Girls Got Games
Rachel Garcia, Team USA Pitcher (Photo: Hillerich & Bradsby)
In 2023, team sports were back in full swing following pandemic-induced setbacks and the progress has been substantial. “[In 2023] we got through all of the challenges and the people that came back to team sports came back strong,” says Tom Cove, president and CEO of the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA). “Parents and kids appreciate team sports. The kids like to be with friends and have social interaction and the parents have realized the harm of social isolation and social media. There’s fun and joy in being on a team, and kids are active and socially engaged.”

The numbers certainly support those observations. In 2023, Team Sports measured 10.8 percent growth from the prior year, according to SFIA’s 2024 Topline Participation Report. Notably, in the Team Sports category, 20 of the 24 sports tracked by SFIA showed increases, whereas only five showed increases the previous year.

“We’re seeing healthy growth in the 18-24 age group and it’s resulted in growth of adult leagues as well as pick-up games. In fact, we’re seeing the evolution of the 18-24 group — a new generation is playing,” notes Cove.

“Generally, women’s sports are strong. If you look at the past 30 years, women entering sports has been a dramatic success story. But we’ve still got a long way to go,” Cove comments. “Today and in the future there won’t be a massive new influx, but there is substantial room to grow.” He points out that women’s-specific product has greatly improved, better reflecting the needs and desires of female athletes.

Overall, things are really shaping up in a big way for female team sports in 2024, most notably with the upcoming Paris 2024 Olympics. This year’s Games is being touted as the first Olympics in history to achieve gender-neutral numerical parity on the field of play, with the same number of male and female athletes participating in the largest sporting event on earth.

Paris 2024’s commitment to gender equity even extends to renaming sports facilities. With the assistance of Paris 2024, about 70 local authorities have reportedly certified “Terre de Jeux 2024” and committed to renaming their sports facilities with the names of prominent women. After choosing a woman’s face for its emblem, Paris 2024 has developed a schedule for the Games that ensures balance between genders for “prime time” sessions so as to promote women’s sports to the public, particularly young girls.

“Because equality also involves visibility, the renaming of these sports facilities with women’s names is a key challenge,” states Tony Estanguet, president of Paris 2024. “We thank the local authorities working with us who, through these symbolic actions – which are not only strong, but also concrete – contribute to making sport more inclusive and equal.”

Meanwhile, here at home the Women’s Sports Foundation is celebrating its 50th anniversary (#WSF50). Shortly following the enactment of Title IX, the WSF was founded by sports icon Billie Jean King as one of the first organizations to recognize the role of sports in helping girls and women reach their full potential in sports and life. What was started by King in 1974 with a $5000 check has grown into a multi-faceted organization that has invested more than $100 million to help girls and women play, compete and lead.

Looking ahead, the future remains bright for female team as well as individual sports. Cove sees this as a “decade of American hosting” that will result in greater visibility and excitement surrounding female athletes and events.

“During Olympic years, particularly Summer Games, many sports have seen increases — the Olympic bounce is real,” Cove points out. “For example, in gymnastics, volleyball and track and field, female participation almost always goes up. The following year it wanes, but not to a pre-Olympic level, so the result is a net gain.”

Cove adds, “Global events such as the FIFA World Cup that happen to be in the U.S. also help. We’ll see the best players. The U.S. will host a few big events in a row including the FIFA World Cup in 2026 and the LA Olympics in 2028. In soccer, the next generation will be driving excitement in 2024 and 2028.