What are the most popular high school sports? Here are some takeaways from the latest national survey

While overall participation is down, the survey found increased participation in a number of sports, with golf standing out as the only sport to see an increase among boys.

“Given what has occurred in our country the past three years, we believe a decline of only four percent in participation totals from 2018-19 is pretty remarkable,” said Karissa Niehoff, CEO of the NFHS. “We know some states that were able to complete surveys in 2020-21 reported participation increases this past year. So, we are very optimistic that trend will continue in the years to come as schools fully recover from the effects of the 2020 shutdown.”

Here are a few key data points.

▪ While participation in 11-player football was down three percent (1,006,013 to 973,792), there was a 12 percent increase in 6-, 8-, and 9-player football where offered. The number of schools offering those adjusted formats increased (from 1,563 to 1,790) while the number of schools with 11-player football dropped (14,247 to 13,733).

Participation by girls in all tackle football formats increased by 39 percent (2,604 to 3,633) and girls’ participation in flag football increased by 40 percent (11,209 to 15,716).

▪ Girls’ volleyball was the only top 10 sport to see a rise in popularity since 2019-20. With 454,153 participants, volleyball is now the second-most popular girls’ sport behind outdoor track and field. Boys’ volleyball also saw a 4.6 percent increase in participation.

▪ Girls’ soccer moved ahead of basketball as the third-most popular girls’ sport.

▪ Golf saw an increase across the board, with boys’ participation jumping four percent to 148,585 participants and girls’ participation rising one percent to 80,829 participants.

▪ Cross country had the biggest decline of any boys’ sport at 14 percent and girls’ participation dropped by 13 percent.

▪ Girls’ swimming and diving and competitive spirit also saw a 13 percent decrease in participation.

▪ Girls’ wrestling saw a 50 percent increase (21,124 to 31,654) in participation and the survey found that 32 states now offer separate state wrestling championships for girls. Boys’ wrestling saw a six percent decrease.

▪ Baseball experienced the smallest decrease among the top 10 boys’ sports. The total number of participants dropped slightly from 482,740 to 481,044. Baseball remains the fourth-most popular boys’ sport behind football, outdoor track and field, and basketball.

▪ The survey found a massive increase in unified sports participation (7,689 to 47,909) across nearly 20 states. There was also a 163 percent increase in adapted sports (7,689 to 55,598).

▪ Bass fishing saw a significant rise in popularity with 10,626 participants.

▪ Texas topped all states with 846,161 total participants, an increase of roughly 20,000 from three years ago. California retained the No. 2 position with a drop of 60,000 to 762,823.

▪ Ohio had the third-most participants, followed by Pennsylvania, Illinois, New York, Florida, Michigan, and New Jersey.

▪ Massachusetts had the 10th-most participants in 2021-22. There were 215,848 total participants, including 122,124 boys and 93,724 girls.

Softball (fast-pitch)


340,923

Competitive spirit


140,552

SOURCE: National Federation of State High School Associations

Football (11-player)


973,792

SOURCE: National Federation of State High School Associations

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