Sep 28, 2022 - Sports

Golf and volleyball buck trend of school sports decline

Data: National Federation of State High School Associations; Table: Axios Visuals

Participation is down among the 10 most popular boys and girls high school sports compared to the last full pre-pandemic school year, save for two: boys golf and girls volleyball.

By the numbers: The top 10 for boys and girls is the same (albeit in a slightly different order) as it was in 2018-19, the last time the National Federation of State High School Associations compiled its annual survey.

  • Boys golf moved up one spot to No. 8, with nearly 4% more participants (148,858) than it had three years ago (143,200).
  • Girls volleyball stayed at No. 2, but its 0.3% increase from 452,808 to 454,153 nearly vaulted it above outdoor track & field (456,697).

State of play: Those increases shouldn't surprise anyone who has been following the exploding popularity of both sports.

  • The golf boom is well documented, as the socially-distant sport was among the first to return after 2020's initial lockdown. The momentum continued in 2021, with more rounds played than any prior year in U.S. history.
  • Volleyball has been on the rise for years, to the point that more people watched last year's NCAA women's volleyball championship than the MLS Cup final two weeks earlier. In 2021, Athletes Unlimited launched the only pro indoor women's volleyball league in the U.S.

The big picture: Overall high school sports participation declined 4% since 2018-19.

  • Yes, but: "Given what has occurred in our country the past three years, we believe a decline of only 4% ... is pretty remarkable," said NFHS CEO Karissa Niehoff.
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