Survey says youth football participation increased

Published 1:55 am Tuesday, March 15, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most recent survey of youth sports shows football participation is growing faster than nearly every other sport.

The study was released Monday and was conducted for USA Football by the Physical Activity Council and Sports Marketing Surveys USA. USA Football is the sport’s national governing body. The survey’s findings are based on 30,000 Americans age 6 and older.

It showed flag football participation had the biggest increase (8.7 percent) from 2014 to 2015 among children ages 6 to 14. That’s about 120,000 more players.

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Those who played tackle football in the same age group increased by 1.9 percent, or about 21,000 players, more than any sport other than baseball, which had an increase of 3.3 percent.

Similar trends were found in athletes ages 15 to 18.

Those playing flag football in the older group increased nearly 100,000, or 10.5 percent, while the number of athletes playing tackle football that age showed an increase of 2.5 percent, about 30,000 more athletes.

The only other sport with an increase in participants among the 15- to 18-year-old group was basketball, which came in third at 1.1 percent.

“You’re seeing greater physical literacy in better youth football programs — programs that embrace coaching education and teach the sport smarter and safer,” Sports & Fitness Industry Association President and CEO Tom Cove said in a statement released by USA Football.

“In football and other sports, it will be interesting to learn if participation keeps rising as player safety continues to increase and the trend of higher standards in coaching education becomes the norm.”

USA Football is based in Indianapolis and has implemented the “Heads Up” coaching program to teach young players tackling fundamentals, which can help them avoid head injuries.

CEO Scott Hallenbeck said he believes the increases are a result of new teaching methods among coaches.

“Football participation increases, even modest increases, may signal that medically endorsed programs, including our Heads Up Football program and practice guidelines, are making a positive difference,” he said.

“It’s clear that coaching education — including concussion recognition and response, heat preparedness and sudden cardiac protocols — is improving and driving behavior change. It’s too early to tell if the latest participation increases are a trend.”