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The percentage of kids playing sports after school or on weekends decreased by nearly five percentage points in five years, according to data from the National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH).

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), playing sports can improve a child’s physical and mental health. This includes improvements in bone health, cardiorespiratory and muscular health, and a reduced risk of depression. Sports can also help kids develop confidence and self-esteem, as well as social and interpersonal skills.

How many kids play sports?

The NSCH found that an estimated 53.8% of children aged 6 to 17 played on a sports team or took lessons as of 2022 — down from 58.4% in 2017, the first year the survey asked about sports participation.

In 2022, this amounted to 26.8 million kids participating in some form of sports while 23.0 million did not.

HHS finds many barriers keep kids from playing sports, including:

  • Lack of access to facilities or programs
  • Cost
  • Social pressure
  • Time constraints
  • Lack of interest or knowledge

Students in rural areas can have limited access to the necessary facilities. Additionally, lower-income families can face barriers in affording fees, equipment, and other costs, particularly as kids continue to grow and the competition level increases. In 2022, 33.3% of kids living in poverty played sports, compared to 41.3% among kids whose family incomes were between one and two times the federal poverty level.

The COVID-19 pandemic also presented unique challenges to kids getting involved in sports, forcing many leagues to pause or shut down. With many of the typical avenues for youth sports unavailable, HHS developed some virtual programming to support youth sports organizations in the summer of 2020.

What ages of kids are participating less in sports?

In 2019, 56.7% of kids aged 12–17 were involved in sports, compared to 53.5% of kids aged 6–11. By 2022, those percentages had nearly flipped, with older kids dropping 4.6 points to 52.1% and younger kids increasing their participation rates by 2.1 points to 55.7%.

The drop in participation among high school-aged kids is consistent with data from another survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that the percentage of high schoolers playing on at least one sports team dropped from 57.4% in 2019 to a 21st-century low of 49.1% in 2021.

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The demographics of youth sports

In all available survey years, girls have participated in sports at lower rates than boys[1]. The decline in participation rates has also been more pronounced among girls than boys. From 2017 to 2022, boys’ involvement in sports decreased from 60.7% to 58.1%, while girls’ involvement dropped from 55.9% to 49.4%.

The largest decreases in participation rates among racial and ethnic groups were among Hispanic kids, whose participation dropped 7.9 points from 50.0% to 42.1%, and Asian kids, whose participation fell 9.5 points from 59.6% to 50.1%. In 2022, no racial group participated in sports at a lower rate than Hispanic children.

Although the cost of playing sports can be a barrier to involvement, kids from families of all income levels have been playing sports at lower rates. Participation rates among kids from families below the federal poverty level dropped 6.5 percentage points, while those between one and two times the federal poverty level dropped 3.3 points, and those between two and four times that level fell 7.1 points.

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Youth sports by state

Sports participation rates tend to be higher in the Northern US than in the Southern states. In 2022, the states with the highest percentage of kids playing sports were Vermont (69.4%), Iowa (67.8%), North Dakota (66.7%), Maine (64.4%), and Wyoming (64.4%).

Meanwhile, New Mexico had the lowest percentage of kids involved in sports at 40.8%, more than five percentage points lower than any other state. New Mexico was followed by Nevada (46.1%), Mississippi (46.2%), Louisiana (46.5%), and West Virginia (47.7%).

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Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System
Last updated
National Survey of Children’s Health
Last updated

The NSCH includes two options for sex: male and female.