Swimming remains the No. 1 participation sport in the
UK, but perhaps due to the recession, U.S. participation
decreased last year, according to two recent reports.
The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association recently
released its Single Sport Participation Studies and found
that swimming, for competition or fitness decreased 8.5
percent last year. In 2009 there were 17,443 study
participants who were competitive or fitness swimmers,
compared with 19,041 in 2008.
Other water sports also showed a decrease, including
aquatic exercise (-6.5 percent), surfing (-7.8 percent),
canoeing (-7.6 percent), jet skiing (-18.5 percent),
recreation kayaking (-0.4 percent), Scuba diving (-36.7
This study was a joint effort of The Physical Activity
Council, Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, Tennis
Industry Association, National Golf Foundation, IHRSA,
Snowsports Industries America, The Outdoor Foundation, and
the United States Tennis Association. Data was collected
from 40,141 online interviews were carried out with a
nationwide sample of individuals and households during
January and February of 2010.
Similarly, the National Sporting Goods Association
telephone survey of 10,000 households found that swimming
participation decreased 6.1 percent. Last year, a total of
50.2 million individuals participated more than once.
The NSGA reports that swimming was the No. 4 sport in
2009, behind Exercise walking (93.4 million participants),
exercising with equipment (57.2 million), and camping (50.9
Experts say the shift downward may be part of a larger
trend, but it may also be a function of the economy.
“Swimming has always been among the most
popular activities,” said Larry Weindruch, NSGA
director of communications. “It was No. 1 until
about 20 years ago, when exercise walking moved up.
Swimming has slowly declined since then.”
However, NSGA documents an upturn for the past few years
and the SGMA reports an 8 percent increase in swimming for
“Aquatics sports have probably been more
impacted by the economy and rising fuel prices than most
sports, athletic or recreational activities,” said
Mike May, SGMA director of communications.
“… still, those who participate in
aquatics are often passionate about their sport and make
participation in them a priority.”
May also notes that for some, access to water can be a
barrier to participation and that presents a growth
challenge for some aquatic activities.
Industry leaders point out that aquatics is one of many
activities that saw a decrease in participation last
“When you compare the swimming numbers to other
major sports, swimming isn’t doing too
badly,” said Alex Antoniou, Ph.D., director of
Time spent consuming entertainment products may be one
reason for the decrease in participation in physical
activity and recreation, notes Bruce Wigo, CEO of the
International Swimming Hall of Fame, in Fort Lauderdale,
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Sport England’s
Active People survey found nearly 3.26 million Brits swim
regularly, a number that represents significant growth.