Home Features The Participation Rates of High School Sports in the USA

The Participation Rates of High School Sports in the USA

The Philadelphia Eagles welcomed their underdog position in 2018 and executed one of the most surprising postseason victories in modern NFL history. The Eagles might have won the Lombardi Trophy for the very first time in franchise history, but most critics weren't ecstatic about one aspect of the game: the number of spectators that tuned in.

On the surface, 103 million spectators may not look like a minor figure, but it's part of a larger issue for the NFL and general professional football. The number of viewers watching the 2018 Big Game was at an all-time low over the last 10 years, which is a trend that continued throughout the 2017-18 season.

The most recent difficulties within the league have gotten a lot of attention, but they may not be the sole obstacles preventing fans from watching – or student-athletes from joining at all. We used information from the (NFSHA) National Federation of State High School Associations to learn about programs that are increasing in popularity and which may be on the decline among student-athletes to get a better understanding of the changing attitude toward sports in America. Continue reading to learn more about the USA’s preferred games and how particular high-profile scandals may irrevocably alter the expectations of soccer, basketball, and football.

Recreational Sports Per Region


In spite of the recent negative publicity surrounding a handful of sports, the sum of pupils that are active in high school athletics climbed for the 28th consecutive year in 2017, approaching almost 8 million. However, this does not mean that each sport is gaining popularity; some sections of the nation are focusing on more conventional team sports (such as football and basketball), while others are looking forward to what the potential of sports in the USA may hold.

Female participation in sports such as basketball, volleyball, and track & field, grasped a record figure of over 3.4 million in 2017, contributing to the overall increase of high school athletes. Male programs, on the other hand, grew at a faster rate and may provide valuable insight into future rising and declining patterns.

In 2017, participation in seven of the upper ten most popular high school boy programs increased. Soccer, cross-country, and outdoor track & field, all reached their peaks, leading the way with good growth. Throughout the 2016-17 academic year; however, the number of male students who played football declined.

Two states in the United States have the most high school athletes; however, they may not be participating in the same sports. Football still reigned supreme in Texas, the state with the most high school sports, and throughout most of the South, which includes Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama. While the sport's popularity continues to wane on a national level, popular high school and college-level teams might be assisting to keep it alive. Outdoor track and field won in California (as well as additional high-volume US states like Ohio, New York, and Illinois).

Soccer and Basketball (two popular high school sports for both female and male athletes) began to increase too. In Montana and South Dakota, more than one-fifth of high school student-athletes participate in basketball, whereas in Maine and Vermont, around 15% of all students participate in soccer.

A New Field Champion


Only a sole sport has attained a double-digit rate increase when it comes to high school scholars over the last decade: soccer.

Baseball, football, and basketball are likely to come to mind when we think about the most widespread pro sports in the US. Professional sports, on the other hand, take on a different appearance on an international level, and no sport interests more supporters than soccer.

Soccer has generated a strong drive in the United States in recent years on several borders. As not only are Major League Soccer (MLS) franchises springing up all across the nation but they were also valued at $185 million back in 2017 - a rise of 80 percent in only a four-year period. MLS is also beginning to draw foreign talent, which might result in significant media attention and increased awareness for these soccer clubs. MLS soccer teams are fixated on developing their potential at this juncture in the United States, which includes capitalizing on the soccer drive with both girls and boys from young, rather than just bringing in proven players to help build fan bases or establish credibility.

However, MLS isn't the sole method that soccer is increasing in popularity in this part of the world. Amazon is supposed to be proposing a lot of money for the streaming privileges to the Premier League (which includes teams like Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Chelsea), indicating that Americans aren't just concerned with watching local teams play – they desire added soccer on their TV screens than they do now.

Track & field along with baseball have shown increases in involvement over the previous decade, albeit they only made up a small portion of the increase in high school soccer players.

The Most Loved Pastimes in the US


High school physical involvement has been increasing for over thirty years; however, two sports saw a dip between 2006 and 2016: football and basketball.

