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Study: Organized sports participation among children

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The Daily

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

A smaller percentage of Canadian children participated regularly in organized sports activities in 2005 than in 1992, and the decline was larger for boys, according to a new study.

The study found that participation in sports rose with household incomes and the education levels of parents.

It also showed that sports participation rates among children were highest in smaller towns and cities, and that children in Canada's three largest cities were least likely to participate in organized sports on a regular basis.

The study, "Kids' sports," published today in the June 2008 edition of Canadian Social Trends, examined trends in participating in regular organized sports among children aged 5 to 14, using data from the 1992 and 2005 General Social Survey (GSS).

Soccer was the most frequently reported sport for both boys and girls in 2005, replacing swimming, which was most frequent in 1992.

In 2005, just over one-half (51%) of children in this age group, an estimated 2.0 million, regularly took part in organized sports during the 12 months prior to the survey. This proportion was down from 57% in 1992.

About half of these active children participated in more than one organized sport. Active children played on average about 2.6 times per week per sport during their sport's season.

Boys still more likely to participate, but gap is narrowing

Data from the 2005 GSS showed that boys aged 5 to 14 were still more likely to participate in organized sports than girls the same age, but the gap between them had narrowed.

In 1992, about two-thirds of boys (66%) were active participants; by 2005, this had declined to 56%. Participation among boys decreased in both the 5 to 10- and 11 to 14-year-old age groups, but among girls, the decline depended on their age.

Note to readers

Data for this article came from the 1992 and 2005 General Social Survey (GSS), which asked respondents aged 15 and over to identify their own organized sports activities, as well as those of other household members.

In the 2005 GSS survey, 2,021 respondents identified 3,112 children aged 5 to 14 living in their household. For most children, the respondent was a parent, an older sibling or a grandparent.

Sport is defined as mainly team or organized activity such as hockey, baseball, basketball, golf, competitive swimming and soccer. A number of recreational physical activities were not defined as organized sports and were excluded, such as non-competitive aerobics, aqua fit, bicycling for recreation/transportation only, body building/body sculpting, car racing, dancing, fishing, fitness classes, hiking, jogging and non-competitive weight-lifting. Guidelines for determining whether a physical activity fell within scope as a "sport" were determined by Sport Canada.

Sports participation refers to sports in which a child regularly participated at least once a week during the 12 months prior to the survey.

In 2005, girls who were aged 5 to 10 played organized sports at about the same rate as in 1992. Older girls aged 11 to 14 were less likely to play sports than they were in 1992, but the decline was not as sharp as it was among boys the same age.

In 2005, boys were not only less likely to participate regularly in organized sports than in 1992, but those who did were involved in slightly fewer sports — an average of 1.8 sports compared with 1.9 in 1992. In contrast, girls who participated played 1.7 organized sports on average, unchanged from 1992.

Household income and education of parents influence participation

Children from households with higher incomes were much more likely to participate in organized sports than those from lower-income families. The same was true of children whose parents were highly educated as opposed to those with parents who had a high school diploma or less.

For the purposes of this study, households were divided into five groups, or quintiles, ranked in order of their income. Each quintile represents one-fifth of the households that declared their income.

The study found that 68% of children in the one-fifth of households with the highest income participated in organized sports. Among the one-fifth with the lowest incomes, only 44% of children did so.

The gap between boys and girls narrowed as household income rose.

The relationship between a parent's level of education and sports participation of their children was linked to household income. The children of university-educated parents were more likely to live in high-income households.

About 60% of children who had a parent with a graduate or first professional university degree played organized sports, compared with 42% of children whose parents had a high school diploma.

Place of residence influences sports participation

Rates of participation in 2005 among children aged 5 to 14 were highest in Atlantic Canada (61%) and lowest in British Columbia (44%) and Quebec (48%).

At the municipal level, rates were low in Canada's three largest cities (Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver) where less than half (47%) of children participated. Rates were highest in smaller cities and towns with populations between 10,000 and 50,000 (58%).

Rural and small town Canada had rates of organized sports participation (49%) that were similar to those of mid-sized census metropolitan areas (51%).

GSS data showed that in large and mid-sized metropolitan areas, children participated less in organized sports in high-density areas (42%) where low-income families are more likely to be found. Participation was highest in low-density suburban areas (52%).

Family structure can affect participation

Family structure can also influence a child's participation, especially if two parents can share responsibilities.

However, children are more likely now than in the past to live in a lone-parent, step or blended family. GSS data showed that participation by boys was almost the same for all family types, ranging from 54% to 58%, contrary to the situation for girls.

About 39% of girls in lone-parent families were participants, below the proportion of 48% among girls in intact two-parent families.

In two-parent families, children's sports participation rates were highest (75%) if both parents were involved in sports themselves, as participants, coaches, referees, sports administrators, as members of sports clubs or organizations, or even as spectators. When only one parent was involved, less than half (49%) of children participated. When neither parent was involved in sports, only 22% of their children regularly participated in organized sports.

In lone-parent families, 69% of children participated in organized sports if the parent was involved in sports in some way, while 27% of children regularly participated if their parent was not involved in sports.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4503.

The report "Kids' sports" is now available in the June 2008 issue of Canadian Social Trends, Vol. 85 (11-008-XWE, free), from the Publications module of our website. A printed version (11-008-XPE, $24/$39) is also available.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.