As of 2019, the following sports have emerged as the most popular among high school aged girls, based on the number of active programs across the United States: Basketball, Outdoor Track and Field, Volleyball, Fastpitch Softball, Cross Country, Soccer, Tennis, Golf, Swimming and Diving, Competitive Cheer/Spirit Squad
The real question here is why? What guides so many young women to choose these sports over others? While parents usually encourage their children to play sports with which they are familiar, there are three main considerations that often guide them toward that decision: amount of physical activity involved, safety, and psychosocial benefits.
Physical activity might be the most obvious of concerns. How much am I moving during practices and games? What health benefits can I reap from this sport? For example, in basketball, there may be greater emphasis on a strength: cardio balance and more time spent on team strategy during practices. This lies in contrast to cross country, in which cardio is of primary concern and practices consist almost entirely of stretching, running, and devising a personal mental approach.
The second consideration when choosing a sport is its level of safety. As the field of exercise science continues to expand and we learn more about what kinds of injuries cause long term harm, like concussions, many kids and parents are quick to steer away from heavy contact sports. Further, parents are more likely to allow their sons as opposed to their daughters to play contact sports like football, wrestling, or lacrosse, all of which are either not offered or modified to reduce contact in the women’s game. As a result, we see more girls participating in track and field, swimming and diving, tennis, golf, and other sports that have minimal potential for injury.
The third, and arguably the most important tenet of choosing a sport is the psychosocial aspect. How does each sport shape the emotional, social, academic, and other behaviors of its athletes? For example, team sports like basketball, soccer, and softball tend to demand a greater level of teamwork and cooperation, whereas sports like cross country and track require much more personal strategy and self-improvement.
All sports have tradeoffs–what sport any given athlete plays is based on the combination of the criteria that they and their parents prioritize. While these ten sports have taken the front seat since 2019, be sure to research and explore the vast world of athletics! There may be a sport that you have overlooked or want to learn more about. Regardless of what you and your family choose, getting out there, staying active, and learning new skills are invaluable aspects to participating in sports!