Benefits that are generally associated with physical activity include enjoyment of the activity, expectation of positive benefits, intention to exercise, perceived fitness or health self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and positive physical self-perceptions (Sallis & Owen, 1999). In the Australian context where motor skill is highly valued, the ability to participate in play, games, and sports is likely to be particularly important in the socialization process of adolescents, such as their opportunity for reaffirming friendships and gaining social support from significant others. To be competent at movement would seem a clear advantage in order to experience quality of life through physical activity. However for adolescents who have poor motor competence, whose past experiences in sporting contexts have been less positive, future engagement in physical activity may not be viewed as so worthwhile.

From a theoretical perspective motor competence has been closely linked to positive self-perceptions (Harter, 1999; Nicholls, 1990) and feelings of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). Furthermore, the choices individuals make are directly related to their expectancies for success, and subjective values they place on the options they perceive to be available (Eccles, Barber, & Jozefowicz, 1999). Empirical findings with adolescents (Cantell, Smyth, & Ahonen, 2003; Poulsen, Ziviani, Cuskelly, & Smith, 2007) suggest that level of motor competence is associated with psycho-social outcomes that in turn influence the intrinsic motivation to engage in physical activity. Even with marginal motor difficulties, adolescents perceive greater barriers to exercise (Rose, Larkin, Hands, & Parker, 2008) but there is little known of how adolescents with low motor competence perceive outcomes of future engagement in physical activity differently to their better coordinated peers. Their difficulties are not only frequently overlooked but are compounded by not experiencing the joy of participation and benefit from the healthy outcomes of physical activity so important to quality of life. Furthermore, there is evidence that movement difficulties experienced in childhood do not go away and there are often physical and psycho-social difficulties extending into adulthood (Cantell, Smyth, & Ahonen, 2003).

In our study we proposed that adolescent girls and boys who differ in level of motor competence will also differ in their perceptions of benefits gained from any future engagement in sports and physical recreation. These proposed differences especially may be evident in physical and social evaluative settings where according to Harter (1999) adolescents are particularly vulnerable. She found that subgroups experiencing motor difficulties are likely to have a diminished view of their physical selves and be unwilling to participate in physical activities. If little positive benefit is perceived from participation there are strong implications for physical health associated with low energy expenditure and for overall quality of life. Considering that gender is linked to academic, occupational and recreational choice (Eccles et al., 1999) and that socialization for girls in sport often differs from that of boys (Coakley, 2007), girls may view their future in physical activity as less rewarding. This might have implications not only for girls but particularly for those girls who also lack competence in movement. Boys also may experience disadvantage if their motor competence does not reach the expectations of a sport oriented society (Poulsen et al., 2007). Our purpose here was to examine the likelihood of experiencing positive or negative outcomes from engaging in physical activity in adolescent boys and girls who differed in level of motor competence.


Published in Full, physical activity, adolescents, self-perceptions, motor competence


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