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Diversity & Inclusion, Numbers

Numbers: Football in America – Youth Sports Participation Rates

Blythewood Tiny Mite Bengal Camryn LeGree, 08.22.2015

For the past six weeks I have been deluged with football events and related activities. It seems like there are more football games on television, and not just on Sunday and Monday nights.

Then, there are my peeps (younger relatives and children of friends) that are playing on high school teams or in youth leagues. See photo of my younger cousin, Camryn LeGree, of the Blythewood (South Carolina) Tiny Mite Bengals youth football team.  So many games and so little time to watch them all.

Football is often called America’s favorite past time. Data from a survey by Harris Interactive [Ref 1] backs it up. Pro football is the top pick among 32% of sports fans, while baseball only garners “favorite” status among half as many Americans (16%). These are interesting stats for a beginning discussion on the game of football in America, and the players and athletes that come with the territory.

For many but not all, the road to the NFL begins with the youth leagues. One of the largest and oldest of the youth leagues is Pop Warner Little Scholars, Inc. (PWLS), a non-profit organization that provides youth football and cheer and dance programs for participants in 42 states and several countries around the world. According to PWLS, over 250,000 youth from ages 5 to 15 participated in their football program during 2010.

However, when the topic of youth football comes up these days, the discussion turns to the numbers that show more youth opting-out or being squeezed out of the game. Data from the Aspen Institute’s Project Play [Ref 2] show that in 2007, 34.7% of children ages 6 to 12 were active three times a week in any sport activity, organized or unstructured. By 2014 that number had dropped to 26.9% (among 13 to 17 year olds, it fell from 44.7% to 39.8%).

Blythewood (South Carolina) Tiny Mite Bengals Team Members, 08.22.2015

Blythewood (South Carolina) Tiny Mite Bengals Team Members, 08.22.2015

More specifically, for that same period, 1.8 million children played football in 2007. Those numbers dropped to 1.3 million in 2014 – a 28.6% reduction.

Factors influencing this drop-off in participation along with percentage of parents responding to a 2014 survey [Ref 2] are:

  • risk of injury – 87.9%
  • the quality or behavior of coaches – 81.5%
  • cost – 70.3%
  • the time commitment required – 67.9%
  • emphasis on winning over having fun – 66.1%

About a quarter of parents have considered keeping their child out of a sport due to concussion risks, with tackle football registering the greatest level of concern (espnW/Aspen Institute Project Play Survey of Parents). The good news is that a number of folks have been working to make the game of football safer for those who play it. We’ll discuss some of those solutions in future posts along with stats for high school, college, and the pros.

In the meantime, there’s a football game being played somewhere in America. If you ever watched the television series Friday Night Lights, you know how important high school football is to the citizens of Dillon, Texas. If you grew up in a small or rural community like me, you definitely understand the importance of football as a sport, and the impact that the weekly games have on everyone.

As a friend notes about growing up in Missouri, “There wasn’t a whole lot to do on a Friday night if you didn’t go to the local high school football game in my home town. That is still true today.”

Until my next post, get ready to roll, tuck, and tumble, because it’s Football Night somewhere in America!


  1. Football’s Still Doing The Touchdown Dance All Over Baseball’s Home Plate, The Harris Poll®#7, January 21, 2015, by Hannah Pollack, Harris Poll Research Analyst, http://www.harrisinteractive.com/NewsRoom/HarrisPolls/tabid/447/mid/1508/articleId/1546/ctl/ReadCustom%20Default/Default.aspx
  2. Facts: Sports Activity and Children, Project Play, http://www.aspenprojectplay.org/the-facts

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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