Youth Sports Participation Declines Significantly From 2010 to 2014

According to the latest data from the National Sporting Goods Association (NSGA) despite a two percent increase in in the number of 7-17-year-olds from 2010 to 2014, youth participation in sports, fitness, and recreation activities has declined for almost every physical activity during these four years.

Chart 1 below reflects the rather dramatic changes in the number of team sports participants among youth ages seven to seventeen.  Declines were least severe for baseball and tackle football, and most severe for basketball and soccer, contrary to conventional wisdom that contact sports are losing participants at a higher rate than non-contact sports because of injury concerns. The facts below suggest a universal decline in team sports participants regardless of whether the sport is contact or non-contact.

Chart 2 below indicates the trends for outdoor recreation activities between 2010 and 2014. Participation declines were even more dramatic in this category than for the team sports category. The decline among the number of bicycle riders was most significant, while participation in “hunting with firearms” actually increased, although the total number of participants is much lower for this activity than it is for other activities in this category.

Finally, as shown in Chart 3 below, according to the NSGA survey data, youth participation in Exercise/Fitness has declined in all but one activity, “Working Out at Clubs”. Although the declines were most severe for exercising with equipment, aerobic exercising and weightlifting, it is logical to assume that these activities have been transferred from home or school to the “club” for a variety of reasons.

The questions obviously are “what are the causes of these declines”, and how is the sport, recreation and fitness industry addressing them. Since the youth market is a much larger percentage of the overall team sports market than for recreation or fitness, one can assume that team sports equipment makers are more likely to experience reduced revenues than makers of recreation or fitness equipment.

Given that participation in youth sports has declined across many activities, it is suggestive that these declines may be a representation of broader cultural and economic changes, such as reductions in school and local recreation department budgets for physical education and sport.

One possible influence on declining youth sports participation could be the significant increase of 13-17 olds in fantasy sports activities, as reported in SBRnet’s 2014 Fan Market Study. The table below reflects dramatic increases in fantasy sports activity between 2013 and 2014 by teens ages 13-17.

We have developed several questions for classroom discussion relating to these significant sport and physical activity participation trends:

  • How much can the decline in sport and recreation participation be attributed the increase in the cost of sports equipment, products, and services?
  • To what extent is it the reduction of local government and school sponsored sport and recreational activities the result of reduced local budgets? Do you think that it is appropriate for youth sport and recreation participants to be required to pay for their sport and recreation programs?
  • To what extent can the decline in sport and recreation activity be attributed to young people spending significantly more time playing video games and fantasy sports?
  • If the decline continues, what does it mean, if anything, for the future of the sports fan market?


Posted: 7/6/2015 10:08:52 AM

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