The Washington Post: Scott Tainsky on high school sports participation drop

High school sports participation dropped for the first time in three decades in 2018, according to data from the National Federation of High School State Associations released Tuesday. Nearly 8 million students took part in interscholastic sports in 2018, but that number is down more than 43,000 students from the year before. Some of that is natural, said Scott Tainsky, who studies sports economics at Wayne State University. If you think about that decline in football participation as 1 percent a year, that’s nothing to fret over. The United States has five major participatory and spectator sports (football, basketball, baseball, soccer and hockey). They all jockey not only for eyeballs on TV screens, but also for youth players. Football had a great run of growth in the 2000s, and now the numbers — both in participation and in professional viewership — are inching back down. High school football is still in fine shape. It is by far the most popular high school sport: 400,000 more boys participate in football than the next most popular sport, outdoor track and field. But the same issues you’ve heard before about football, injury concerns and cost, are driving more high school athletes away from the sport. “Those aren’t things that are likely to be resolved overnight, but they’re also not things that would cause some precipitous drop going forward,” Tainsky said. In other words, something else significant is going to have to come along to really dent football’s place as the king of high school athletics. Otherwise, Tainsky said, these participation numbers should level out over time.

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