4,564,680.

While it’s easy to spout off paragraphs of numbers and statistics, it tends to make readers’ eyes glaze over. So here are the salient points

  • Boys’ sport with the largest gain: Soccer, with 6,128 additional participants

  • Girls’ sport with the largest gain: competitive spirit squads, with an additional 18,426 participants

  • Top sport for boys: Football (11-player) with 1,035,942 participants. (Nothing else came close; in fact, the second-most-popular sport, outdoor track and field, had only a little over 600,000 participants)

  • Top sport for girls: Outdoor track and field, with 488,592 participants. Close runners-up were volleyball (446,583), basketball (412,407), soccer (390,482) and fast-pitch softball (367,861).

  • Biggest drop: 11-player football for boys. In 2017, participation showed a two-percent decline of 21,465 from the previous year. The decline from 2015 to 2016 was 27,865, or 2.5 percent.

  • Number of different sports high school students are participating in: 65

  • Number of adapted sports for students with disabilities and challenges: 13

  • Non-traditional sports coming on strong: Badminton (17,898 participants), Archery (10,460) and Fencing (4,513), along with two relative newcomers – Bass Fishing and Ultimate

  • Emerging sports (meaning sports that have experienced growth over the past 10 years) that are continuing to rise: Lacrosse ( 210,217 has combined participants: 113,313 boys, 96,904 girls) and Bowling, which is up to 60,039 participants nationwide (32,159 boys, 27,880 girls)

NFHS officials attributed the slowdown in football decline to the implementation of new safety measures – although they did not rule out the possibility of parents encouraging their children to take up sports for fear of getting hurt.

While there have been news reports about schools dropping the sport of football for the 2018 season because of declining numbers, the survey found an overall decline of only 20 schools.

While the number of student-athletes overall was up, it comes nowhere near the boost it enjoyed between 2016 and 2017. The number of additional participants for the year 2016-2017 was 94,635 and this past school year saw an increase of only 16,451.

The report is available here.

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