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From Primary to Secondary School: Changes in Scottish Girls’ Physical Activity and Perceptions of Competence

A research report on an 18 month longitudinal study that tracked adolescent girls in the transition between Primary and Secondary School, identifying psychological and physical factors that influenced participation in physical activity.

Niven, A. G.; Fawkner, S. G.; Knowles, A. M.; Henretty, J. M. Teenactive Research Group, Heriot Watt University. (2009).  A research report on the changes in Scottish adolescent girls participation in physical activity in the transition from Primary to Secondary School.

Aim:  The study aimed to track adolescent females over the transition between Primary and Secondary School in order to identify the psychological and physical factors that influenced participation in physical activity.  Factors influencing physical activity levels such as maturation/physical change, perceptions of competence and other factors (demographics, sedentary behaviours) are reviewed in the introduction. 

Method:  200 girls were tracked over a period of 18 months, at 4 time periods, physical measurements and questionnaires were administered at all time points.  Girls were, on average, 12 years old when the study began.  Questionnaires addressed issues such as demographics, maturation status and attitudes towards participation.  Physical measurements were also taken (such as height and body fat). 

Results:  It was established that the girls participated in less physical activity within school over the period of the study, however there was no difference in the amount of walking or cycling to or from school that the participants engaged in. Participants rated themselves as being more physically active within Physical Education classes in Secondary rather than Primary School.  Participants ratings of competency in their physical environment was positively related with how active they were, this relationship became stronger over the four time points.  If meeting social needs was the only motivating factor for participation this factor did not positively correlate with uptake in physical activity, this may be due to social needs not necessarily being met by engaging in physical activity.

Implications:  It is suggested that in order to have real impact on adolescent girls participation perceived competence must be increased, by increasing this groups self esteem and confidence interventions may have greater success, or reduce the fall in participation in physical activity in the transition between Primary and Secondary School.  Opportunities for physical activity in situations were adolescent girls competencies are maximised should also be increased.

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