skip to main content

Teens and Sports: "Let's Play"

by Joseph Carroll

How many kids are among the viewers glued to their TVs as the 2002 Winter Olympics enter the final week? Maybe quite a few; a review of Gallup Youth polling shows that teens in the U.S. are overwhelmingly "sports nuts," both in terms of participation and attendance at sporting events. A study conducted in 2000* shows that nine in 10 American teens (90%) like sports, four in five U.S. teen-agers (80%) participate in some form of sports or exercise on a regular basis, and half (51%) have played on a school athletic team in the past year. Gallup Youth Surveys conducted from 1976 through 1996 also point to a mounting interest among teens in attending pro-sporting events.

A recent Gallup Youth survey** shows that 93% of boys and 88% of girls are interested in sports. Boys are slightly more likely than are girls to participate in team sports at school, by a margin of 54% to 47%. Teens who excel in school are more likely than are other students to play sports. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of students who say they have an above-average academic standing are involved in sports at school, compared to 41% of average or below-average students.

What motivates teens to play sports? Virtually all teens who play sports (97%) do so because it is fun, and 90% say they do it to develop their skills and talents to the fullest. Other common reasons include the chance to compete against other teens (83%), to be part of a group and make friends (74%), and to increase chances of getting into college (72%). Teens are least likely to agree that they play sports to please their parents, with 20% mentioning this as a reason, to be popular among their peers (20%), to prove their superiority (12%) or to satisfy a school requirement (8%).

The majority of teens also love watching sports. Attendance at professional sporting events has ranked at the top of the list of favorite teen activities since this question was first asked in 1976, and it seems to be increasing in popularity. At that time, 43% of teens said they had attended a professional sporting event in the past year. The most recent polling in 1996 showed that number had risen to 58%.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 500 teens, aged 13 to 17, conducted July-October 2000. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 5 percentage points.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 501 teens, aged 13 to 17 conducted March-May 2001. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 5 percentage points.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030