The growth in youth team sports since 2009 is now being fueled by America's 13- and 14-year-olds. That's just one of the key findings of the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association's annual participation study on team sports, "U.S. Trends in Team Sports." In 2010, sports participation among 13- and 14-year olds increased 22 percent and 14 percent, respectively, versus 2009.

The National Alliance for Youth Sports, which for years reported that 13 was the age most-cited at which kids stopped playing sports, concurs with SGMA's new findings. John Engh, chief operating officer of the West Palm Beach, Fla.-based organization, credits the change to a dynamic shift in the way team sports are presented to kids. "It is encouraging to see that more youngsters are playing team sports these days compared to what we were seeing just a decade ago, where the 13- and 14-year-old age range was when they typically started dropping out," Engh says. "I think this recent upswing can be attributed to the outstanding efforts of recreation professionals around the country who are overseeing youth sports programs and making sure that their volunteer coaches are well prepared for their roles and responsibilities. And the success of these programs has led to the emergence of club or travel teams and leagues that offer this age group many more opportunities that weren't available just a couple years ago."

Almost 70 percent of children in the United States between the ages of 6 and 17 play some type of team sport, and three out of four teenagers are now playing at least one team sport. According to the SGMA, five team sports - led by rugby and lacrosse - have had strong gains in participation since 2009: rugby (up 50.7 percent), lacrosse (37.7 percent), field hockey (21.8 percent), gymnastics (19.7 percent) and beach volleyball (12.3 percent). Four more traditional mainstream team sports experienced single-digit growth in overall participation: baseball (up 5.2 percent), basketball (9.6 percent), outdoor soccer (2.8 percent) and tackle football (up 1.6 percent).

"Team sports bring us together as young children, teaching us to socialize, solve problems, resolve disputes, experience the benefits of hard work, understand different personalities and gain self-confidence and direction," says Neil Schwartz, director of business development for SGMA Research. "And the roots of a positive team sports experience are an impactful P.E. class in school."

Speaking of physical education programs, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee followed the recommendation of the Labor, Health and Education Subcommittee last week and included $78.8 million in funding for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) for the 2012-13 school year. The committee's action comes after the House Education & Workforce Committee proposed elimination of PEP funding, citing duplication of P.E. in other "physical activity" programs. The House Appropriations Committee has yet to take up the funding issue.

"The quality physical education provided with the PEP grant is critical to the physical well-being, academic achievement and social development of young people," Bill Sells, SGMA's vice president of government relations, says. "Without dedicated P.E. funding, schools will not have the resources necessary to train teachers and purchase equipment needed for quality P.E. The Senate's inclusion of PEP funding is a huge victory for the physical education community and a crucial step forward in securing 2012-13 P.E. funds."

The next step in the funding process will be inclusion in the U.S. House of Representatives' Education budget. In recent years, the Senate and the House have approved similar funding levels for PEP and compromised on the final funding figure.

PEP has been funded every year since 2001, and more than $600 million in PEP grants have been distributed by the U.S. Department of Education during the past ten years and used to purchase equipment and provide additional instructor training.