The Relationship between Sports Participation and Self-Esteem during Early Adolescence

Article excerpt


The main purpose of the present study was to examine the links between sports participation and self-esteem, with particular interest in the possible mediating role of physical self-esteem. The participants in this study were 382 students (167 boys; 215 girls) in Grades 5-8. Participants completed a series of paper and pencil measures, detailing their sports participation, as well as their self-perceptions concerning physical and general self-esteem. Sports participation was related to all indices of self-esteem and this was equally true for boys and girls. Two distinct but related factors were identified as components of physical self-esteem (Physical appearance and Physical competence), differentially associated with self-esteem for boys and girls. Results supported a mediational model, with physical self-esteem mediating the relationship between sports participation and general self-esteem. Significant sex differences were noted with regard to specific indices of physical self-esteem.


Le but principal de la présente étude était d'examiner les liens entre la participation aux sports et l'estime de soi, en se penchant en particulier sur le rôle médiateur possible de l'estime de soi physique. Trois cent quatre-vingt-deux étudiants (167 garçons et 215 filles) de la 5e à la 8e année ont participé à cette étude. Ils ont été soumis à une série de mesures écrites, qui décrivaient leur participation aux sports ainsi que leurs perceptions de soi quant à l'estime de soi physique et générale. Pour les garçons comme pour les filles, la participation aux sports était liée à tous les indices de l'estime de soi. Deux facteurs distincts mais connexes ont été identifiés comme des composants de l'estime de soi physique (apparence physique et compétence physique), associés de façon différentielle à l'estime de soi des garçons et des filles. Les résultats viennent à l'appui d'un modèle médiationnel de l'estime de soi physique qui mitigé le rapport entre la participation aux sports et l'estime de soi générale. Des différences significatives entre les garçons et les filles ont été notées en ce qui a trait à des indices précis de l'estime de soi physique.

Adolescence is a time of transition, with individuals struggling to deal with the physical, cognitive, and social changes throughout this developmental period. These changes can be stressful, and may lead to significant declines in feelings of self-worth.1 Adolescents may experience a decline in general satisfaction with the self, and/or they may experience a decline in specific subdomains of the self, such as physical appearance, athletic competence or academic competence (Harter, 1985,1990; Marsh, 1987, 1990).

One area of self-esteem that may be most affected during the adolescent period is physical self-esteem, or the extent to that one feels satisfied with one's physical self. Physical self-esteem can include both feelings of physical attractiveness, as well as perceived physical competence (Fox, 1997). Feeling positively about one's physical self is an important predictor of overall or general self-esteem during adolescence (Harter, 1997), particularly for adolescent girls.

Physical self-esteem may be particularly sensitive to variations in physical activity level. It has been argued that participating in sports-related activities may serve a protective role with respect to self-esteem declines during adolescence. Research does suggest that children and adolescents who participate in sports report higher levels of self-esteem, particularly in the physical domain (Bowker & Findlay, 2005; Koivula, 1999; Taylor, 1995). However, while sports participation may enhance feelings about one's physical self (e.g., I can run fast), it may have a more indirect relationship with overall feelings of well-being or general self-esteem. That is, participating in sports activities may increase feelings of physical competence and satisfaction with physical appearance, which in turn increases general self-esteem (Jackson & Marsh, 1986). …