Team Sports Participation Back to Pre-Pandemic Levels

The Sports & Fitness Industry Association's (SFIA) examination of 2022 participation and market trends revealed that the total number of participants in team sports in the United States was 70.8 million in 2022, the same amount as in 2019, reflecting the highest annual participation in team sports in the past 10 years. This comeback is measured against the 2020 team sport participation figure of 67 million, driven by the closure of facilities and the shutdown of leagues and teams.

The 2023 U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report provides detailed information on 23 different team sports, covering participation and market trends from 2022 and featuring in-depth data analysis of age group participation and specific takeaways. This year’s report also breaks down data on team sports coaches and training and provides predictions on the future growth of specific sports.

While the total number of participants has recovered, the report highlights that the number of “CORE” players has not come back similarly, suggesting that while Americans are playing team sports, they are not playing them as much. Soccer (outdoor) is the only team sport that increased CORE participation over the 2019-2022 period. The SFIA report speaks to the need to translate the clear interest of Americans in playing sports to encouraging regular routines and structure of playing on actual teams.

“The demonstrable interest in playing team sports in America is fueled by a variety of factors, including wanting to be physically active, but also the recognition that playing team sports is good for mental health,” said SFIA President & CEO Tom Cove. “At a base level, young people are returning to youth sports because it is a great opportunity to have fun with their friends. We should not lose sight of this simple fact as we strive to deliver appropriate sports programming.”

Aggregate team sports participation also trended positively in 2022, increasing by 3.6 million participants. This means, for example, if a participant plays soccer and baseball, they count twice in the numbers. This year’s was the largest in the past decade, and the first time in five years this number did not decrease. This positive trend is due to the largest team sports like basketball, soccer (outdoor) and football (flag and tackle) all having increased levels. Efforts to promote early sport sampling and less single-sport specialization should be encouraged.
In a promising development, SFIA research shows that both the 6-to-12 and 13-to-17 age groups saw total team sport participation levels increase from 2021 to 2022. This is foundational good news for the sports and fitness industry both because the health of team sports depends on youth participation much more than other categories, like running and health club activities, and from a longer-term view, youth sports participation is historically a gateway for Americans to be physically active over their lifetimes.

“It is great news that youth team sports participation levels have increased, which creates a good foundation for team sports and is the first step in cultivating a love to play at a young age,” Cove said. “The important part now is taking those new participants and converting them into CORE team sports players and allowing their passion and commitment to sports to be fulfilled.”