The Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) released its 2021 U.S. Trends in Team Sports Report that showed the total number of Americans participating in a team sport dropped by 3.8 million players in 2020.

In contrast to previous years, team sports participation in 2020 skewed heavily toward casual or recreational participation, which saw an increase versus core participation, with over 80 percent of touch football, grass volleyball, basketball, ultimate frisbee, and beach/sand volleyball players participating in casual games.

Basketball, which lends itself to solo practice, small-sided games, and social formats, and competitive play, was the most played team sport in America in 2020, and its 11.4 percent growth was by far the largest of any team sport. Even amid the pandemic, four other team sports grew in 2020, including indoor soccer, outdoor soccer (the number two team sport among 18-to-24-year-olds) ultimate frisbee, and flag football.

“As much as any sports and fitness category, team sports participation was negatively affected by the unique environment forced upon our country by the pandemic,” said Tom Cove, President and CEO of SFIA. “As was to be expected, team sports that were able to be played outdoors and in a less organized fashion did better in 2020. At the same time, there is encouraging news that the average number of team sports played increased, suggesting more experimentation and perhaps, more overall growth over a long period of time.”

Despite a decline in team sports participation, the SFIA report indicated the number of sports played per participant increased from 1.84 to 1.88, overturning a three-year declining trend. A common theme for sports that had more participants during 2020 was that those sports could be played recreationally, outside or socially distanced. In many instances, the pandemic forced kids to try new sports that were socially distant.

Another positive trend the data found was an increase in coaching training and that trained coaches provide better experiences for players, which can lead to a higher retention rate.

Cove said, “In an unprecedented year, team sports grinded it out and survived. The best news is initial indicators suggest a robust return to team sports participation as pandemic restrictions are lifted and schools and recreation spaces open back up. We are encouraged by the underlying data and feel strongly that team sports have a good foundation for moving into 2021 and beyond.”