The Wall Street Journal recently published a lengthy article detailing the drop in participation in the four most-popular U.S. team sports — basketball, soccer, baseball and football. The results are not pretty. The author examined data from youth leagues, school sports groups and industry associations from 2008 to 2012.

We recommend checking out the entire article, but here are some of the statistics the article highlights (All data is from 2008 to 2012):

Participation Declines:

  • Combined participation in the four most-popular team sports listed above fell among boys and girls aged 6 through 17 by about 4 percent.
  • The population of 6- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. fell just 0.6 percent during that same time period, according to the U.S. Census.
  • Participation in high school football was down 2.3 percent in 2012-2013 compared to the 2008-2009 season, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
  • Participation in high school basketball was down 1.8 percent.
  • Little League baseball reports U.S. participation in its baseball and softball leagues was down 6.8 percent.
  • A new survey by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association and the Physical Activity Council, a nonprofit research agency funded by seven trade groups, found that 2012 participation in organized football by players aged 6 through 14 was 4.9 percent below that in 2008.
  • Basketball participation fell 6.3 percent in the 6-to-14 group during that period, according to the survey of nearly 70,000 households and individuals.
  • The percentage of inactive 6- to 12-year-olds — youths involved in no physical activities over a 12-month period — rose to near 20 percent in 2012 from 16 percent in 2007, according to the SFIA/Physical Activity Council survey.
  • Inactive 13- to 17-year-olds rose from 17 to 19 percent.


Some good news:

  • Participation in youth lacrosse was up 158 percent according to the SFIA/Physical Activity Council Survey.
  • Participation in hockey was up 64 percent among 6- to 18-year-olds.

Why is this data concerning? Besides our country's well-documented childhood obesity problem, declines in youth sports participation could bear long-lasting consequences, William W. Dexter, a Maine physician who is president of the American College of Sports Medicine told the WSJ. "It is much more likely that someone who is active in their childhood is going to remain active into their adulthood," Dexter told the WSJ.

We want to hear from our readers. Are you experiencing similar declines in your programs? What can be done to boost participation in your sports leagues?

[Youth Participation Weakens in Basketball, Football, Baseball and Soccer]

Michael Gaio is eMedia Editor of Athletic Business.