Even though the NBA and NFL franchises are amongst the world’s most valuable clubs, spectatorship keeps falling on their largest platforms. The 2017-18 season of the NFL had record-low ratings for the standard season, playoffs, along with championship games, with many critics pointing to the league's troubles with player demonstrations during the singing of the national anthem as a major source of contention. The political ramifications (and, indeed, increased fan outrage) of a few players kneeling during the national anthem on television were only amplified when White House officials and the president jumped in to criticize the acts.

But can national anthem demonstrations reveal the whole picture, and how would an annum of political discussion affect 10 years of young players participating in the sport? Another important aspect that may be adding to the drop in NFL rankings and consequent lack of traction is the presence of a third major element. In 2017, studies indicated that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, was detected in 99 percent of deceased athletes that had their brains submitted for scientific investigation. The neurodegenerative brain illness has been connected to the felo-de-se of former NFL player Junior Seau and can be detected in players who have been exposed to chronic head trauma. In 2013, there was a lot less knowledge regarding the condition. Nowadays, the NFL has created particular regulation changes to cater for injuries sustained by players throughout games; however, the families of students are going further. As worries about CTE and injuries continue to grow, child football participation has plummeted. Parents that had participated in the activity as youngsters don’t want their children to do so.

In recent years, the NBA has been affected by seeing a comparable (though less theatrical) drop in ratings, but the decrease in student participation has much more dissimilar roots to football. Two key reasons may be pushing against youth engagement, particularly amongst female students: a structure that filters out players that are on a "non-elite" level at a young age and economic burdens (especially in rural regions) that results in high school students that have much less time to play sports. Due to the majority of kids in public schools in the United States being poor, pupils have been compelled to choose after-school jobs above after-school basketball, which may contribute to the drop in participation. As per NFHS data, basketball involvement peaked in 2011, during a period of economic distress in the United States, but gradually increased between the years 2011 and 2016.

A Fresh Authority


Amidst unfavorable news and the collapse of major sports agendas for kids in the United States, school sports participation is increasing (particularly in high schools), with three programs seeing the most significant increases: baseball, soccer, and track & field.

The popularity of soccer, mainly in places such as Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, may be ascribed in great part to the popularity of the sport on a professional level, which includes both Major League Soccer and leagues such as La Liga and the Premier League (which includes clubs such as Sevilla, Real Madrid, F.C. Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid). Meanwhile, Oklahoma City was involved in talks to construct a professional stadium to accommodate its Major League Soccer team, which currently has 23 members. However, in the United States, such expansion has taken a long time, and some criticizers believe that the rise of MLS is a result of young soccer fans playing the sport in a variety of youth soccer leagues, instead of it being the opposite.

Since 2006, track & field has witnessed significant growth in involvement, notably in areas like Oklahoma, Georgia, and Delaware, while baseball has effectively improved from a reduction in involvement amid 2008 and 2010, along with years related to the economic slump. The MLB's "Play Ball" program, started in 2015, encourages youngsters to start playing baseball informally rather than requiring them to be serious participants. Baseball's popularity amongst high school pupils has risen steadily since 2012, thanks to an emphasis on the game rather than the sport's competitive aspect.

Active Involvement

The landscape of school athletics, especially in high schools, is shifting across the United States. In many situations, parents and children are adjusting their attitudes toward sports competition as a result of what is happening on a professional level and the international stage. The prominence of football among school pupils has been on the decline since 2006, as the NFL battles issues like the overall mental and physical health of players along with player protests.

However, athletic activity among high schoolers is increasing, and fresh and fascinating sports are gaining popularity among fans across the country. Soccer's popularity among students is growing in lockstep with the popularity of Major League Soccer (MLS) throughout the nation, indicating that soccer has finally come to America and isn't leaving soon.

What matters most, irrespective of the curriculum is that children be active and participate in safe sports that they love instead of pressured competition. Be it track & field, basketball, soccer, or baseball, prepared sports plans may help children develop vital leadership skills, connect with good mentors, progress their grades, and remain in shape.

How We Did It

The National Federation of State High School Associations provided us with this information (nfhs.org). We gathered data on high school sports involvement from various schools in all states, along with Washington, D.C., for this project. We looked at data from a decade of sports involvement, beginning with the 2006 academic year and finishing in 2016, which is the most recent set of data available. After that, the theories were analyzed statistically.