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At-Risk Boys’ Intrinsic Motivation toward Physical Activity Declines over Time

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At-Risk Boys’ Intrinsic Motivation toward Physical Activity Declines over Time

Jiling Liu, M. Ed

Regular physical activity (PA) is important for children’s health and development. Exercising daily can reduce heart disease, obesity, and bone problems. Regular PA burns out stress and makes people feel good. Children’s academic learning can also improve through habitual exercises.

Recently, PA opportunities for children are becoming fewer. One reason is that schools have focused more on students’ academic performances. At the same time, schools have cut down time and resources for physical education classes. As a result, children are less physically active in and out of schools.

Fewer opportunities affect at-risk children’s PA levels more than their peers. Children are at-risk if they are under poverty, insecurity, low academic achievements, etc. Those from low socioeconomic status (SES) families are more prone to these risks. Research found that lower SES children often have lower PA levels than higher SES kids.

Children may not exercise on a daily basis if they are not motivated. Research shows intrinsic motivation (IM) usually decides how likely it is children will exercise. IM means when individuals feel fun and challenged during PA. If children are not interested, they will not be active in PA. As such, researchers often use IM to stand for children’s PA levels. Our study focused on 92 at-risk boys aged 10-13 at a sports camp. These boys come from low SES families in Texas. They stayed at the camp for three weeks each summer from 2012−2014. The camp offers many organized activities such as basketball, soccer, archery, and swimming. For this group of boys, we wanted to know how their IM changed over three years.

Also, we wanted to see if every boy had the same pattern of change. Such information is useful to promoting at-risk children’s IM and PA. We assessed the boys’ IM using a self-rated measure based on a 1-5 scoring scale. Higher scores mean higher IM levels. Our results showed that the boys scored 4.17 on the 5-point measure at their first camp year. Their scores decreased 0.23 per year. This pattern of decline was similar across individuals. The similarity might be because the boys have similar educational and family backgrounds. Our study did not examine what caused the decline. Thus, we recommend further studies to follow up.

As mentioned before, if children are not interested, they will not keep their effort. So, we suggest camp counselors first check if the boys like the activities at the camp. Meanwhile, counselors can vary the activities and make them more interesting. Counselors’ support is also an important source of IM. Children engage in PA if they feel supported. Therefore, we suggest the camp counselors listen to the boys’ voice. Provide the boys choices on what activities they like to do. Then, give positive feedback and encouragement to increase children’s confidence. We hope these methods can help boys have an enjoyable experience at the camp. Their positive experience can help them adopt a physically active lifestyle.


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