It has been reported in the sport and exercise literature that physical activity has potential benefit psychologically and physically (Barnett, Smoll, & Smith, 1992; Leith & Taylor, 1991). Similarly, it has been postulated that the perception of physical prowess and increase in level of fitness are related to the development of self-esteem (Jackson & Marsh, 1986; Weiss, McAuley, Ebbeck, & Wiese, 1990). Although a relationship between physical activity and self-esteem is generally accepted, the exact nature of this relationship is not clear.
The theoretical basis for the relationship between physical activity and self-esteem is found in disciplines other than sport psychology. For example, the theoretical models and measurement scales developed by Coopersmith (1967), Rosenberg (1979), Harter (1982), and Marsh (1985) are based in the broader fields of psychology and education. Consequently the primary focus of these theories is not on self-esteem as it relates specifically to sport and fitness. In fact, Harter (1982), in the analysis of her Perceived Competence Scale, cautions that its applicability to areas other than education needs to be tested. With the exception of the physical self-perception model proposed by Fox and Corbin (1989), little has been done to develop a sound theoretical framework within which the self-esteem and sport dichotomy may be studied (Sonstroem, 1984). This observation is particularly true for adolescents. The present study was undertaken as a result of the paucity of research literature and in an effort to stimulate farther research in this area.
The multidimensionality of self-esteem has been well documented (Harter, 1982; Marsh, Barnes, Cairns, & Tidman, 1984; Marsh, Barnes, & Hocevar, 1985; Marsh, Parker, & Barnes, 1985). Further, Marsh (1987) demonstrated the organization of the components of self-esteem in a hierarchical structure with global self-esteem at the apex. A basic premise of this structure is that the farther the various facets of self-esteem are from the apex, the less stable and more situation-specific the facets become. Therefore, interventions aimed at affecting global self-esteem must be directed at the lower-level facets of self-concept (Battle, 1987). The present study examined the effect of an intervention involving physical activity, education, and self-report on two of the lower-level facets of self-concept (physical abilities and physical appearance) and assessed the effect on global self-esteem.
Just as Piaget identified developmental stages in the cognitive processes in children, the multidimensional models of self-esteem suggest that there are age-dependent changes in self-esteem. What has not been demonstrated is how environmental influences in general, and sport participation in particular, affect the development of self-esteem at the various stages of the child's development (Fox, 1988). Weiss and Bredemeier (1983) suggest that a developmental approach is required for studying maturational changes in children's psychological behaviors in order to understand how these changes are affected by the sports experience. It is important that these studies be devised within the age-appropriate theoretical framework. Although a longitudinal approach might be a preferred way of examining maturational changes, the present study utilized an alternative approach by comparing the influence of a physical activity intervention on children of different age groups.
Self-esteem is influenced by social interaction and the individual's experiences with the environment (Fox, 1992). Accordingly feedback from significant others and society in general would positively or negatively influence levels of self-esteem. The magnitude of the effect is dependent on the number and consistency of the appraisals resulting from the feedback, the credibility of the person providing the feedback (Marsh, Barnes, Cairns, & Tidman, 1984; Rosenberg, 1979; Sonstroem, 1984) and the salience of the feedback to the individual and the situation (Anshel, Muller, & Owens, 1986; Harter, 1978). Barnett et al. (1992) and Ommundsen and Vaglum (1991) demonstrated that children are particularly affected by the feedback of others. Further, those with low self-esteem are most responsive to positive feedback and interventions (Sonstroem, 1984). The present study emphasized the importance of feedback from a significant other (i.e., the teacher) and assessed children with different levels of self-esteem.
Investigations involving male and female athletes of all ages and in a variety of sports indicate that self-esteem influences feelings of physical self-efficacy, self-confidence, anxiety levels, and perceptions of control (Ryckman, Robbins, Thorton, & Cantrell, 1982). These self-concepts, in turn, affect the degree of participation and attrition in sports activities (Barnett et al., 1992). Traditionally, young girls and women have not been encouraged to pursue a physically active lifestyle. Stereotypical sex-role attitudes have socialized young girls to excel in academics and social pursuits while young boys are encouraged to achieve in physical activities. If young children do, in fact, value physical prowess more than intellectual ability as Harter (1978) and Weiss and Bredemeier (1983) suggest, one would expect young girls to exhibit lower levels of physical self-concept because society tends to view young boys as "big and strong," and girls as "sweet and dainty." In support, Jackson and Marsh (1986) found that women exhibited lower levels of self-concept in areas normally related to socially defined male characteristics. However, female athletes generally scored higher than female non-athletes across all areas of self-concept investigated, suggesting that involvement in sport may have a positive effect. Therefore, providing young girls with opportunities to develop their physical skills, and making it socially desirable for girls to succeed in sports, should enhance their self-concept. Unfortunately, the mechanisms leading to the development of self-esteem and physical self-concept in children is poorly understood (Fox, 1988; Weiss & Bredemeier, 1983). The present study was limited to a study of females of different age levels in an effort to determine the effect of physical …