After a few seasons of slowed growth, participation growth in boys volleyball at the high school level accelerated again in 2017. According to the NFHS, the governing body for the vast majority of high school sports, over the last 5 years, boys’ volleyball’s 15.7% growth in participation rate is 2nd nationally, behind only indoor track & field. Girls’ volleyball, meanwhile, is growing at a more modest rate over that same period – 6.2% over 5 years, but as already the 2nd most popular sport in the country for high school athletes, there was less room for it to grow.
Editor’s Note: emerging sports, like sand volleyball, were excluded from the growth rankings.
Both sports had a down year in 2015-2016 in terms of growth, but both sports reversed that trend in 2016-2017 – perhaps owing to the post-Olympic year bump (though there’s no consistent history of that – more schools dropped than added women’s volleyball after the 2012 Olympics).
Editor’s Note: there is some complexity, especially in the boys’ numbers. For example, CHSAA, the governing body in Colorado, voted down adding it as a recognized sport again in April. There are still over 600 players in Colorado. There are a few varsity teams in Texas in the private school SPC league that the NFHS doesn’t have in their numbers. In male Olympic sports, there tends to be more inconsistencies than in other sports. These numbers reflect a portion of participation, as the study is based on a survey that can result in some subjectivity. There is a big national push around the country to get state sanctioning in more places, and as that happens, these numbers will become more reliable.
Year-by-Year Growth Rates
|Boys Indoor||Schools||Participants||Schools Growth||
|Girls Indoor||Schools||Participants||Schools Growth||
Women’s volleyball remains the 2nd most-popular sport by number of participants for girls and 3rd most-popular by number of schools that sponsor a program. It’s held those positions since the 2014-2015, when the number of volleyball players jumped the number of basketball players (even though basketball still has more programs).
Girls’ Indoor Participation Rankings
|By Schools||By Participants|
|1||Basketball||17,934||1||Track and Field – Outdoor||494,477|
|2||Track & Field – outdoor||16,658||2||Volleyball||444,779|
|4||Softball – Fat Pitch||15,440||4||Soccer||388,339|
|5||Cross Country||14,880||5||Softball – Fast PItch||367,405|
|8||Golf||10,076||8||Swimming & Diving||170,797|
|9||Swimming & Diving||7,721||9||Competitive Spirit Squads||144,243|
|10||Competitive Spirit Squads||6,541||10||Lacrosse||93,473|
Boys’ volleyball, meanwhile, ranks as the 14th most-popular sports by number of schools sponsoring and 13th by participation (bowling has more schools, but fewer participants, owing to smaller team sizes).
Boys’ 2016-2017 Participation Rankings
|By Schools||By Participants|
|1||Basketball||18,214||1||Football – 11-PLayer||1,057,407|
|2||Track & Field – Outdoor||16,699||2||Track & Field – Outdoor||600,136|
|5||Football – 11 player||14,099||5||Soccer||450,234|
|10||Swimming & Diving||7,342||10||Swimming & Diving||138,364|
|11||Track & Field – Indoor||3,207||11||Lacrosse||111,842|
|12||Lacrosse||2,900||12||Track & Field – Indoor||82,172|
Sand volleyball, first recognized by the NFHS last season, is also exploding in popularity. That growth is primarily in the sport’s mecca of California, but has also seen other pockets of connection – including Louisiana, where there’s a big push by the base to include it among the state’s sponsored sports.
|Girls’ Sand||Schools||Participants||Schools Growth||
|Boys’ Sand||Schools||Participants||Schools Growth||
Not all volleyball is seeing growth. Mixed 6 Coed Volleyball, which is sponsored by 76 schools in Alaska, from 1,060 participants in 2015-2016 to 990 in 2016-2017. That drop came on both the boys’ and girls’ sides of the co-ed sport. Normally, one would expect that drop to be accompanied by an increase in either boy’s or girl’s participation, but that wasn’t the case. The state still only has 1 recognized boys’ high school team (which only had 2 participants this year), and the state held steady at 39 recognized girls’ teams. The long-term trend for Mixed Coed-6 volleyball is stable, though. The decrease in participation is partially driven by an overall plummeting in participation in high school athletics in the last two years (-11.6% in 2015, -1.7% in 2016). While the weather, which can have significant influence on participation in the state, especially in more remote areas, has been temperate, a dramatic global drop in oil prices has significantly impacted the state’s economy. Those economic pressures are likely the primary driver of decreased athletic participation.