National Youth Sports Strategy Questions & Answers

What is the National Youth Sports Strategy?

The National Youth Sports Strategy is a federal roadmap designed to unify U.S. youth sports culture around a shared vision: that one day all youth will have the opportunity, motivation, and access to play sports — regardless of their race, ethnicity, sex, ability, or ZIP code. It provides a framework that can help people involved in youth sports create safe, fun, inclusive, developmentally appropriate, and accessible sports opportunities for youth.

The Strategy includes actionable strategies to:

  • Increase participation in youth sports
  • Increase awareness of the benefits of participation in youth sports
  • Monitor and evaluate youth sports participation
  • Recruit and engage volunteers in youth sports programming

Back to top

Who can use the National Youth Sports Strategy?

The target audience for the National Youth Sports Strategy is policymakers and key decision-makers in youth sports. But everyone has a role to play in making youth sports a positive experience — so youth, parents, coaches, organizations, and communities can also take action to help improve youth sports participation throughout the United States.

Back to top

Why and how was the National Youth Sports Strategy developed?

The National Youth Sports Strategy was developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in response to Presidential Executive Order 13824. In developing the Strategy, HHS aimed to:

  • Expand participation in youth sports
  • Encourage regular physical activity, including active play
  • Promote good nutrition for all Americans

The executive order also emphasizes a need to focus on youth in communities with below-average sports participation and limited access to athletic facilities or recreational areas.

HHS organized the Strategy around the following pillars in the executive order:

  1. Increase awareness of the benefits of participation in sports and regular physical activity, as well as the importance of good nutrition.
  2. Promote private- and public-sector strategies to increase participation in sports, encourage regular physical activity, and improve nutrition.
  3. Develop metrics that gauge youth sports participation and physical activity to inform efforts that will improve participation in sports and regular physical activity among young Americans.
  4. Establish a national and local strategy to recruit volunteers who will encourage and support youth participation in sports and regular physical activity, through coaching, mentoring, teaching, or administering athletic and nutritional programs.

An executive committee of federal staff drafted the Strategy informed by academic literature, youth sports programs and organizations, public comments, and input from HHS.

Back to top

Why are youth sports important? What are the benefits?

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, youth need at least 60 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. Playing sports is one way that youth can get the physical activity they need. For youth, physical activity can help improve cognition, bone health, fitness, and heart health. It can also reduce the risk of depression. In addition to physical benefits, playing sports allows youth to experience the connection between effort and success — and it can have a variety of psychological, social, and academic benefits.

For example, research shows that youth who participate in sports may have:

  • Higher levels of self-esteem and confidence in their abilities
  • Reduced risk of suicide and suicidal thoughts and tendencies
  • Improved life skills, such as goal setting, time management, and work ethic
  • Opportunities to develop social and interpersonal skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and relationship building
  • Improved concentration, memory, school attendance, and academic performance

Back to top

How many youth participate in sports? Who isn’t participating?

In 2017, only 58 percent of youth ages 6 to 17 participated in team sports or took sports lessons. Sports participation is even lower for certain groups. For example, federal data show that:

  • Only 49 percent of girls in high school participated on at least one sports team in the past year, compared to 60 percent of boys.
  • Participation by both girls and boys decreased as grade level increased.
  • Only 46 percent of non-Hispanic black youth and 50 percent of Hispanic youth participated in a sports team or sports lesson, compared to 66 percent of white youth.
  • Only 41 percent of youth from low-income households played sports, compared to 76 percent of youth from high-income households.
  • Only 45 percent of youth from households with less than a high school education participated in sports, compared to 73 percent of youth from households with a college degree or higher.
  • Only 39 percent of youth who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual played on at least one sports team, compared to 58 percent of heterosexual youth.
  • Only 24 percent of youth with cerebral palsy, 28 percent with autism spectrum disorder, and 31 percent with Down syndrome participated on a sports team or took sports lessons during the previous year.

Back to top

What prevents youth from participating in sports?

