California sets record for high school sports participation while football continues decline

Participation in high school sports in California set an all-time high for the seventh straight year in 2018–19, though the most popular sport, football, continued its trend of seeing substantial decreases in participation. The results indicate that many of California’s student athletes who left football didn’t stop playing sports altogether but instead are choosing to play other ones.

The recently released California Interscholastic Federation Sports Participation Survey found that 814,004 students competed in high school sports last school year, marking a .67 percent increase from the year prior. Girls have driven much of the state’s rise in participation rates in the past decade, with the number jumping from 304,696 female athletes in 2011 to 354,265 in 2019.

The state’s 2,981-student decline in football turnout matches national trends as concerns over concussions and other health and safety issues continue to gain traction. Nationally, 11-man football dropped by 30,829 participants to 1,006,013 in 2018–19, the lowest mark since the 1999–2000 school year.

“As in previous years, we have noticed a steady and continued decrease in football participants,” CIF Executive Director Ron Nocetti said in a statement. “It is imperative that we continue to partner with organizations such as USA Football and their Football Development Model which provides a roadmap for how we coach, play and learn the game at every level.”

Participation in high school sports overall declined nationally for the first time in 30 years in 2018–19. Overall, 7,937,491 students participated in sports, a decline of 43,395 from 2017–18. California remained second only to Texas in the number of competing student athletes nationwide.

“We know from recent surveys that the number of kids involved in youth sports has been declining, and a decline in the number of public school students has been predicted for a number of years, so we knew our ‘streak’ might end someday,” Karissa Niehoff, National Federation of State High School Associations executive director, said in a statement.

In 2018–19, several sports in California saw noticeable increases across both genders. Of the top 10 sports, soccer saw the largest percentage increase, a combined 3.9 percent or 3,890 more participants; followed by volleyball with a 3.5 percent increase or 2,292 more participants; and basketball with a 2.2 percent increase or 1,798 more participants.

Research has shown that higher grades, graduation rates and scores on state assessments, as well as lower dropout rates, are seen among student athletes in comparison to non-athletes. However, governance teams should review district policies and protocols related to the health and safety of student athletes to ensure those concerns are a top priority.

Further, while participation numbers indicate significant gains have been made, it is vital that school leaders continue to promote the fair treatment of student athletes, regardless of gender.

Top 5 boys sports in California in 201819

Number of participants with year-over-year increase or decrease in parenthesis
1. Football: 91,305 (-3.2 percent)
2. Track and field: 55,335 (-2.2 percent)
3. Soccer: 54,996 (+3.3 percent)
4. Basketball: 48,111 (+1.1 percent)
5. Baseball: 44,347 (-.3 percent)

Top 5 girls sports in California in 201819

Number of participants with year-over-year increase or decrease in parenthesis

1. Soccer: 49,342 (+4.6 percent)
2. Volleyball: 45,997 (+1.9 percent)
3. Track and field: 45,235 (-2.4 percent)
4. Basketball: 35,902 (+3.7 percent)
5. Softball: 32, 233 (-3.5 percent)