Student Well-Being Infographic

Statistics on School Sports: How Many Students Play Sports? Which Sports Do They Play?

By Maya Riser-Kositsky & Holly Peele — July 30, 2021 2 min read
Sports balls overlayed with data charts.
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School sports can give students an outlet and unite communities, but they can also cause consternation and sow division.

Today there is fierce debate over transgender students’ participation, furor over school mascots, and school districts are grappling with how to keep sports venues, spectators, and athletes safe.

There’s also a new focus on school sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic, both in how they may contribute to the spread of the virus and on the role they play in helping students cope and connect when school is disrupted.

To help provide context to these discussions, we have pulled together key data on school sports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the National Federation of State High School Associations, including information on how often girls and boys are playing sports and which sports they are playing.

We’ve also highlighted a few of the more unique sports that are being offered by schools in some states (indoor bocce, anyone?).

What percent of high school students play sports?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 1991-2019 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data, about 57% of high school students played on at least one school or community sports team in the past year.

  • All high school students: 57.4%
  • 9th grade: 61.9%
  • 10th grade: 57.9%
  • 11th grade: 59.1%
  • 12th grade: 49.8%

Is there a difference between how likely children are to play sports based on their family income?

Looking beyond high school sports, children from low-income families are much less likely to play sports than those from higher-income families, according to data on children ages 6 to 17 from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation.

What are the most popular sports in high school?

In the 2018-19 school year, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations, the sport with the most participants for boys nationally was 11-player football with 1,006,013 participants. For girls it was outdoor track and field, with 488,267 participants.

How many girls play high school sports?

Since the early 1970s when Title IX was enacted, girls’ participation in high school sports has grown from less than 300,000 to almost 3.5 million in the 2018-19 school year. Girls now make up almost 43% of high school athletes, according to data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

What are the most popular high school sports in each state?

In 44 states, the most popular boys sport is 11-player football. For girls, the landscape is more varied—in 21 states, the most popular sport for girls is volleyball, followed by outdoor track and field, in 16 states.

What are some obscure school sports?

There are some pretty unique school sports out there, according to 2018-19 data from the National Federation of State High School Associations:

  • Some schools in Arkansas, California, and New Mexico have rodeo teams.
  • Some schools in Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Vermont have bass fishing teams.
  • Some schools in California, the District of Columbia, and Maine have rock climbing teams. (This rock-climbing-related story by teacher Jennifer McDaniel is a great read for anyone aspiring to be an educator or mentor.)
  • Some schools in Maryland have both indoor and outdoor bocce teams.
  • Some schools in Hawaii have kayaking teams.
  • Some schools in Michigan have figure skating teams.
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