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Blog: Increasingly, There's No 'They' in Team

We've all seen our share of opportunities for adults to get fit in unusual ways. There's obstacle racing, having people throw paint on you while you run a 5K, and boot camps of all sorts.

No wonder we forget about the more traditional opportunities for adults, like team sports.

Remember those? Sports like softball, baseball and basketball? Or even kickball and flag football?

A lot of people don't think about those opportunities. And men are thinking about them less and less, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association's recent survey that shows a distinct decline in adult men participating in team sports.

The U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report 2012 shows a 13 percent drop in the number of men participating in team sports since 2008. In fact, it wasn't just men's participation that went down; there were 2.5 percent fewer boys (age 6-17) participating in sports overall as well.

Maybe this isn't a surprise. Earlier this fall, the National Federation of State High School Associations reported that an all-time high of 7,692,520 students participated in sports during the 2011-12 school year - but the gain was attributable to a significant increase in girls' participation (an additional 33,984) that more than made up for a 9,419-participant drop in the boys' figures.

For the record, the SFIA study shows growth among both girls' and adult women's participation in team sports, something that bears out the numbers in the NFHS study.

When the high school sport/gender fluctuations were first reported in this blog, there was no consensus on the reason, but there certainly was a lot of speculation. Some people thought it was a fluke. Others blamed Title IX, a lack of sports programming for middle schoolers, high registration fees and more.

In SFIA's research, while plenty of kids may be interested in sports, other factors are at work:

"There is a shortage of available facilities and local recreation leagues (a supply issue) and there has been an evolution for team sports, such as basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, into a tournament and 'showcase' based model that puts less importance on regular, local league play (a demand issue)."

In fact, the survey noted that nearly 40 percent of team sports participants plan to increase their spending this year on "travel to take part in sports/recreation activities" and "team sports outside of school." This dovetails with the previously reported growth of sports tourism, in which (a) parents are spending more to travel with their children to out-of-town or out-of-state tournaments, or (b) adults themselves are investing in travel to participate in events like marathons, hiking trips and more.

So we circle back to the same questions we had before, only this time, we're talking about men, rather than teenage boys. Where are they going, if they're not playing on teams? Are they strapped for time and trying to work out on their own, or in clubs? If they're in clubs, are they participating in group fitness programs like boot camp, and are those taking the place of a team sport? Or are they training for singular pursuits, such as marathons or triathlons or perhaps even obstacle races? And if any or all of these are true, why aren't we seeing these same numbers among grown women?

Only one thing for sure: Title IX isn't our culprit here. So what is?

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