The Sport Sector represents a powerful opportunity to make transformative progress in youth and adult physical activity and health in the United States. Sports play a unique and profound role in American society, with more than 200 million youth and adults participating in some form of sports broadly defined.1 In the United States and internationally, sports is widely seen as a platform for progress on many fronts. Promoting overall health and providing specific health benefits associated with increased physical activity, is an obvious focus. Other aims include advancing health equity, supporting child development, assisting academic achievement, accelerating inclusion, serving as a social movement strategy, stimulating economic growth, making broad cultural impacts and contributions, and, in the case of the United Nations, facilitating overall national development and progress toward global goals.

This importance of sports is borne out both in public opinion and participation. In 2015, National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a survey series that revealed 73% of all adults in the United States played sports as a youth, but that only 23% of adults continued to play a sport. Most parents (76%) who have children in middle and high school encourage their children to play sports, with 88% of parents feeling that the most important reason was that  it benefitted their child’s physical health. Parents also see other benefits of sports for their children, from learning about discipline or dedication (81%) to gains in mental health (73%). For adults who play sports, a majority report gains in stress reduction (58%), mental health (54%), and physical health (51%).2

Even with all its benefits, the sports experience is not the same for all. Many youth are insufficiently physically active while waiting their turn to practice or play sports. Some become disappointed by sports or suffer avoidable injuries. Other youth find an array of barriers to sports participation. The overall result has been that youth participation in sports, while still large, has experienced a notable decline in recent years.3 Additionally, many adults find it difficult to find the time or to identify an enjoyable, safe, and appropriate sport as they age.

Given this context, sports within the 2016 National Physical Activity Plan is of key importance. The strategies in this sector present an integrated approach to using sports as a vehicle to increase levels of physical activity and to promote health. These strategies focus on: 1) policy change, 2) added infrastructure, 3) expanded access for all, 4) improved safety and care, 5) elevated surveillance, 6) more knowledgeable  and purposeful roles by key professionals as well as parents and caregivers, and 7) enlarged innovation and use of technology. The strategies and tactics in this Sport Sector form a national approach to progress, but also they will prove useful to individuals and organizations at the community level as a framework for increasing physical activity and health in communities all across America.


Sports organizations should collaborate to establish a national policy that emphasizes the importance of sports as a vehicle for promoting and sustaining a physically active population. [View Tactics]

Sports organizations should establish an entity that can serve as a central resource to unify and strengthen stakeholders in the sports sector. [View Tactics]

Leaders in multiple sectors should expand access to recreational spaces and quality sports programming while focusing on eliminating disparities in access based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, socioeconomic status, geography, age, and sexual orientation. [View Tactics]

Sports organizations should adopt policies and practices that promote physical activity, health, participant growth, and development of physical literacy. [View Tactics]

Sports organizations should ensure that sports programs are conducted in a manner that minimizes risk of sports-related injuries and illnesses. [View Tactics]

Public health agencies, in collaboration with sports organizations, should develop and implement a comprehensive surveillance system for monitoring sports participation in all segments of the population. [View Tactics]

Coaches, game officials, parents, and caregivers should create safe and inclusive environments for sports participation that promote physical activity and health for youth and adult participants. [View Tactics]

Sports organizations should use advances in technology to enhance the quality of the sport experience for participants.  [View Tactics]

Oliver Bartzsch is an experienced medical professional with over 15 years of professional experience. With a passion for medicine, fitness, and personal growth, he is always willing to challenge himself to accomplish tasks and especially to provide accurate medical information to people. Oliver is a long-time medical editor for multiple sites. With more than 10 years of medical writing experience, he has completed over 350 projects with both individual and corporate clients.


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