Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Promoting Self-Efficacy through Play: Outdoor Play Experiences Help Children Believe in Themselves

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Promoting Self-Efficacy through Play: Outdoor Play Experiences Help Children Believe in Themselves

Article excerpt

Fly fishing, camping, rock-climbing, hiking and boating--these outdoor activities are enjoyable, but what are their extended benefits? People participate in outdoor recreational activities to get away from the daily grind. Just as people often cite stress relief as a reason to exercise, those who enjoy the great outdoors will tell you that it provides a benefit to their mental and emotional health: they feel refreshed, energized and like they have "escaped" the pressures of their everyday lives. Recently, several researchers have examined more closely the relationship between structured outdoor recreational experiences and changes in the affective domain, self-efficacy.


In general, self-efficacy is the belief in one's ability to accomplish something. It is the individual's judgment of his or her capabilities to complete courses of action, and is related to self-esteem and self-concept (Schwarzer and Jerusalem, 1993). With increased self-efficacy, people believe that they are capable of meeting the challenges that come their way in life. They believe that they are capable and that they can handle circumstances that happen around them.

Self-efficacy reflects an optimistic self belief that one can perform a novel or difficult task, or cope with adversity in various domains of human functioning. Perceived self-efficacy facilitates goal-setting, effort investment, persistence in face of barriers and recovery from setbacks.

The General Self-Efficacy Scale (GSE) was created to assess a general sense of perceived self-efficacy with the goal to predict how well people cope with daily hassles, as well as adapt after stressful life events. It was designed for the adult population, has 10 questions and takes about four minutes to complete. In samples from 23 nations, reliability has been high.

High scores on the GSE are positively related to favorable emotions, dispositional optimism, and work satisfaction. It can be taken to predict adaptation after life changes, but is also suitable as an indicator of quality of life at any point in time (Schwarzer and Jerusalem, 1993). Participating in challenging outdoor endeavors, one would speculate, not only requires self-efficacy (e. g. using a topographical map to backpack to a primitive site), but may also help develop or maintain general perceived self-efficacy. It is the purpose of this article to examine the relationship between self-efficacy and participation in outdoor recreational activities.

Outdoor Adventure Learning

In the past 10 years, the United States has seen resurgence in pursuing outdoor adventure activities. People are participating in adventure races, mountain biking and traveling across the country to enjoy the great outdoors. Part of this change is due to technology, like Global Positioning Systems, and easier access to information via the Internet and television concerning physical activity.

Most states' educational standards for physical education require that secondary students graduate with practical knowledge of outdoor pursuits like boating, camping, biking and hiking. However, many children still never have a true "outdoor" experience.

Self-Efficacy and Outdoor Recreation

Neill (2007) states that gains in participants' mobility and fitness levels occur when they participate in outdoor recreational activities, contributing to their overall well-being. They are also placed in situations that challenge them physically, emotionally, mentally and socially. When people cope effectively with the stressors of their environment, they receive immediate positive reinforcement, which helps them develop more effective coping strategies.

One of the philosophies of outdoor education is that it "toughens up" people and they develop a greater ability to deal with real-world challenges. Outdoor-based education programs have been shown to achieve positive remedial effects on low academic performers, and similar programs for delinquent students appear to contribute to reducing the likelihood of re-offending. …

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