The Effect of a Physical Activity Intervention Package on the Self-Esteem of Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Females

By Boyd, Karin R.; Hrycaiko, Dennis W. | Adolescence, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

The Effect of a Physical Activity Intervention Package on the Self-Esteem of Pre-Adolescent and Adolescent Females


Boyd, Karin R., Hrycaiko, Dennis W., Adolescence


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). …

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