High school soccer participation: Good news for a change? No, but …

After all the gloomy talk of declining youth soccer participation rates, we got a bit of promising news this morning — high school soccer participation rates are up. (HT: Soccer America)

Naturally, I’m going to throw some cold water on this. But the survey is still interesting on several levels.

The number of high school boys soccer players went up by 6,128, up to 456,362 nationwide. The number for girls also rose slightly, from 388,339 to 390,482.

So why complain?

First, look at one of the sports that’s still ahead of soccer. It’s basketball. And that’s stunning for one big reason — the sheer number of players needed to play. A basketball team can get through a season quite comfortably with 12-15 players. A soccer team really needs at least 20, and 25 or so is better. (The average boys program has 37 kids; the average girls program has 32. Those numbers include junior varsities and maybe freshman teams in counties that have them — hint hint, Fairfax County.)

How is basketball still ahead? Simple — more schools offer it. Many more schools.

Soccer’s 2017-18 numbers: 12,393 schools with boys teams, 12,007 with girls teams. That’s up slightly from 12,188 and 11,823 the year before.

Basketball? 18,510 and 18,171.

That’s thousands of high schools that do not have soccer.

On the girls side, soccer ranks sixth in terms of the number of programs, behind basketball, track, volleyball, softball and cross-country. It’s actually a steep drop from cross-country (15,216) down to soccer (12,007). For boys, even with recent cuts (actually not that many), 11-player football has 14,079 programs, and another 1,407 schools have smaller teams. The 11-man pointyball game is fifth behind basketball, track, baseball and cross-country. Soccer isn’t even sixth. That goes to golf — golf! — with 13,524 programs. Then we get soccer, at 12,393.

Before you ask — no, high school soccer programs aren’t folding because of the Development Academy. It’s a rare high school that has more than a handful of kids playing in the DA, and those schools can easily find players to fill in the rosters.

If anything, the report offers strong evidence that kids are indeed still interested in playing for their schools. Seems like a few thousand schools should try to accommodate that interest. It’s mind-boggling that in 2018, a school with a football field and enough people to field a football team can’t also have a soccer team.

The entire report is an interesting browse, though it’s troubling that they can’t spell “rhythmic,” as rhythmic gymnastics. Five girls in Ohio participate in that.


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