How Parents View Football vs. Swimming in Making Kids’ Sport Choices

For the American consumer, the NFL is king. According to ESPN and the NFL, there are 185 million Americans who self-identify as “avid” football fans.

With the start of the regular season it will be all consuming with TV, online, fantasy teams and more. But New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady put football in the news in a different context by talking about how the issues of concussions will impact youth participation.

“In football, the good outweighs the bad,” Brady told CNBC. “There’s a lot of great lessons to be learned in football. My children, I want them to do whatever they want to do, but if they ever want to put a helmet on and play football, I’ll certainly encourage it.”

I agree with Brady, actually. I played it as a kid and through parts of high school before an injury (thankfully not a concussion) ended an extremely modest career. All sports have risks, so I appreciate his point of view.  Seven in 10 Americans feel the benefits outweigh the risks according to a 2013 Marist College poll.

As Teflon as the NFL seems to be, youth football is going through a shift. Since my day job is at USA Swimming, I want to make some comparisons in how decisions are made in the household on youth swimming vs. football.

Swimming vs. Football

By the Numbers
Youth football still is much higher in participation than swimming, however tackle football has gone through five straight years of decline, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. Tackle football is down 3.5% over the last five years, touch football is down 5.5% and flag football is down 3.3%.

Swimming vs Football Participation

In the 2014 State of the Fitness & Competitive Swimming Industry research report, we asked non-swimming parents how they compare football and swimming on a variety of factors. Swimming wins out in areas such as fitness, fun and ease in learning. Then, the two sports are a virtual dead heat on being enjoyable as a parent and ease of finding a place to participate locally. Then, football takes over on developing social skills, coolness and teamwork. (I expect swimming people to protest the team results!)

Swimming vs Football Perception

Trust in Coaches
Swimming fares well in how its coaches are perceived. We asked the parents of non-swimmers about their trust level in coaches from several sports. Below is their response comparing swimming to football coaches.

Trust of Swim Coaches vs. Football Coaches

That trust in swim coaches escalates dramatically once kids and their families get involved in USA Swimming.

Trust of Swim Coaches vs Football Coaches

Making a Choice
In general, football and swimming aren’t competing against each other. In our study, football is the #5 sport competitor to swimming for boys at the youth level. The top 5 sports that compete with swimming for the attention of kids 6-12 (adjusted for sports heavy/dominant in one gender):


  1. Basketball
  2. Soccer
  3. Baseball
  4. Lacrosse
  5. Football


  1. Basketball
  2. Soccer
  3. Volleyball
  4. Dance
  5. Softball & Gymnastics (tied)

For additional blogs on youth sports participation and sports marketing check out the Marketing tab of



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