Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America!

by CoachZ on January 27, 2009

An exhaustive study of children’s participation in sports and exercise, this is the first to document the benefit of sports to the wellness of families.

This study measures the nationwide participation rates of girls and boys in exercise and organized team sports. The central focus is on how the intersections among families, schools and communities are related to children’s involvement and interest in athletics and physical activity. Some of the personal and social benefits associated with children’s athletic participation are also identified and discussed. The athletic interests and involvements of girls and boys are examined from childhood through late adolescence, including entry into sport as well as drop-out patterns. 

American families display a wide array of cultural, economic, racial and ethnic characteristics. Despite this diversity, all families have two things in common. First, they nurture children from infancy through young adulthood. Second, parents do not raise their children in isolation. Family life unfolds within an institutional web that includes schools, churches, community organizations, after-school programs, government, economic forces and—central to this study—sports. It is within this wider social matrix that children’s athletic ability and interest in physical activity take shape and either blossom or dwindle. 

The findings and conclusions in this report are based on two nationwide surveys. The Women’s Sports Foundation commissioned Harris Interactive to complete a school-based survey of youth drawn from a random selection of approximately 100,000 public, private and parochial schools in the United States. The school-based survey method yields highly reliable results. The nationwide sample consists of 2,185 third- through 12th-grade girls and boys. In addition, phone interviews were conducted with a national cross-section of 863 randomly selected parents of children in grades 3 through 12. Parents were asked how they think and feel about their children’s interest and involvement in sports and physical activity. African-American and Hispanic parents were over-sampled in order to deepen understanding of the needs and experiences of underserved girls, boys and their families. 

This report confirms that sports are a resource for U.S. children as well as their families. Children’s athletic participation was associated with higher levels of family satisfaction. Sports and physical activity were also linked with improved physical and emotional health, academic achievement and quality of life for children. 

A complex picture of gender differences in athletic opportunities and physical activity emerges from this study. There is a nationwide gender gap in physical activity and sports involvement between girls and boys. The size of the gender gap, however, does not stretch uniformly across the country and all age brackets. In many communities, girls show similar levels of athletic participation and interest as boys. In other communities, however, access to sport and physical activity for girls appears to be thwarted by economic disadvantages and inadequate school resources. Young urban girls, especially, have a narrower window of opportunity for becoming involved with sports than their male counterparts and girls from suburban and rural communities. One in four ninth- to 12th-grade girls has never participated in organized or team sports in urban schools, compared to about one in six urban boys. In short, progress on the gender front in U.S. sports has been made, but it remains uneven, and it is often poor and mainly urban girls who are being left behind.


Participation In Sports And Physical Activity: The Gender Gap, Part I

1. A Gender Gap Exists in Sports and Physical Activity—But It Is Uneven

Girls generally are not as involved with sports and physical activity as boys. However, the gender gap is wide in some areas and narrow in others. Whereas similar rates of sports participation between girls and boys exist in suburban communities, urban and rural girls are less involved than their male peers. Variations in the gender gap in athletic participation often appear to be driven by economic disparities, race and ethnicity, and family characteristics. These variations strongly suggest that the girls’ and boys’ participation in sports and exercise is primarily shaped by access and opportunity.

2. Interest in Sports and Exercise Among Girls and Boys Is About Opportunity and Encouragement, Not Biology

Girls’ and boys’ interest in sports and exercise varies by grade level, school location and income level. In some communities boys and girls show similar levels of interest in sport, while in other communities, boys’ interest levels are higher than those of girls. Parents very often feel that their daughters and sons have similar interest in sports, especially when their children are younger (third through eighth grades). In short, interest in sports can often vary more within genders than it does across genders. And finally, boys tend to overestimate their interest in sports, while girls lean toward underestimating their athletic interests. For example, 42% of third- to eighth-grade boys who are non-athletes said that “sports are a big part of who they are,” compared to 16% of non-athletic girls. Female athletes, moreover, are often involved with several clubs and organizations outside sport, whereas male athletes focus more singly on sports.

3. The Gender Gap in Physical Education

Urban girls are the “have-nots” of physical education in the United States, with 84% report having no PE classes at all in the 11th and 12th grades. Rural girls in the same grades are not far behind with 68% reporting no PE classes. Across the country, young low-income children—both girls and boys—are underserved with regard to school-based physical education. Generally, more boys attend PE classes than girls, especially in urban and rural schools.

4. Girls Now Take Part in a Wider Array of Sports and Exercise Activities than Boys

Girls explore a wider array of sports and exercise activities than boys do, including traditional, recreational and newly emerging sports such as cheerleading, dance, double Dutch and volleyball. Boys focus more on traditional sports and exercise activities, which, most often, take the form of organized school and community sports.

5. Girls Have a Narrower Window of Opportunity in Sports

Girls enter sports at a later age than boys (7.4 years old, compared to 6.8 years old). The widest gap between the age girls and boys enter sport appears in urban communities (7.8 and 6.9 years old, respectively). Girls also drop out sooner and in greater numbers than boys. Girls’ late start may set them up for failure in sports during the middle-school years (sixth through eighth grades).

First Part of article posting taken in part from:


Please join and support the Women’s Sports Foundation today! Go to htt://www.womenssportsfoundation.org and donate time, money, resources, whatever. Just get involved helping female athletes through this marvelous organization founded by Billie Jean King.

More tomorrow!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Thomas January 28, 2009 at 5:32 am

Keep up the great work here. You have the making of a fantastic site.

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