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Youth Soccer: Popular But Experiencing Growing Pains

two soccer boys

According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA),  soccer was the only sport that actually grew in total participation during the 1990s, enjoying its greatest growth in high schools and community leagues.

Soccer is now firmly entrenched as a major sport in the U.S. According to American Sports Data, soccer:

  • Is the fifth most popular sport for children aged six to 17

  • Is the fifth most popular team sport, and the 24th most popular sport out of 102 measured

  • Has grown across the board since 1987 -- 14% in overall participation, 63% in play by those 18 and older, 65% in frequent participation and 22% among children under the age of 12

  • Has experienced a 28% increase in female soccer participation, growing from 5.7 million in 1990 to 7.3 million in '99. This trend is expected to continue growing as more and more girls play in city leagues, high school and college.

But soccer is experiencing growing pains. League organizers must contend with a lack of publicly funded facilities. In many communities, soccer must share playing fields with other team sports, with the result that practices and games for all sports are hindered. And, according to a recent survey, there are not enough referees. Of all the sports surveyed, soccer had the greatest need for officials. Fully eighty-six percent (86%) of state high school associations reported in a recent survey a shortage of soccer referees.

Source: Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association