High school sports provide competitive experiences for nearly 8 million student-athletes every year. That total has steadily increased since the early 1970s although it did dip slightly, by less than 1%, in the 2018-19 school year. High school athletes compete for boys high school sports teams and girls high school sports teams through nearly all areas of the country with the vast majority of student-athletes living within a short drive of teams.
In boys high school sports, the most popular ones by participation are:
Meanwhile, the most popular girls high school sports by participation are:
The probability of players making the move up from sports teams in high school to those at the collegiate level varies. The percentages of those who make the move from boys high school sports teams to men’s college squads for the most popular sports are:
These are the corresponding percentages for athletes competing in girls high school sports who do the same in college:
It should be pointed out that the percentages of moving from high school to NCAA Division 1 are more than half of the above percentages. For example, although 7% of high school athletes who play baseball do the same thing for an NCAA institution, just 2% move to D1 rosters. Meanwhile, 1% of high school women’s volleyball players move on to D1 ball, well below the 4% that ultimately find themselves on NCAA rosters overall.
Since multiple bodies oversee sports at the high school level and not all sports teams are members of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), there is not one set of eligibility requirements. In general, age, enrollment, attendance and academic rules must be followed in order to be eligible to play in high school. Also, players must generally pass a medical examination at least once a year. Here are a couple of examples of specific high school sports eligibility requirements:
The number of high school sports news resources is extensive. Most of the more detailed information will be available courtesy of local media outlets, both print and television. Those working at these media outlets are the people who are going to know the most about high school athletes and sports in their areas. These sources are also often the best places to go for news on high school state and regional tournaments.
However, several outlets with a national focus on high school sports are great resources too. Here are a few of them:
USA Today High School Sports and CBSSports focus more on news while ScoreStream is a great option for viewing real-time scoring and watching highlights. MaxPreps does a great job of balancing those two aspects.
High school sports seasons, which sports are played when, vary depending on the state although the exceptions are few. For example, with few or no exceptions, football is one of the fall sports high school, basketball is one of the winter sports high school, and baseball is one of the spring sports high school. However, soccer is played in all three seasons. It will be one of the fall sports high school in many places while others will have it be one of the spring sports high school or even split up with one gender participating in one season and the other in the other. Meanwhile, soccer in California is one of the winter sports high school.
High school athletes can generally play on up to three sports teams, one per season. Although there usually aren’t any statewide rules against playing in more than one sport in the same season, it’s extremely rare that this occurs. In most cases, coaches will not allow it while the time commitment necessary tends to be unreasonable. However, one possible example of this occurring could be if a baseball player also participants in one of the events for a track and field team.
In most cases, fall sports high school seasons will be completed before winter sports high school seasons start, and winter sports high school seasons will be done by the time spring sports high school seasons commence. High school sports seasons are generally kept separate. But there may be some overlap if the season that’s ending is extended due to, for example, a team advancing deep in that sport’s state tournament.
The format for high school sports championships and playoffs varies from state to state and, in some cases, even within a state. Generally, sports teams who have posted the best series of high school sports scores will advance to postseason play. The same is true for individual athletes competing in sports such as golf and swimming. There will usually be district or regional championships or both followed by a state tournament or state championship competition. Rarely do sports teams play again once those events are completed.
Those looking to top the national high school sports rankings will often have never played the sports teams that they’re competing with for those elite honors. For example, five of the top 10 schools in the premier sports rankings for softball, the USA Today Super 25 for that sport, finished their 2019 campaigns with undefeated records, indicating that they never faced each other. As a result, the quality of their high school sports scores and their strength of schedules are considered.
The NFHS writes playing rules that are followed by most but not all statewide organizations and provides guidance on related issues that are of national importance. Education is also provided to those involved with boys high school sports and girls high school sports, including students, parents and coaches. Additionally, the NFHS promotes participating in sports at the high school level to the communities that it serves.
However, the corresponding state organizations play much more intimate roles with boys high school sports and girls high school sports within their borders. However, there are exceptions to the general rule of one of those organizations per state. For example, Texas is home to the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS), both of which oversee sports at the high school level.
Here’s an extensive list of high school sports that are especially popular.
High school baseball is competitive as it relates to college scholarships. That’s because 40,000 college baseball players are awarded 5,000 scholarships. High school baseball players looking to earn one should keep that in mind.
High school basketball players who do make the jump to college ball don’t have quite that amount of competition for scholarships as NCAA D1 schools offer up to 13 scholarships per men’s team and up to 15 for each women’s squad. Note that high school basketball is often accompanied by club ball for players.
High school field hockey is mostly played in the Northeast although its popularity is spreading. High school field hockey teams may also be found in California, Colorado, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin.
High school football is the sport that receives the highest per-game average attendances. It’s also the sport that offers the most scholarships due to the sizes of the teams.
High school golf provides opportunities for players to compete on many of the nation’s best golf courses as they look to improve their games enough to impress college coaches.
High school hockey is another sport that is geographically focused on specific parts of the country. Most teams are located in the Northeast, Midwest, Colorado and Alaska.
High school lacrosse has always been one of the most prominent sports on the East Coast, but it’s starting to increase in popularity elsewhere, especially in the Midwest and on the West Coast.
High school rowing provides one of the best overall workouts in high school sports, and plenty of opportunities to move on from high school rowing to the college level exist too.
High school soccer is a stepping stone towards college soccer for many players. Most top players will take part on a club team in addition to or instead of a high school soccer side.
High school softball provides a path towards playing at college teams such as Oklahoma and UCLA for some. A spot on another college roster is the ultimate destination for many others who are passionate about this diamond sport.
High school swimming is a competitive sport, and that competitive atmosphere provides fertile ground for top swimmers to rise to the top and secure spots on college rosters. Many of the best head to the Bay Area for college; California and Stanford claimed the 2019 men’s and women’s national titles.
High school tennis players are often looking to earn a tennis scholarship at a top college. Some of the best tennis players end up playing for teams such as Stanford, Texas, Florida, Wake Forest and Virginia.
High school track and field squads provide a variety of opportunities to make the move to college track and field. That’s the result of high school track and field being a sport that offers events as varied as the 10,000-meter run and the shot put.
High school volleyball is the same as college volleyball in that there are significantly more female high school volleyball players than male. A total of 452,808 girls play it, but just 65,563 boys do the same.
High school water polo is most popular in states such as California, Florida and Illinois while every NCAA Division 1 water polo champion hails from California.
High school wrestling receives considerable interest in the Northeast and Midwest although high school wrestling is sponsored in every state except for Mississippi.
Do note that this list is not comprehensive. For example, some student-athletes in Illinois play high school badminton.
Although it is challenging to squeeze onto a college roster, many high school athletes do just that every year. A number of them use the services of NCSA College Recruiting to help them navigate the high school sports recruiting process. NCSA has provided guidance to those looking to take this step since it was founded in 2000. At that time, founder Chris Krause saw his vision be realized. He’d moved on from high school football to Vanderbilt football in the 1980s but was dissatisfied by the recruiting experience. He wanted to ensure that others can receive the assistance that he didn’t.
Over the decades that have passed since, NCSA has helped student-athletes communicate with coaches, send them highlight videos and narrow their lists of schools to a manageable number. Most importantly, those at NCSA have helped many find the right fit for them. The 40,000 coaches in the system are also pleased that they’re being helped in finding the right fits for them as well.