Organized Sports Participation Among Children Aged 6–17 Years: United States, 2020

Black LI, Terlizzi EP, Vahratian A. National Center for Health Statistics (US). Published Date: 08/11/2022. Series: Data brief; no. 441

Take-Home Message

Sport participation was lower among children from a racial and ethnic minority, children whose parents had lower education levels or income, children who lived in counties with higher social vulnerability, and children who lived in the Southern United States.


Youth participation in sports is associated with improved physical fitness and mental health. Understanding disparities in sports participation can help inform strategies to promote an active lifestyle among children and adolescents, positively impacting their physical and mental health.

Study Goal

Black and colleagues completed an analysis of data from the 2020 National Health Interview Survey to describe disparities in sports participation in the United States.


The authors analyzed data from the 2020 National Health Interview Survey. This survey is a nationally representative household survey that was conducted throughout the year. Parents reported if their child participated on a sports team or club or took sports lessons at school or in the community during the prior 12 months. The authors then extracted data about the family income as a percentage of the federal poverty level, race and Hispanic origin, geographic region (Northeast US, Midwest US, South US, or West U), social vulnerability of a county, and urbanicity (urban-rural classification) of a county.


About half (54%) of children 6 to 17 years of age participated in sports during the prior 12 months (boys: 56%; girls: 52%). The authors reported, “Participation levels were lower among children from a racial and ethnic minority group, children whose parents had lower education levels and family income, children who lived in counties with higher social vulnerability, and children who lived in the South.”


The results of this brief are a startling snapshot of sports participation in the United States. While it is established that early sports participation can positively impact an individual, significant disparities still exist. These findings indicate that sports participation relates strongly to socioeconomic status. Ultimately, a higher socioeconomic status may enable children to access sports. This is particularly apparent in that lower parental education, parental income, and geographic area with social vulnerability are all associated with less participation. These findings complement data from the Athletic Training Location and Services database that suggests these communities also have less access to athletic training services.

These data offered a unique snapshot of 2020, when many sports stopped in the spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey asked about sports participation over the past year, so it is unclear if the pandemic may influence these results. Furthermore, not every community is recovering from the pandemic the same. The authors acknowledge that it will be essential to see these analyses replicated with data from the 2022 survey to better understand patterns of sports participation after many of the restrictions associated with the pandemic have been eased/removed.

Clinical Implications

Sports medicine professionals must advocate for improved access to sports through local recreation organizations, schools, and other organizations. In regions with high social vulnerability, we need to encourage policymakers that investment in youth sports and physical activity can help improve the community’s health.

Questions for Discussion

What can we do as clinicians to positively impact team sports participation rates?

Written by: Kyle Harris
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

Related Posts

Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology Consensus Recommendations for Pre-participation Screening in Young Competitive Athletes
A Lasting Impression: Youth Sport Participation and Healthy Habits as Adults
Previous Participation in Collision Sports is Related to a Decreased Quality of Life
Lower Socioeconomic Status Relates to Less Access to Athletic Training Services

9 EBP CEU Courses