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Gymnastics leaps forward as kids return to sport

03 November 2023

Children are returning to sport with gymnastics joining swimming, football/soccer and dancing (recreational) as Australia’s most popular pastimes.

A girl jumps in the air while holding a gymnastics bar
AusPlay figures show gymnastics is now the second most popular activity for girls with 465,000 participants. Photo: Gymnastics Australia

An estimated 122,000 extra children took part in gymnastics this year according to new research from the Australian Sports Commission (ASC).

The ASC’s latest national AusPlay reports provide vital participation insights for key demographic groups in Australia and a review of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted sport and physical activity in Australia.

It found gymnastics is now the second most popular activity for girls with 465,000 participants and is ranked fifth for boys with 191,000 participants.

Swimming continues to make a splash as the most popular sport for children with nearly two million (1,918,000) participants.

Minister for Sport Anika Wells said it was good to see children return to regular sporting activity.

“Children’s activity levels reached an all-time low in 2020-21 as organised sport was put on hold due to COVID-19. Although participation rates are not quite back to pre-pandemic levels they are heading in the right direction as children get back to the activities they enjoy.”

When it comes to motivations, Australians are still moving to improve their mental health and for social benefits and say that not having enough time is the biggest barrier to being active.

ASC CEO Kieren Perkins OAM said the pandemic’s impact on sport and physical activity participation would be felt for years to come.

“We saw that adults became more physically active during the pandemic with women driving a significant increase in participation, but this has since dropped back to pre-pandemic levels, while men’s participation rates have remained more stable,” he said.

Australians continue to find different ways to get active, a trend that was already apparent but accelerated by COVID. The latest data shows this trend is continuing but at a slower pace.

Meanwhile, the number of Australian adults who say being active isn’t a priority has decreased after recording the highest ever result in AusPlay in 2021-22.

“Last year, 11 per cent of Australians told us being active wasn’t important to them. I’m pleased to say that figure has dropped to eight per cent but we still have work to do to ensure that we are providing welcoming places and spaces for all Australians to be involved in sport.”

The National Sport and Physical Activity Participation Report and COVID review report is available via The Clearinghouse for Sport. A one-page summary highlighting key findings is also attached.

Other key findings

  • 78 per cent of Australian adults participate in sport or physical activity at least once a week (down from 81 per cent)
  • Swimming, basketball, bushwalking, fitness/gym, Pilates and exergaming remain popular sports and activities for adults
  • Fitness/gym is the most popular activity for 15 to 19-year-olds, followed by football/soccer for males and netball for females
  • Children’s at least once a week participation is up from 47 per cent to 52 per cent (but still below pre-COVID levels of 59 per cent in 2018-19)
  • Children’s at least three times a week participation is up 16 per cent to 20 per cent (but still below pre-COVID levels of 24 per cent in 2018-19)
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