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Frequently Asked Questions | Healthy Sport Index | Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Aspen Institute and Project Play?
The Aspen Institute is a nonpartisan forum for values-based leadership and the exchange of ideas. Within the Aspen Institute is the Sports & Society Program, the mission of which is to convene leaders, facilitate dialogue, and inspire solutions that help sports serve the public interest. Project Play, an initiative of the Sports & Society Program, develops, applies and shares knowledge that helps stakeholders build healthy communities through sports.

To date, Project Play has focused largely on the base of our sport system, creating and mobilizing stakeholders around the first national framework that can be used to grow access to quality sport activity for all children ages 12-and-under. Project Play’s model community projects have considered the needs of youth through high school age. The Healthy Sport Index adds to the knowledge base that stakeholders can use to build healthy youth through sports.

What is the purpose of the Healthy Sport Index?
It’s a web-based tool to help athletes, parents and other stakeholders make better informed decisions about which sports will best meet their goals. The Healthy Sport Index combines the best available data and expert analysis to identify the relative benefits and risks of participating in the 10 most popular high school sports played by boys and girls.

What health impacts are being evaluated?
The Healthy Sport Index looks at physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits. One of the chief contributions of sport participation is physical activity, given the documented physiological and cognitive benefits that flow to youth whose bodies are in motion. We also recognize that psychological and social aspects of sports play an important role in youth having a healthy and positive sports experience. At the same time, the benefits of playing sports can be limited by short- and long-term injuries.

Should only parents of high school athletes use the Healthy Sport Index?
Not necessarily. The tool is limited to high school sports, given that is where the best data exist. Parents of children of all ages may find value in the tool, as well as school administrators, city managers and other stakeholders interested in using sport to develop healthy kids and communities.

Which sports are being evaluated?
Boys sports: Baseball, basketball, cross country, football, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, wrestling.

Girls sports: Basketball, cheerleading, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, volleyball.

There are certainly other viable sports available in high school that are not featured in the Healthy Sport Index. We limited the sports to the 10 most popular in high school for boys and girls based on 2015-16 national participation data. Golf was among the 10 most popular girls sports that year, but was left off our evaluation because the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance Study does not track golf injury data. In order to compare all sports the same way, girls lacrosse (the 11th-most popular female sport) replaced girls golf.   

When the Healthy Sport Index rates a sport low, does that mean youth shouldn’t play that sport?
No, not at all. Project Play and a large body of existing research support the concept that playing sports is good for youth. Any sport, when served well, can produce myriad benefits for participants. The Healthy Sport Index is not intended to tell parents which sports their kids should or shouldn’t play. Rather, this website makes it easy for parents and other users to customize their assessment to the needs of the youth population in question.

Users may apply a sliding scale on the front page to reflect how much they emphasize physical activity, safety and psychosocial benefits. Each sport’s ranking may recalculate based on that emphasis. For example, if a parent is most concerned about increasing their child’s fitness, he or she may value physical activity more than the other two categories. This recognizes that different sports offer different benefits for participants, and different kids have different health needs. If there is a Healthy Sport Index 2.0, sports that score low could improve their future ranking by producing healthier data through policies that best serve youth.

If there is a large gap in the rankings between one sport and another, does that mean one sport is much healthier than another?
Not necessarily. The final scores for some sports in various data measurements and Physical Activity, Safety, Psychosocial and Overall rankings are fairly close. All of the final scores can be seen on the methodology page.

Why does the Healthy Sport Index combine objective data with subjective opinion?
In the scoring model, 75 percent of a sport’s score comes from data and 25 percent comes from expert opinion through our experienced group of medical and other specialists, all with backgrounds in sports. This recognizes there are limits to the available data in high school sports, and thus what’s being used in the Healthy Sport Index (see the methodology for the limitations). Opinions from experts assist in filling those gaps to best inform parents about sports health.

Is the Healthy Sport Index only about rankings?
No. The actual index produces rankings. But the Healthy Sport Index is more than just numbers; it’s also about offering ideas, solutions and context for high school sports health. Companion content on the website includes:

  • Advice for which sports to sample, based on a person’s primary sport, in order to live healthier and become a better athlete. Medical experts weigh in on secondary sports that prioritize overall health development. National sport organizations and top sport experts, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee, offer recommendations on secondary sports that promote skill development.
  • Tips for best practices to be active and safe are offered on each sport profile page. These are five researched tips developed for each sport that can be applied immediately.
  • Parent voices on what they want from sports. New and existing parent research tell a story of parent attitudes and needs regarding organized sports and health for their children.

What are examples of other resources that can be used to promote health in youth sports?

  • The Colorado School of Public Health produces annual High School RIO reports that track injuries by high school sport.
  • The United States Olympic Committee created the American Development Model to help Americans realize their full athletic potential and utilize sport as a path toward an active and healthy lifestyle.