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Best and Worst of Youth Sports: A Comparison

A huge percentage of high school aged children, as well as children in younger grades, play a sport. Sometimes, this sport is provided through the school, other times the sport is city or town-sponsored. And yet other times, the sport is pursued through a private institution or trainer. Regardless of who sponsors the sport, there are benefits and disadvantages to each activity, ranging from the rate of injury to athletes’ future potentials after high school. For parents and their children alike, the following compares school sports across seven major categories, including the dangerousness of each sport and rate of injury, the difficulty of play and mastery, the amount of time needed to play the sport, each sport’s popularity, the comfort of watching for spectators, and each sport’s future potential, including scholarship opportunities associated with the sport.

Dangerousness of Youth Sports

Concussions in Youth Sports

While the six other major categories to be discussed certainly may influence a child’s desire – or a parent’s permission – to play a certain school sport, no consideration should be weighed more heavily than the dangerousness of a sport. Dangerousness is determined by the rate of injury per athletic exposure, and injuries may include, but are not limited to, sprains, strains, soft tissue injuries, concussions, fractured bones, and in the most severe of cases, fatal injuries. The top three dangerous school sports include:

  • Football. Across various sources of information, including an article published by Vox and research published by PBS, football is the most dangerous sport. In fact, according to the Vox article, the rate of injury in high school football is 4.01 per 1,000 athletic exposures, and the PBS article states that high school football players are even more at risk of sustaining a concussion than are college-level football players. To be sure, one study estimated that high school football players suffer 11.2 concussions for every 10,000 games and practices; the rate is 6.3 amongst college players. The study’s authors stated that their estimates are conservative, as many concussions go unreported.
  • Soccer. Another dangerous sport – although not quite as dangerous as football – is soccer. The Vox article cited above reports that the injury rate for girls’ soccer is 2.46, and the injury rate for boys’ soccer is 1.69. A Fox News article supports this data, sharing that in the year 2012 alone, there were 99,068 emergency room visits for soccer-related injuries, a 19.8 percent increase from five years earlier. Sprains and strains are very common in soccer, as is tendinitis. However, a player’s entire body may be at risk, and concussions are also common.
  • Ice hockey. The third most dangerous sport is ice hockey, with an injury rate of 2.34. While players wear protective gear, including helmets, the sport still poses the risk of a numerous injuries, including sprains and strains, broken bones, and head injuries. Especially controversial is whether or not children should be allowed to check opponents, which involves body slamming.

As a note, while soft tissue injuries and broken bones are certainly serious, painful, and may affect a player’s range of motion or physical ability for years to come, brain injuries should be everyone’s number one concern. The more research that is published about traumatic brain injuries and concussions, the more that is revealed about the devastating long-term effects. Even concussions that are classified as “minor” do not always heal completely, and a child (or adult) who sustains multiple concussions is at a much higher risk of developing CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This disease, which is a progressive degenerative disease, leads to the deterioration of the brain and is characterized by cognitive impairment, impulsive behavior, aggression, suicidal thoughts and behaviors, memory loss, dementia, confusion, speech and language difficulties, motor impairment, vision problems, and more. There is no way to completely prevent concussions in sports – all the equipment in the world isn’t enough – other than not playing the sport.

Difficulty of Play

Difficulty of play is an overarching topic that, to some extent, is obviously subjective (i.e. what comes easily to one player may prove more difficult for another). That being said, for this article’s purposes, difficulty of play is measured by the consideration of the complexity of the game, rules, entry level, and degree of athleticism.  

  • Gymnastics. For males and females alike, gymnastics is considered to be one of the most difficult sports at the school-aged level. Gymnastics requires mastery of the body, and gymnastics are expected to demonstrate a high degree of excellence in all events (vault/pommel horse, beams, floor, bars/rings). Further, scoring is not based on execution of a routine alone, but also on the difficulty of that routine. According to an article in, science shows that gymnastics is the most difficult sport because it requires balance, coordination, spatial awareness, strength, proprioception, skill and routine timing to six thousandths of a second, sprinting, tumbling and vaulting heights of 13 feet (16 feet for men), and 360 degree rotation in less than one second.
  • Wrestling. Wrestling is another difficult sport for a variety of reasons, including the rules that players must abide by, how taxing it is on the body, and the combination of flexibility, strength, proprioception, and planning that the sport requires. Wrestlers must be in great shape, and are required to condition their bodies and maintain their strength. Further, a great wrestler has mastered technique, which takes physical and mental/cognitive abilities.
  • Lacrosse. Lacrosse is an extremely popular sport in some parts of the country, but it is also one of the most difficult for players to master. Not only does it have a number of confusing rules, but it is physically demanding for players, requiring hand-eye coordination, strength, and speed. Lacrosse players are often required to train for hours before mastering the sport, and a large degree of natural athleticism is also required.


One consideration that most parents likely have when helping their children determine which sport to play is cost. Here are the three most expensive high school sports:

  • Ice hockey. According to an article in, ice hockey is the most expensive high school sport for children to play, namely due to the high cost of equipment. The cost of equipment, combined with things such as skating lessons, and membership and league fees can cost parents between $500 to $900 per year. Because kids are growing, a parent may need to repurchase certain equipment every year.
  • Football. Just like ice hockey, football is an expensive sport, mainly due to the equipment. An article in the Deseret News shares that in the state of Utah, paying for kids’ football is about $300 to $400 per kid, per season. Costs are incurred as a result of participation fees, summer training, weekly team meals, clothing and accessories, and more. This estimate does not include the cost of traveling for games.
  • Gymnastics. Gymnastics can quickly become an unaffordable sport for families, especially as most gymnastics classes are not offered for free through the school or a nominal fee through the city, but are obtained through private businesses. In addition to the cost of classes, parents with children who are serious about the sport may also find themselves forking out cash for uniforms for competitions, registration fees, traveling expenses, and even private coaching fees. At an advanced level, gymnastics can become even more expensive than football and hockey.


