(NBC News) — Every afternoon Maleik Faust is on the field, practicing plays at Harding University High in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It’s fun,” Faust says.
Still, like many high schools across the country, his team is shrinking.
“When I started 30 years ago, the participation, you’d get every male in high school almost. We just don’t get the numbers anymore,” says Harding football coach Van Smith.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, sports participation is down for the first time in three decades, led by a decline in football for the fifth year in a row.
“A lot of parents are worried about the concussion injuries,” Smith says.
Other sports, including basketball, also saw a drop in participation numbers.
Experts cite growing competition for how teens spend their time.
According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of teens have smartphones, and almost half say they are connected on a near-constant basis. Video games also vie for teens’ attention.
“As time progresses, I think we’ll see less and less kids, unfortunately, play team sports,” Smith says.
That concerns track coach LaSonja Collins, who has seen the positive impact school sports can have.
“It allows them to build character, it allows them to be able to just be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Collins says.
And for many students, being an athlete carries over from the field to the classroom.
“I come to school every day now,” Faust says.
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