Optimising physical activity engagement during youth sport: a self-determination theory approach

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Research suggests participation in youth sport does not guarantee physical activity (PA) guidelines are met. Studies indicate few children achieve recommended levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) during their youth sport involvement, and habitual levels of MVPA are below the recommended 60 min per day. Informed by self-determination theory, this study examined whether the coach-created social environment and related player motivation predict variability in objectively measured MVPA within the youth sport setting. Seventy three male youth sport footballers (Mean age = 11.66 ± 1.62) completed a multisection questionnaire assessing their perceptions of the social environment created in youth sport (autonomy supportive and controlling) and motivation towards their football participation (autonomous and controlled). Intensity of PA during youth sport was measured using accelerometers (GT3X, ActiGraph). Results supported a model in which perceptions of autonomy support significantly and positively predicted autonomous motivation towards football, which in turn significantly and positively predicted youth sport MVPA (% time). A significant indirect effect was observed for perceptions of autonomy support on youth sport %MVPA via autonomous motivation. Results have implications for optimising MVPA engagement during youth sport and increasing daily MVPA towards recommended and health-enhancing levels on youth sport days.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Sports Sciences
Early online date12 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - 12 Feb 2016


  • Self-determination
  • Self-determination theory
  • Sport
  • Youth sport


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