Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Gender Differences in the Relationship between the Regular Practice of Sports and Physical Exercise, Self-Beliefs and Academic Achievement during Adolescence

Academic journal article Journal of Educational and Developmental Psychology

Gender Differences in the Relationship between the Regular Practice of Sports and Physical Exercise, Self-Beliefs and Academic Achievement during Adolescence

Article excerpt

Abstract

The present study examined the associations between self-concept, academic achievement and adolescents' participation in physical exercise and sports practice. The work extends previous research linking regular physical activity with self-concept by looking in detail at how different dimensions of self-perception may be linked to the regular practice of exercise and also to the adolescents' school results. In addition, the present study adopted a gender specific approach to explore the relationship between the variables analysed. The sample included 1094 adolescents ranging in age between 12 and 18 years attending four different schools in the south of Portugal. The results suggest some clear gender differences in terms of levels of physical activity and how exercise and sports may shape the mental representations that adolescents develop about themselves in different dimensions of the self. More interesting is the finding that sports and physical exercise can support particular developmental changes in adolescent girls' domain-specific self-perceptions, self-esteem and levels of academic achievement.

Keywords: academic achievement, adolescence, physical activity, self-concept

1. Introduction

1.1 The Benefits of Regular Physical Activity during Adolescence

Regular practice of exercise has been linked to many health benefits and higher levels of physical activity during childhood and adolescence show clear associations with positive health outcomes (Pearce, Basterfield, Mann, Parkinson, Adamson, & Reiley, 2012). There is also a growing body of evidence about the impact that exercise can have on emotional wellbeing (Donaldson & Ronan, 2006), indices of mental health (Daley, 2002) and levels of positive self-esteem (Klomsten, Skaalvik, & Espnes, 2014). For example, Parfit, Pavey and Rowlands' study (2009) found that levels of physical activity were negatively associated with levels of anxiety and positively associated with levels of physical self-concept in a sample of pre-adolescents.

The benefits of physical activity on mental health and wellbeing are often explained by the biochemical changes resulting from the regular practice of physical exercise. One reported example of this effect is the link between physical exercise and raised levels of endorphins (Meeusen & Meirleir, 1995). However, metabolic changes do not fully explain some of the benefits of regular physical activity and psychological and psychosocial factors also help us to understand this relationship. The regular practice of physical exercise seems to lead to an increased perception of physical ability and positive body perception (Daley, 2002), contributing to internal locus of control and self-efficacy beliefs (Gasic-Pavisic, Joksimovic, & Janjetovic, 2006) leading, in turn, to the development of more positive levels of self-esteem. The social context in which sports and physical exercise take place is also a relevant contributor to some of the psychological benefits, as they often provide opportunities for social engagement (Donaldson & Ronan, 2006). This is certainly the case amongst adolescents where exercise usually occurs in the context of extra-curricular group activities which are important settings that support adolescents' establishment of friendships amongst their peer group (Schaefer, Simpkins, Vest, & Price, 2011).

Despite the benefits repeatedly associated with physical activity, recent surveys report lower levels of adolescent participation in sports and physical activity. This seems to be particularly true amongst girls (Guerieri, 2009).

This gender gap seems to emerge during the end of primary school and continue to widen during adolescence (Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation [WSFF], 2012). The finding that on average girls seem to spend significantly more time in sedentary behaviour is particularly worrying if we consider all the benefits that they may be missing out from being more physically active and that higher levels of physical inactivity will place them at higher risk of future health and emotional problems (Pearce et al. …

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