Recreation Management Rec Report - The Newsletter for Recreation, Sports & Fitness Facility Managers

Feature Story

January 2022


SFIA Report Reveals Impact of Pandemic on Organized Team Sports

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) 2021 U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report, the total number of Americans participating in a team sport dropped by 3.8 million players in 2020. The report, which examines participation and market trends in team sports and features in-depth data analysis of age group participation and more, breaks out the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the team sports landscape.

In contrast to previous years, team sports participation in 2020 skewed heavily toward casual or recreational participation, which actually showed an increase, as opposed to core participation. More than 80% of touch football, grass volleyball, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and beach/sand volleyball players participated in casual games in 2020.

The most-played team sport in America in 2020? Basketball, which lends itself to solo practice, small-sided games and social formats, in addition to competitive play. Basketball's 11.4% growth in 2020 was by far the largest of any team sport. Four other team sports also saw growth in 2020, including indoor soccer, outdoor soccer (now the No. 2 team sport among 18- to 24-year-olds), ultimate frisbee and flag football.

"As much as any sports and fitness category, team sports participation was negatively affected by the unique environment forced upon our country by the pandemic," said Tom Cove, president and CEO of SFIA. "As was to be expected, team sports that were able to be played outdoors and in a less organized fashion did better in 2020. At the same time, there is encouraging news that the average number of team sports played increased, suggesting more experimentation and perhaps, more overall growth over a long period of time."

Despite a decline in team sports participation, the SFIA report indicates the number of sports played per participant increased from 1.84 to 1.88, overturning a three-year declining trend. A common theme for sports that had more participants during 2020 was that those sports could be played recreationally, outside or socially distanced. In many instances, the pandemic forced kids to try new sports that were socially distant. Another positive trend SFIA found was an increase in coaching training, and trained coaches help provide better experiences for players, which can lead to a higher retention rate. "In an unprecedented year, team sports grinded it out and survived," Cove said. "The best news is initial indicators suggest a robust return to team sports participation as pandemic restrictions are lifted and schools and recreation spaces open back up. We are encouraged by the underlying data and feel strongly that team sports have a good foundation for moving into 2021 and beyond."


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