Most of the data on school soccer concerns participation in high school soccer. Trends in high school soccer participation are relatively encouraging. Statistics from a 2018 National Federation of State High School Sports Associations (NFHS) survey, the most recent year available, show a decline in high school sports participation for the first time in 30 years. This was primarily due to decreased participation in football and basketball. Interestingly, both boys’ and girls’ high school soccer saw increased participation from the previous year. Male soccer added over 2,700 participants, while participation among females increased by about 3,600. Men’s soccer is the fifth most-played male high school sport (behind football, track and field, basketball, and baseball) with about 459,000 participants.
Women’s soccer is the fourth most played female high school sport with a little over 394,000 players (after track and field, volleyball, and basketball). Soccer (for males and females) gained about 71,000 participants since 2012, which represents a nine percent increase. Over the last ten years, male high school soccer participation has increased by 75,200 from 383,800 to 459,000, while female participation has increased by 49,600 from 344,500 to 394,100. With decades of successful role models dominating international play for the US women’s side, girls playing soccer can set their sights high. More realistically for many, strong soccer careers can earn a player a college scholarship. These awards, sometimes worth several hundred thousand dollars over four years, can help the vast majority of players who do not go pro find solid financial and vocation footing after college.
High school sports provide numerous benefits for young athletes as people. They can help young people create lasting friendships and can serve as an outlet from school. Team sports like soccer can teach valuable lessons about sacrifice and perseverance. Coaches can serve as mentors and participants can discover a lifelong passion. Despite growing participation in high school soccer, the main challenge comes from clubs and travel teams that prohibit players from playing on high school teams. College basketball and football coaches use high school sports to scout talent, but college soccer coaches more often rely on showcase tournaments consisting of elite clubs. Thus, some of the best youth soccer players may prefer the cup route if forced to choose. Youth soccer clubs and high school leagues should continue to figure out how to ensure that high school soccer participation not be a barrier to playing in college for those who have the opportunity.
Vice Sports’ “Stay Melo: The Immigrant Powerhouse of NYC Soccer” captures the power of soccer teams to unite students from across the world. Sharing passion for the game and experiences overcoming uncommon adversity, these players bond and shine.
It is important to note that for kids not yet in high school, school-run soccer experiences will vary dramatically based on funding, region, size of the student body, and a myriad of other factors. In high school, the variation is less immense but still significant.