Australia is perceived internationally as a "sporting nation" inhabitated by "athletic outdoor types," yet a nationwide survey of leisure-time pursuits (Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism & Territories, 1989) revealed that the role of sport in Australian society has been overemphasized, camouflaging the contribution that other forms of leisure, such as home-based activities and community arts, make to the Australian lifestyle. Leisure participation rates for all age groups were highest for watching television (93.5%), visiting friends and relatives (65.4%), and reading (64.8%), with 32.7% of those surveyed not engaging in any physical activity. Although the 14- to 19-year age group generally showed higher participation rates in more activities than any other age group, physical activity among adolescents is declining in favor of more sedentary activities. Since leisure-time activities comprise between 40-50% of an adolescent's life (Caldwell, Smith, & Weissinger, 1992), and many of the lifestyle habits formed during this life stage are carried on into adulthood, a decrease in active leisure could be linked to social isolation and risk of future heart disease. An understanding of adolescent leisure and its underlying motivating forces is vital if positive changes are to be made to counteract any detrimental effects.
Research indicates that the adolescent leisure experience is conceptualized as a pleasurable state of mind mediated by situational characteristics that induce feelings such as perceived freedom and self-determination. Kleiber, Larson, and Csikszentmihalyi (1986) identified two types of adolescent leisure from self-reports of daily leisure experiences. The first was termed "relaxed leisure" and included free-time activities such as socializing, watching television, reading, listening to music, eating, and resting. The second was "transitional leisure" and included sports, games, artwork, and hobbies which provided a subjective leisure experience within a context of effort and demand. In a study of U.S. high school students, Mobily (1989) found that subjects defined "leisure" as pleasure and specific passive activities, while they defined "recreation" as pleasure and specific active pursuits such as sports.
Leisure activities are particularly important during adolescence because they provide adolescents with opportunities to explore and form their autonomy and identity, as well as often being the means to desired social ends (Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991). Psychosocially, the onset of puberty is accompanied by changes in self-esteem and family interactions, peer relationships and expectations, educational achievements, patterns of intimacy and sexual interests (Irwin & Millstein, 1992). Via leisure participation, adolescents acquire additional knowledge of the sociocultural environment, practice social and cooperative skills, experience intellectual or physical attainments, and explore a variety of peer, family, and community roles (Iso-Ahola, 1980; Willits & Willits, 1986).
Socially accepted leisure activities such as sports have been espoused as deterrents to antisocial activities by filling free time, alleviating boredom, helping adolescents feel good about themselves (Iso-Ahola & Crowley, 1991; MacMahon, 1990), and as agents of socialization and moral development (Stevenson, 1975). Sport in particular has been emphasized for its contributions to child and adolescent health (both physical and psychological), personal fulfillment, enjoyment, and community integration (Danish, Petitpas, & Hale, 1990. Sport has also been shown to correlate weakly but positively with school achievement (Bergin, 1992). Despite these positive suggestions, a conflicting view is that sport participation could potentially limit rather than enhance individual development because a competitive environment is considered counterproductive to the development of prosocial behavior. …