The first of its kind, this unique study led by Leeds Beckett University collected data about 5.5 million young people from across 29 European countries and 18 different sports. Findings show how girls are four times less likely than boys to engage in organized sport, and that participation peaks at 14 years of age.
Children’s physical activity levels and competence have declined steadily and globally over the last two decades. The impact of this decline in their physical and mental wellbeing has been show in multiple studies. This has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic where physical activity levels reduced across the board.
This study is part of the Erasmus+ co-funded project ICOAHCKIDS+ which aims to enhance sport participation, reduce dropout, and maximise the health enhancing properties of sport. The research team was led by Dr Stacey Emmonds and included Dr Sergio Lara-Bercial, Prof Kevin Till and Dr Dan Weaving of the Carnegie School of Sport. It is the first time that a multi-country and multi-sport study of this kind has been conducted to investigate participation rates in organized youth sport.
Participation data were collected for the period 2017-2020 from 18 sports across 29 countries. In total over 5.5 million children and young people were sampled in this study. The analysis of the data shows some key findings:
• Overall, youth male sport participation rates (80%) are significantly higher than females (20%).
• This trend, however, has a distinct sport-specific flavour. Some sports like football (8%) and wrestling (18%) have very low female participation, whereas others such as volleyball (73%) and dance sports (85%) are primarily played by girls.
• Overall participation peaks for both males and females between 12 and 14 years of age.
• Participation decreases significantly for boys from 14 to 18 years of age in most sports.
• Girls participation significantly decreases between 14 and 16 but increases again between 16 and 18 in some sports.
These findings confirm that there is a need to further understand sport participation trends. Sport attrition is not a one-size-fits-all affair. To get this fine-grain detail, sports and countries must improve their data collection processes. The difficulty in accessing data experienced during this research, and the heterogenous way in which data is collected make progress in this area very difficult. The creation of standardised participant registration systems would facilitate getting a more accurate picture.
Moreover, participation, dropout and re-engagement appear to be highly personal and context-specific. More needs to be known about the different factors that influence participation patterns for different people in different sports and contexts. The next ICOACHKIDS+ research report will take on this challenge.