Team Sports

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SFIA: Structured Team Sports Play Rising, Casual Play Decreasing

16 Dec, 2014

By: Tracey Schelmetic

Kids are dropping out of pick-up games.

While team sports participation is up in the U.S., it’s rising in a far more structured way than in years past. According to a new study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), despite the growth of core (formalized) participation of several sports, casual participation – think regular, informal neighborhood games –is waning.

The 2014 SFIA U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report, which the association conducts annually, has found that basketball’s core participation rates have increased 3.1 percent since 2008, with casual participation decreasing 6.7 percent. Football (tackle, touch, and flag) experienced an average core growth of 8.7 percent but a 7.6 percent drop in casual play. Soccer’s core composition rose 5.8 percent with casual participation declining by five percent. Volleyball has also seen a rise in formal play (up 4.1 percent for court volleyball, an increase of 12.1 percent for grass, and 3.4 percent up for sand/beach). Across the board, casual and informal play has given way to school-centered or league-centered team events.

“In focusing on team sports’ growth and retraction over the past six years, we’re building on last year’s findings and continuing to explore the changes in casual vs. core participation,” said VJ Mayor, SFIA Sr. Director of Research and Communications. “Gone are the days when a pick-up neighborhood game was standard. The new normal is league or club play with a structured practice and game schedule.”

It’s a small bright spot of good news for youth sports. Last year’s SFIA report found that combined participation in the four most-popular U.S. team sports—basketball, soccer, baseball and football—was down among both boys and girls aged 6 through 17 by about four percent from 2008 to 2012, a trend that is worrying to public health experts and pediatricians. A decline in sports participation has long-term implications for public health as well as negative effects on the sports equipment industry. In 2012, the sales of baseball bats dropped 18 percent from 2008 figures, and football sales saw a decrease of about five percent.  Sales for team uniforms for basketball and soccer remained flat.

The SFIA report evaluates the current state of youth sports participation and coaching and reveals trends in who exactly is coaching which sports, and what types of skills and safety training these coaches have. It breaks down core participation trends by sport, age, gender and income. More information is available at the association’s Web site

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