Report: Soccer participation in 2020 dropped at highest rate of all traditional team sports

Aspen Institute's Project Play is out with its annual report on trends in youth sports -- specifically, how youth sports were impacted by the pandemic in 2020 and how they are coming back in 2021.

In its report on pandemic trends, Project Play finds that Covid-19 continues to hang over youth sports in multiple ways -- half of parents consider the possibility of their children getting sick as a barrier to returning to play and three in 10 reported that their child is not interested in returning to team sports.

The report includes data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association on sport participation rates collected at the end of 2020. It's broken down by kids ages 6-12 and kids ages 13-17.

The good news: the percentage of children playing sports on a regular basis increased as they sought outlets for activity. The bad news: the percentage of children playing team sports on a regular basis decreased.

Most alarming: the number of children who played soccer on a regular basis dropped at the highest rate of all traditional team sports.

Participation (soccer, ages 6-12)
2010: 10.9%
2011: 11.2%
2012: 9.2%
2013: 9.3%
2014: 9.1%
2015: 8.9%
2016: 8.5%
2017: 7.7%
2018: 7.4%
2019: 7.7%
2020: 6.4%

That represents a drop of 19.0% from 2019 -- when soccer participation had gone up -- to 2020.

Participation (team sports, ages 6-12, 2020 vs. 2019)
Basketball +5.5
Tackle Football -3.4
Lacrosse -7.4
Ice hockey -9.9
Baseball -15.2
Volleyball -15.5%
Softball -16.6%
Soccer -19.0%

Extend that over a decade, and the numbers are stark. In 2010, 3,016,000 children ages 6-12 played soccer on a regular basis, but that number was only 1,726,000 in 2020. That represents a drop of 43%. How have other sports fared over the same decade? Basketball and baseball are also down but at much smaller percentages: 2% and 12%, respectively.

Here's what the folks at Project Play had to say about soccer:

"Soccer suffered mightily during the pandemic. Usually one of the most popular sports for kids ages 6-12, soccer had only 73,000 more participants than tennis and 226,000 more than golf. That would have been unheard of in a normal year. In 2019, soccer had 967,000 more kids than tennis and 916,000 more than golf."

The year-to-year changes in participation among children ages 13-17 are similar:

Participation (soccer, ages 7-13)
2008: 7.9%
2018: 6.8%
2019: 7.1%
2020: 5.7%

That represents a drop of 19.5% from 2019 to 2020.

Participation (team sports, ages 7-13, 2020 vs. 2019)
Basketball +2.5%
Tackle Football -3.3%
Volleyball -11.0%
Lacrosse -11.2%
Ice Hockey -11.3%
Softball -15.0%
Baseball -16.8%
Soccer -19.5%

One of the most revealing aspects of a separate survey Project Play did with Utah State University's Families in Sport Lab concerned the percentage of children who tried new sports for the first time in 2020. Basketball (as simple as shooting hoops in the driveway) was at 20.9%, baseball (playing catch in the yard) was at 16.1% and soccer (kicking a ball in a park) was at only 10.0%.

6 comments about "Report: Soccer participation in 2020 dropped at highest rate of all traditional team sports".
  1. Shanti Rao, October 22, 2021 at 12:44 p.m.

    Is this really meaningful? Most recreational soccer clubs couldn't get field permits in 2020, so many soccer clubs just shut down. Meanwhile, soccer had enough participation before that merely kicking a ball wouldn't be "new" for most families.

  2. Kent James replied, October 23, 2021 at 1:16 a.m.

    It's interesting, but as you point out, not meaningful.  COVID had a huge impact.  It will take a few years to see how things have really changed.  And Humble makes a good point about the quality of the data. 

  3. humble 1, October 22, 2021 at 2:18 p.m.

    Rather than just drop only the results on us, it would be useful to know how these numbers are put together.  Just because it's the Aspen Institute is not enough.  In my large metro area the major youth clubs are booming as the ECNL and ECRL have given them two new very marketable leagues and they kept their local flavor as well, but putting a 'championship' in front it sounds good.  Meanwhile girls ECRL is also in full force so they have that as well. Further more, there are 4 clubs offering MLS Next to boys and only one of them is free.  They did cut the free clubs teams back from 4 teams to 2, so that is a regression, but the pay MLS roster positions are selling like hotcakes.  So appears to be net positive at the top of the age group in our area, which here-to-fore was a big problem for clubs.  Anyway, wonder what others are seeing in their areas, as I really do not have a lot of confidence in the Aspen study.  I am pretty sure it does not include school soccer or latino clubs, which with the growth in the latino percentage of the population every year will necessarily erode it's validity year over year.  Cheers! 

  4. humble 1 replied, October 22, 2021 at 2:26 p.m.

    clarification to above, ECNL and now ECRL for boys are the two marketable leagues that have been added.  ECRL for girls came on last year.  So in the last three years they have added three elite pay leagues, ECNL-boys, ECRL-girls, ECRL-boys.  DA basically rebranded to MLS Next, and remains pay for boys in our area, and an easy sale for the clubs.  This goes from U13 to U19.  This has significantly mitigated attrition from U13 to U19.  Instead of 1 or 2 boys teams at U18/19, they have 4 or 5 at the big legacy clubs.   

  5. frank schoon, October 22, 2021 at 2:24 p.m.

    WHO CARES!!! My gas is going up, my Arizona Ice tea has now delivery problems, masks on or off, etc....these last8 months is just going downhill in this country!!!!!

  6. David Ruder, October 23, 2021 at 6:56 p.m.

    "Videogames" are vegetizing our youth, 20 years from now they will forget how to walk.

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