6. Canadian children play a lot of soccer

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Soccer has become the sport of choice for Canadian boys and girls 5 to 14 years old. It has ranked as the number one sport activity for active children for many years. In 1998 soccer led all sports practiced by children, and this ranking continued, reaching 44% participation in 2005. The rate of involvement in soccer was the same for boys and girls despite the fact that overall, boys tend to be more active in sport than girls.

In 2005, more than half (55%) of boys were active in sport compared to 44% of girls. Just like their adult counterparts, participation was concentrated in a few sports. In addition to soccer, girls were more involved in swimming, basketball and ice hockey. Boys engaged mostly in soccer, ice hockey, swimming and basketball, in that order. For children in this age cohort, therefore, the choice of sport activities is similar for boys and girls although the ranking differs. It is worth noting that nearly three times as many girls played ice hockey in 2005 as in 1998.

6.1 Children's participation in sport driven by parental involvement

Parental involvement plays a crucial role in motivating children to actively participate in sports, which can help them build character while improving fitness and health. The GSS data have consistently shown this to be the case. In 2005, the participation rate was only 35% for children aged 5 to 14 with neither of their parents involved in sport compared to 57% if at least one parent was an active participant. When at least one parent helped as an administrator, the children's participation rate jumped to 80%. It is possible that parents got involved as administrators because their kids are involved.

There was very little difference in the participation rate between children in a lone-parent household and those in a two-parent household (48% and 51% respectively). Regardless of family structure, children of sport participants participate more in sport. It is also possible that parents of active kids tend to participate themselves.

Chart 11
Participation rates for children aged 5 to 14, by level of parental involvement, 2005

Chart 12
Participation rates for children aged 5 to 14, by level of parental involvement and by one and two parent households, 2005

6.2 Household income influences kids' participation in organized sports

As with adults, children in lower income households tended to have lower participation rates, particularly for organized sports which require some expenditure for registration, uniforms, equipment, travel or accommodations.10 The GSS data suggest that the higher the level of household income, the higher the sport participation of children in those households. In 2005, 43% of children from households earning less than $40,000 were active in sports. In comparison, 63% of those from households with earnings of $80,000 or more were active.

Chart 13
Participation rates for children aged 5 to 14 by household income, 1998 and 2005

The National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY, 1994/1995, 1996/1997 and 1998/1999), developed jointly by Human Resources and Social Development Canada and Statistics Canada demonstrated that children in the lowest income quartile were three times more likely to have never participated in organized activities such as sports, than those in the highest quartile.

The income effect on participation may differ from one sport to another. Children from lower levels of household income are most likely to participate in sports such as soccer and basketball which require fewer expenses than hockey, for example. The lower relative cost of involvement in soccer may explain why it is the most favoured sport for children.

Table 7
Most practiced sports by children aged 5 to 141