RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has released participation data collected for the first time in three years since the pandemic.

NFHS compared the 2018-19 and 2021-22 academic years and noticed a four percent drop nationally when looking at the number of athletes participating in high school sports.

That drop was even larger in North Carolina — which had a 9.1 percent decline during that same timeframe. Women’s sports had the largest impact and dropped by 12.5 percent.

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association says the decline in participation may be the lingering impacts of the pandemic.

Early on in the pandemic, schools experienced shorter and overlapped seasons which may have contributed to the larger decline in North Carolina.

Data collected by the NCHSAA revealed that more athletes have been returning back to sports like football, track and field and lacrosse since 2020, but the participation numbers are not quite like they were.

“I think it’s been a struggle to get kids to come back out because they’ve become comfortable just being at home more,” said Trey Michael who is a youth soccer coach for boys under the age of 14.

Michael said there may be other factors including distractions like social media and parents working longer hours that make it difficult for young athletes to get to practice.

Michael said less participation in sports is becoming a concern, specifically because youth are missing out on important skills.

He said, “For me it’s the comradery and teamwork… just basic life skills.”

Trey Michael’s wife, Amy, said those skills transfer into the real work including the workplace when students get older.

She said, “We’ve become a society that’s so focused on the ‘participation trophy,’ and teaching wins and losses, there’s going to be losses along the way and how do you cope with that?”

Greg Traylor who also coaches youth girls and boys soccer agreed and said, “For me, it’s about my little way of giving back to the community but more importantly helping young women and men become more productive members to society.”

Traylor, who has coached for 20 years, said families may have taken a break from sports during the pandemic and found other interests.

He added, “I coached high school varsity soccer and one of the seasons during COVID we didn’t have half our team because they didn’t want to play. And that’s okay because it was their choice.”

Traylor believes athletic participation will rebound again. He says he has already noticed more athletes returning to the field this season.

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said, “We remain encouraged that student-athletes and their communities are returning to normal and continue to expect rebounds in participation at our member schools. We continue to believe that education-based athletic programs are tremendous enrichment opportunities for young people in our state’s schools and remain committed to ensuring those opportunities remain available for all young people across our state.”

The NCHSAA will have more information on participation trends in the coming weeks on their website.