How much time a player dedicates to a sport may depend on the player, their level, and their dedication. That being said, some sports are inherently more time consuming than others. The most time-intensive sports include:

  • Baseball. Baseball has the longest season of any sport (excluding those sports which are played year round, such as gymnastics). In addition to the length of the season, players are expected to practice at least once per week – although the frequency with which practice is expected increases with level and competitiveness of the team – and players play numerous games per season, many of which include travel time. An article in CBS News states that at the collegiate level, baseball requires 42.1 hours per week. While high school aged players are certainly neither practicing nor playing this much, the sport still remains incredibly time intensive and demanding.
  • Football. Another incredibly time-consuming sport, especially for players that play on highly competitive teams at the high school level, is football. An article in The Atlantic highlight the fact that high school football players spend hours each week practicing, but the time commitment goes well beyond that, and extends beyond the players themselves; pep rallies, fundraisers, team dinners, and more are all part of the package, too. This means that not only is the sport time consuming for the athletes, but their families as well. Further, football games tend to be much longer than many other sporting events.
  • Basketball. Basketball is a time consuming sport, with athletes at the college level committing just about 40 hours per week to the sport. While those at the high school level commit less time to basketball, the time allotted to the sport – between practices to pep rallies to traveling and more – is a lot, particularly for those who are highly skilled or are hoping to obtain basketball scholarships.


The popularity of a sport can vary across the nation, and may dependent upon a specific community or school. Generally, the most popular sports are:

  • Football. Despite the risks, the time commitment, and the high costs associated with playing football, football is ranked as the number one most popular sport in America, at the professional, collegiate, and (high) school level. According to an article in, there are nearly 1.1 million high school football players across the nation, with nearly two times as many high school aged kids choosing football over the next most popular sport. Even as more information about the dangers of football is brought to light, the sport continues to be a national favorite, and is a huge part of culture in many parts of the nation.
  • Outdoor track and field. Nationally, outdoor track and field is the second most popular sport, as more than one million students – male and female alike – participate in track and field every year, according to
  • Basketball. With just under a million participants every year across the nation, basketball is the third most popular high school sport. Basketball is often played in school (i.e. sponsored by the high school), although most cities and towns have basketball leagues for children of all ages.  

Spectator Comfort

For parents who will be watching their children play sports throughout the season, comfort of being a spectator may come to mind. As opposed to outdoor sports, like football and soccer, where games are often held despite cold temperatures, rain, or snow, some of the more cushy sports to watch include:

  • Volleyball. Volleyball is played indoors, and the season is usually just through the fall (or the spring for boys). Further, games are typically short, lasting between 45 and 60 minutes.
  • Basketball. While basketball games may last a little bit longer than do volleyball games, they are still comfortable to watch as they are almost always held indoors. As basketball games also have a half time, there is plenty of time to get up to grab a snack, use the restroom, or simply stretch your legs.
  • Gymnastics. Gymnastics is probably the most exciting sport to watch, which can make sitting for hours at a time much more enjoyable. While the sport is year-round, competitions are always indoors.

Future Potential

kid football
For some students and their families, the best shot at college is a scholarship. For others, dreams of going pro are the main motivation behind playing sports at a college level. While a person’s future potential in a sport will be dictated primarily by that player’s skill and talent, here are the top three sports with the most future potential (i.e. best chances of collegiate level play, scholarships, or going pro):

  • Football. Chances of scoring a sports-based scholarship to a university/college are highest for those who play football. According to Potential Magazine, the NCAA allows each division I college to give out up to 85 football scholarships, and each division II college to give out up to 36 football scholarships. The NFL is also one of the most popular sports league in America, and continues to have the most pro athletes, as well as some of the highest paid athletes.
  • Women’s basketball. Schools allocate many more scholarships to male-dominated sports than they do to female-played sports in general. However, if you’re a highly talented female basketball player at the high school level, you probably have a better chance of getting a scholarship than your male basketball-playing counterpart. The reason is that there are about 8,000 female basketball scholarships handed out each year, with about 451,000 female basketball athletes. For males, there are only about 7,500 scholarships available, and the sport is more highly populated – 541,000 high school males play basketball.
  • Baseball. Next to football, baseball may have the biggest potential for long-term future success. While there are fewer baseball scholarships given out each year than there are for myriad other sports – for example, there are more cross country scholarships given out per year than baseball scholarships – major and minor league baseball teams offer careers after college. In fact, after football, baseball is the most popular sport in America.

Drawing Conclusions: Which Sport Should Your Child Play?

While the data above provides some insight about important factors that may influence your decision to allow your child to play a sport, or your child’s preference for a sport, each child will have a unique talent, ability, and desire. Further, there is not one sport that is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another; each sport requires a unique skill set, has a distinct draw, and has its own degree of potential.

Keep in mind, however, that concern over traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) such as concussions in high school sports is on the rise. As more research is published about the long-term and permanent side effects of trauma to the brain, particularly when that trauma is repetitive, and concussion recovery, more parents are ruling out sports like ice hockey and football. However, brain injuries occur on sports’ fields of all kinds, not just the football field. If your child’s safety is a top priority – which it surely is – make sure you think seriously about allowing your child to play a sport where head contact is a part of the game. If your child has been injured while playing a sport, we may open an investigation as to whether or not negligence played a role, and may be able to help you pursue a claim against a municipal body, a school or school district, a coach or trainer, or even another player. To learn more about liability and high school sport injuries, call us or visit us online.


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