Press Releases

Team Sports: The Feminine Perspective

There are more females playing team sports now than ten years ago. And, there will be far more females playing team sports in ten year’s time than there are now.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 10, 2006 — There are more females playing team sports now than ten years ago. And, there will be far more females playing team sports in ten year’s time than there are now. If the U.S. had not passed the Title IX legislation back in the 1970s, the opportunities for girls and women to play sports would not exist as they do today. As a result, millions of females of all ages have been able to showcase their abilities to shoot a basketball, score a hockey goal, throw a softball, kick a soccer ball, pass a rugby ball, spike a volleyball, and, in some cases, kick and/or catch a football.

If you have ever wondered about the role that women play in team sports today, that issue can best be addressed with one simple adjective: significant! And, in some team sports, women account for the majority of the participants. Thanks to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association’s (SGMA) recently completed study U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2006 Edition), one can analyze many team sports and see the role that females play in each activity.

First of all, one of the most dramatic statistics is the percentage increase in the number of girl high school varsity teams. In 1990-1991, there were 1,892 girl high school varsity athletic teams; in 2000-2001, there were 2,746 girl high school varsity athletic teams; and in 2005-2006, that number had grown to 2,953 teams. That’s a 56.1 percent increase from the 1990-1991 school year. During that same time period, the number of boy high school varsity teams increased by just 23.5 percent.

Here’s a quick analysis of a few team sports to give you a better understanding of the role that women play in the participation picture of each activity.

BASKETBALL: MAKE THE JUMPSHOT – WHO IS THE NEXT LISA LESLIE? In 2005, there were 32.0 million basketball players in the U.S. – of which 10.0 million were female. The most compelling trend is in the area of organized play – high school, AAU, and NCAA. At the varsity high school level, 452,929 girls played basketball in the 2005-’06 school year, which is up slightly from 452,728 in 2000-2001. At the AAU level, there were 126,006 girls playing hoops in 2005, which is 13% more than the 109,568 girls who played the game in 2000. Between 1990 and 2005, the number of girls who played AAU basketball increased 337%. During that same time period, the number of AAU boy basketball players rose just 182%. And, at the NCAA level, 14,686 women played college basketball in 2004-2005, which is a slight increase over the 14,439 teams in 2000-2001.

SOFTBALL: STRIKE THREE – WHO IS THE NEXT LISA FERNANDEZ? Softball is a sport where females play a leading role. In slow-pitch softball, nearly half (47 percent) of all players are female. In fast-pitch softball, females account for three-quarters of all players. Needless to say, without the support given to the sport by women, softball would not be where it is today. The average age of a female slow-pitch player is 21.5 years of age, more than ten years younger than her male counterpart (32.7). In fast-pitch, the average female participant is also younger than the average male – 17.8 vs. 26.5. What’s worth noting is that among “frequent” slow-pitch softball players (those who play 25+ days/year), women account for 56 percent of the player base. Among “frequent” fast-pitch players, women account for 82 percent of the players. As is commonly known, females dominate the ranks of the fast-pitch game, especially in the school-age population. Right now, more than 85 percent of all fast-pitch players aged 6-17 are girls. Of the 369,790 high school varsity fast-pitch softball players in 2005-2006, less than a 1,000 of them were boys. At the college level in the 2005-2006 academic year, there were 16,324 women’s fast-pitch softball players — up from 9,724 women players in the 1990-2001 school year.

VOLLEYBALL: SET, SERVE, AND SPIKE – WHO IS THE NEXT MISTY MAY? There are three different forms of volleyball – court, grass, and sand/beach. Females account for the majority of the player base in the court and grass versions. In sand/beach volleyball, females represent just under half (46 percent) of all players. Women are also more likely than males to be “frequent” (25+ days/year) volleyball players. In 2005, females comprised 70 percent of all “frequent” court players, 72 percent of “frequent” grass players, and 40 percent of “frequent” beach/sand players. As in softball, the average age of your typical female player is younger than the average male player. At the high school level, girls represent 90% of all high school volleyball players. In the college ranks, there are far more women’s volleyball teams than men’s. In fact, of the 14,795 college volleyball teams in 2005-2006, 92.2 percent (or 13,634 teams) were women’s teams.

SOCCER: NOT JUST A KICK IN THE GRASS – WHO IS THE NEXT MIA HAMM? Of the 17.0 million soccer players in the United States, 42 percent (or 7.2 million) of them are female. In 1990, there were just 5.7 million female soccer players in the U.S. While males outnumber females in the ‘big picture,’ women outnumber men at the NCAA level – 913 women’s teams vs. 737 men’s teams in 2004-2005. And, at the high school level, girls are narrowing the gap on the boys – 321,555 girls vs. 358,935 boys. Since 1990, girls’ participation in high school soccer has grown by 164 percent. Boys’ participation has only grown by 57 percent.

Other team sports where the female presence is significant include lacrosse, rugby, cheerleading, field hockey, and ice hockey. In lacrosse, there are more than 50,000 girls playing high school lacrosse; in rugby, the U.S. Women’s national team finished 5th at this summer’s Women’s Rugby World Cup in Canada; in cheerleading, 99 percent of participants are female; in field hockey, it’s the 11th most popular high school sport for girls; and in ice hockey, there are roughly half as many women college teams as there are men’s.

If you analyze high school and college sports, four out of the top five most popular participatory activities for both categories are team sports. As an aside, the most popular high school sport for girls is basketball. At the college level, soccer is number one.

Finally it’s worth noting that while women are an integral part of the team sports scene in the U.S., their role will only become more prominent in the coming years. It’s fair to say that the current crop of young girls playing team sports is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of what is yet to come. As time moves on, the number of females who will be showcasing their athletic talents on soccer pitches, softball diamonds, lacrosse fields, and basketball courts will only multiply in number. And, don’t be surprised one day to see a Michael Jordon-like commercial slogan where, instead hearing “Be Like Mike,” it challenges you to “Dunk It Like Debbie” or “Slug It Like Susan.”

Data for this report is derived from various sources – the Superstudy® of Sports Participation (conducted by American Sports Data, Inc), U.S. Census Bureau, NCAA, NFSHSA, NCYS, Pop Warner Football, AAU, Little League Baseball, USA Volleyball, USA Softball, Dixie Baseball/Softball, PONY Baseball/Softball, Babe Ruth Softball, RBI, American Legion Baseball, American Amateur Baseball Congress, USYSA, USA Hockey, and ESPN Sports Poll.

To request a copy of U.S. Trends in Team Sports (2006 edition), access It’s a free report for Full Members of SGMA and the editorial media.

The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, owner of the SGMA Spring Market and the Sports Research Partnership, is the global business trade association of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers in the sports products industry. SGMA enhances industry vitality and fosters sports, fitness, and active lifestyle participation. More information about SGMA can be found at