Report: Youth Sports on the Rise & Decline

Benchwarmers SwimTodayTwo major sports industry research studies* were released recently looking at sports participation trends of kids in the country. Neither report lessens societal concerns about the state of youth fitness as we see flattening or decreasing participation rates in many areas. One sport’s loss is another sport’s gain, so I see a few trends worth noting.

The Bad News
There is a slight decline in team sport participation according to both studies from 2012 to 2013. The official reason is “no longer like the sport” but the NSGA’s read-between-the-lines assessment is burnout, potential issues with coaches, etc. My read between-the-lines assessment is those are ways of saying they aren’t enjoying it and having fun. The full graph is below:


Source: National Sporting Goods Association’s Sports Participation and Purchase Report –

The “Good News”
Sometimes even good news come tempered, but inactivity in general decreased from 2013 over 2012. Inactivity had been increasing each year since 2008.

The Good News (Specific to Swimming)
Swimming stands out as one of the major opportunity sports. For full disclosure, my job is the CMO of USA Swimming, but I comfortably make this statement objectively not subjectively. According to the SFIA, “swimming for fitness” is the most popular aspirational sport amongst almost every age group. In other words, it’s the sport most people WANT to participate in. Getting them beyond aspiration and into the pool is a topic for another day, but swimming is the #1 aspirational sport in the 6-12, 13-17, 18-24, 25-34, 45-54, 55-64 and 65+ age groups. It slips to #3 in the 35-44 group behind hiking and working out with weights. Bicycling is the only other activity that is consistently in the top 5 of most age categories.

Quick Hits
Some other random facts that caught my attention:
“Tread”ing Lightly: Treadmill use is down 7.6% from 2012 to 2013
“Tri”-ing Harder: Triathlon is on a meteoric rise with non-traditional/off road triathlons up 32.4% and traditional/road triathlons up 29.7%.
Having a “Field” Day: Field sports are spiking with field hockey up 13.4%, lacrosse up 9.8% and rugby up a whopping 18.4%.
Out in the Cold: It was a chilly year for the outdoor sports with hunting (bow, rifle, shotgun), fishing (fly, saltwater, fresh water), target shooting (shotgun) and hiking all down in participation.
Inside Job: Spending on gym memberships is on the rise by 4.6% but spending on outdoor recreation is down 5.3%.
For the Birds: Bird watching is up 4.6%. Seriously.

Sport Movers
Below is a summary of the top movers in Olympic sports or top mainstream sports. The percentages below are based on 2013 vs. 2012 in “core” participation. The definition of core varies by sport but essentially refers to avid participants vs. casual.

Sports on the Rise
• Triathlon: +29.7
• Rugby: +18.4%
• Swimming for Fitness: +16.9%
• Field Hockey: +13.4%
• Lacrosse: +9.8%
• Archery: +8.7%
• Badminton: +6.0%
• Tennis: +3.9%
• Swimming – Team: +3.3%
• Volleyball – Beach: +3.0%
• Cycling – Road: +2.8%
• Basketball: +2.2%
• Ice Hockey: +1.5%
• Baseball: +0.4%

Sports on the Decline
• Boxing: -20%
• Ice Skating: -9.9%
• Wrestling: -7.9%
• Track & Field: -7.1%
• Gymnastics: -5.4%
• Volleyball – Court: -3.0%
• Golf: -2.5%
• Football – Tackle: -2.5%
• Table Tennis: -1.4%
• Soccer: -0.2%

For additional research related to swimming specifically, a new industry report executive summary is posted at

* = Sports Fitness Industry Association’s 2014 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report –; National Sporting Goods Association’s Sports Participation and Purchase Report –


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2 replies

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