Increasing youth sports participation involves both getting youth to start playing and helping them to continue playing. There are a number of barriers that can keep youth from starting sports, including:

  • Lack of access to play spaces
  • Cost, like participation fees and equipment
  • Social factors, like whether youth can play with their friends
  • Level of interest or knowledge of opportunities
  • Time and competing demands

Barriers to continued participation include:

  • Cost
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Lack of physical literacy (the ability, confidence, and desire to be physically active for life)
  • Pressure from others
  • Physical factors, such as lack of physical fitness
  • Stress and burnout
  • Time constraints and other priorities

The National Youth Sports Strategy includes action items to address these barriers and help ensure all youth have the opportunity to play sports.

Back to top

Are there negative impacts of participating in youth sports?

Although the benefits outweigh the risks, youth sports participation is linked to some negative outcomes — including overuse injuries, stress, burnout, hazing, and bullying. The National Youth Sports Strategy includes strategies to reduce these potential risks. For example:

  • Sport sampling (playing a variety of sports) can help youth avoid injuries, stress, and burnout.
  • Emphasizing enjoyment and skill development over competition and performance outcomes can also help prevent stress and burnout.
  • Establishing and enforcing safety policies can help prevent injuries.

In addition to preventing injuries, adults must protect the well-being of youth by ensuring that sports are free from bullying, hazing, sexual misconduct, or any form of abuse. Quality sports programs can encourage safe and positive environments for all youth that maximize the benefits of sports participation and minimize any risks.

Back to top

How are youth sports measured in the United States?

There are several national surveys that measure youth sports participation in a variety of ways. However, these surveys ask different questions, have different definitions of sports, and measure different aspects of participation. These differences make it challenging to fully describe youth sports participation and access in the United States. For example, one survey might ask youth about the type of sport they play, while another asks how often they play. And some surveys ask about sports participation alone, while others ask about the combination of sports, exercise, and physical activity. The National Youth Sports Strategy recommends developing a standard set of questions for measuring and tracking youth sports.

Back to top

What does the federal government currently do to support youth sports?

The federal government tracks youth sports participation, provides grants to support youth sports programming, and convenes advisory committees focused on youth sports. For example:

  • Various agencies play a role in tracking and monitoring youth sports participation. Information is gathered through several different surveys to collect data on physical activity and sports participation. Recently, a national objective about youth sports participation was included in Healthy People 2030, which allows HHS to track progress toward improved participation.
  • Organizations within HHS, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), offer grant funding related to youth sports. In addition, the HHS Office of Minority Health (OMH) and Office on Women’s Health (OWH) are funding 2-year projects in 18 communities — totaling over 6 million dollars — that align with the Physical Activity Guidelines to increase youth sports participation by reducing common barriers.
  • The President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (PCSFN) is a federal advisory committee comprised of members appointed by the President that promotes youth sports through educational campaigns, initiatives, events, and public appearances. The recently reinstated PCSFN Science Board shares scientific expertise to support HHS and PCSFN in the Council’s implementation and dissemination of the Strategy.

Activities like these establish a foundation to further advance the federal government’s efforts to promote youth sports.

Back to top

What are the key terms used in the National Youth Sports Strategy?

Here are definitions of some key terms used throughout the National Youth Sports Strategy.

  • Sports: A form of physical activity that — through recreational or competitive participation — aims to develop or maintain skills, fitness, mental well-being, and social-emotional health.
  • Physical literacy: The ability to move with competence and confidence in a variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person. Examples of basic movement skills that contribute to physical literacy are running, balancing, hopping, skipping, and jumping. Physical literacy involves the application of these skills. Sports facilitate the development of physical literacy, providing youth the ability, confidence, and desire to be physically active for life.
  • Sport sampling: Participating in multiple sport and recreational activities, with no single sport played exclusively for more than 10 months during the year. Sport sampling can help prevent injuries, stress, and burnout. Additionally, playing a number of different sports helps youth develop a variety of physical skills and find activities they enjoy most.

Back to top