Reports & Insights

Team Sports Participation Grows In 2021 But Falls Short Of 2019

Team Sports Participation Grows In 2021 But Falls Short Of 2019

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Reports & Insights

New data suggests that participation numbers are increasing back towards pre-pandemic levels.


The newly released SFIA Team Sports Report, based on research by Sports Marketing Surveys USA, shows that the number of team sports participants increased from 67 million in 2020 to 68.3 million in 2021, up 1.8 percent. However, participation fell short of the 70.8 million participants in 2019.


Despite the slight drop, SFIA identified positive signs for the future of team sports, particularly the fact that the number of participants in the 6-to-12 age group increased from 17.0 million to 17.6 million year-over-year.


“The number of 6-to-12-year-olds playing sports not only increased in 2021, but it is the highest we have seen in the last five years,” said Tom Cove, president and CEO, SFIA. “After free play and recess, team sports are often the first regular physical activity in which children participate, and the experience can be the foundational connection to a lifetime of sports and fitness participation.”


Repeating the trend seen in recent years, the SFIA report shows that basketball continues to be the most-played team sport in the U.S., with 27.1 million participants in 2021. Low-cost play options, the ability to play solo or in groups, in pickup or organized games has helped basketball maintain strong participation throughout the pandemic and into 2022. The sport’s hegemony may come under threat in the future though, with the interesting statistic that soccer overtook basketball as the top sport for 6-year-olds in 2021. Based on the recent energy and excitement around men’s and women’s World Cup soccer events, SFIA and SMS USA expect soccer participation to continue to grow in the coming years.


Among the 23 team sports featured in the report, the fastest growing team sports (on a year-over-year percentage basis) are:

  • fast-pitch softball (+15.3 percent)
  • gymnastics (+10.9 percent)
  • court volleyball (+8.1 percent)
  • swimming on a team (+8.0 percent)


Five team sports – flag football, grass volleyball, fast-pitch softball, court volleyball, and basketball – increased core participation over a five-year average for 6-to-17-year-olds. Eleven sports increased total participation over a five-year average for the same age range.


“While people were back participating in sports, it is important to remember that many spring season team sports were not at full strength in early 2021 due to the Omicron COVID variant,” added Cove. “While conclusive evidence remains to be drawn, early indications suggest 2022 participation may reach, if not surpass, 2019 numbers as organized spring sports activities fully returned for the first time in two years.”


The SFIA 2022 U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report examines participation and market trends from 2021 in team sports and features in-depth data analysis of age group participation and specific takeaways. This year’s report also breaks down data on team sports coaches, training and features a new section on young adult team sports participation, covering ages 18 to 24.

The report is free for SFIA members and costs $649 for non-members. Head here to download today

Sports Marketing Surveys operates the industry leading Physical Activity Council study of participation in the USA. Reports are available for over 100 sports.

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