The 10 Most Popular High School Sports, Ranked By 'Healthiness'

The Healthy Sport Index aims to help the public identify the relative benefits and risks of the 10 most popular high school sports for boys and girls.

While attending the Aspen Institute's Project Play Summit last year, I became fascinated with their Healthy Sport Index.

What this index aims to do is help the public identify the relative benefits and risks of the 10 most popular high school sports for boys and girls. The tool was developed in partnership with Hospital for Special Surgery and with the guidance of an advisory group of medical doctors, researchers and other specialists related to sports health.

Before we outline the rankings, it's important to note that the Healthy Sport Index is not intended to conclude which sports children should or should not play. Different sports offer different benefits, and different children have different health needs. How each sport experience is served also differs from school to school and team to team. No single sports experience is the same, and some programs and coaches follow best practices more closely than others.

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While attending the Aspen Institute's Project Play Summit last year, I became fascinated with their Healthy Sport Index.

What this index aims to do is help the public identify the relative benefits and risks of the 10 most popular high school sports for boys and girls. The tool was developed in partnership with Hospital for Special Surgery and with the guidance of an advisory group of medical doctors, researchers and other specialists related to sports health.

Before we outline the rankings, it's important to note that the Healthy Sport Index is not intended to conclude which sports children should or should not play. Different sports offer different benefits, and different children have different health needs. How each sport experience is served also differs from school to school and team to team. No single sports experience is the same, and some programs and coaches follow best practices more closely than others.

With that, here are the 10 most popular high school sports, indexed by "the relative benefits and risks of participating" in them. First, the list for boys:

  1. Cross Country
  2. Swimming
  3. Track and Field
  4. Soccer
  5. Tennis
  6. Basketball
  7. Wrestling
  8. Baseball
  9. Lacrosse
  10. Football

And now, for girls:

  1. Swimming
  2. Cross Country
  3. Tennis
  4. Volleyball
  5. Soccer
  6. Basketball
  7. Track and Field
  8. Softball
  9. Lacrosse
  10. Cheerleading

Perhaps more helpful than the general list above, the tool can also include context for the wants and needs of the athlete or their parents. Users can rate the importance, from "low emphasis" to "high emphasis," of three key factors:

  • Physical Activity: How much are athletes moving their bodies at practice?
  • Safety: How prevalent are injuries?
  • Psychosocial: How has playing a sport changed the behavior of its athletes, such as through emotional, social and academic skills?

This can be extremely useful if you want to prioritize one of the above factors above another. For example, most people probably already know that football carries a high safety risk, but did you also know that football scored extremely high for its psychosocial benefits?

This index is not the be-all, end-all for making choices, but is intended to be a helpful tool for parents and athletes to learn more about the sporting environment that may be a fit for them to thrive in physical team environments.

As a coach, parent and overall supporter of developing young athletes in healthy informed ways, I think this is a great tool learn a bit more about the sports your kids are playing or pursuing. All sports have great risks, but no risk is greater than not participating in sports and missing out on one of the most meaningful experiences young people can have. Join a team, do your best and create lasting relationships.

The full tool can be found at www.healthysportindex.com, and it also includes information such as recommendations for complementary sports for each sport as well as best practices for each sport.

Photo Credit: miodrag ignjatovic/iStock

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Topics: HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS