Team Trends

The ‘Big Picture’ For Physical Activity


Baby boomers are getting more active. But too many Americans are still inactive. Yet overall, the outlook for sports participation and activity is good, with the silver linings darkened by a few storm clouds.

These are the findings from the recently released Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) 2023 Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Participation, a detailed, comprehensive study filled with easy-to-read and interpret charts that contain news that’s both discouraging and encouraging.  

There’s even a section that reveals sports and fitness participation trends by Baby Boomers (1945-1964), Gen X (1965-1979), Millennials (1980-1999) and Gen Z (2000-present). By the way, 2022 represented the third straight year that fitness participation by the Baby Boomers increased, great news for health and fitness clubs. 

Of the many categories included one focus is on the number of “inactives” — someone who did not participate in one of the 120 sports and activities measured by the SFIA in 2022. The positive news is that number of inactives is on the decline — the negative news is that the number is still too high.

“The good news is the total inactive participation figure dropped below 70 million people for the first time since 2010,” reports SFIA president/CEO Tom Cove. “And even with that, it remains sad, and remarkable, that 68.6 million people – 22.4 percent of the total population – reported doing no physical activities in 2022.”

Fortunately, for the fifth consecutive year physical activity in the U.S. continued to increase. Nearly 80 percent of all Americans – 237 million people – participated in at least one physical activity during 2022, a 9.2 percent increase from 2017 and a 1.9 percent increase from 2021. This means that 20 million more people participated in at least one physical activity compared to 2017.

Fortunately, there are a number of other positive sports and fitness participation trends in the U.S. Among them is – no surprise – pickleball.

“The pickleball craze is alive and well, still the fastest growing sport in the United States and participation almost doubled in 2022, increasing by 85.7 percent year-over-year and by an astonishing 158.6 percent over three years,” says Cove. 

Other findings: Outdoor soccer is also on a roll. At the same time, team sports overall have not returned to pre-COVID participation levels. The same is true for those fitness activities most connected to a fitness club, such as elliptical training or group cycling.

Cove points out that for team sports and fitness it takes time to recover.

“This is likely a hangover effect from the pandemic when indoor and group activities suffered greater participation declines than outdoor and self-directed sports,” he says, adding that most team sports displayed a significant decrease in core participation numbers, while seeing significant increases in casual participation.

Looking at the three-year changes, outdoor soccer was the only team sport that saw an increase in both total and core participation. 

Basketball, outdoor soccer, flag football and tackle football all posted three-year total participation increases of more than 4.5 percent. Basketball had the highest three-year increase — 13 percent

All of this points to a conclusion that Americans are making physical activity more of a priority in their daily lives.  

“Physical activity seems to be more of a priority for Americans today than it was 10 years ago,” says Cove. “Every category’s participation rate increased except for individual sports, which showed a slight decline.” 

Core active participants – a measure of frequency and the SFIA’s indicator for an organized or active participant – followed a similar trend, also increasing for a fifth straight year. Core participation has increased by 10.1 percent since 2017, or by just under 15 million participants. Nearly 160 million people in the U.S. were considered core participants in 2022.

Racquet sports had the largest gain in participation in 2022, increasing by 17.6 percent – around eight million participants – from 2021. Every racquet sport that SFIA tracks displayed increases in 2022, with pickleball leading the way with that astonishing 85.7 percent year-to-year growth. 

Team sports participation continued to recover from the large drop they sustained in 2020 due to the pandemic. The team sports participation rate increased to 23.2 percent in 2022, which is just under the 2019 level of 23.4 percent.