Number of participants in U.S. high school football (11-player) 2018/19, by gender

The combined number of male and female participants playing football (11-player) at high school level in the United States declined for the third consecutive year in 2019. The number of male participants dropped to around one million, whereas the number of female participants increased by around 7.5 percent to 2,404.

Why is there a decline in football participation?

Football (11-player) is ranked the most popular program for high school boys in the United States, ahead of outdoor track and field by more than 400,000 participants. However, the number of male participants declined for the fifth consecutive year in 2019 and could drop below one million in 2020. One reason for the decline could be concerns about the safety of players, with concussion perceived to be the biggest health risk associated with playing football. During 2013/14, more concussions were sustained by boys playing high school football than any other sport. Despite the number of girls playing football at high school level doubling in the last decade, the sport fails to make the top ten of the most popular girls’ programs – outdoor track and field, volleyball, and basketball are the top three.

The hard knocks of college football

The long-term aim for the majority of talented high school footballers is to play in the National Football League (NFL), but for many the transition to college football is where the dream will end. College not only demands extra focus in the classroom, there are also added pressures of performing on the field. There are the hopes of the fans: games draw huge attendances and even bigger television audiences. There are also the expectations of the board members: college football is big business and the brand value of the postseason playoffs continues to increase year-on-year. Players face many challenges in college football, but if they can cope with the added demands, the dream of playing in the NFL can be more of a reality.
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Number of participants in U.S. high school football (11-player) from 2009/10 to 2018/19
BoysGirls
2009/101,109,2781,249
2010/111,108,4411,395
2011/121,095,9931,604
2012/131,086,6271,531
2013/141,093,2341,715
2014/151,083,6171,565
2015/161,083,3081,964
2016/171,057,4071,992
2017/181,036,8422,237
2018/191,006,0132,404
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