An examination of key variables influencing physical activity behaviour in adolescent girls during the transition from primary to secondary school
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Research has suggested that the decline in physical activity (PA) levels for adolescent girls is most marked during the transition from primary school to secondary school. However, this decline in PA for adolescent girls is also coincident with the onset of maturation and as such, maturation and the physical changes associated with maturation (e.g., increased body fat and development of secondary sexual characteristics) may have a direct influence on PA. In addition, these physical changes may indirectly influence perceptions of competence and body attractiveness and subsequently influence PA behaviour. Therefore the aim of this thesis was to further explore this decline in PA during this transitional period. Study one involved a longitudinal examination of the relationship between maturation, physical self-perceptions and PA in adolescent girls over 12 months during the transition from primary to secondary school. At Phase 1 (primary school) 208 adolescent girls participated (mean age = 11.83 ± 0.39 years) and were tracked into secondary school (Phase 2) where 156 girls participated (mean age = 12.79 ± 0.31 years). PA was assessed using the Physical Activity Questionnaire for Children; maturation was assessed using the self-report Pubertal Development Scale; physical characteristics of body mass, waist circumference and sum of skinfolds were measured and physical self perceptions were assessed using the Children and Youth‟s Physical Self-Perception Profile. Cross-sectional findings at both Phase 1 and Phase 2 highlighted that maturation and physical characteristics were not significantly related to PA and there were no significant differences in PA between maturation stages. Results also indicated that physical self-perceptions were all significant moderate positive correlates of PA at both primary and secondary school. Longitudinal findings examining the change in variables over the 12 months highlighted a significant decrease in PA from primary to secondary school. Furthermore, this decrease was evident during break-times, lunch-times and after-school yet PA significantly increased in PE lessons between schools. Maturation had a limited influence on PA behaviour; however the increase in body mass was related to perceptions of body attractiveness and physical self-worth becoming less positive. In addition, decreases in physical self perceptions partially accounted for the decrease in PA over the 12 months. It was apparent from the quantitative findings of study one that further research was needed to explore the influence of additional variables on PA. The aim of study two was to explore the decrease in PA evident during the school transition using a narrative approach. A purposive sampling technique was used and one-to-one narrative interviews were conducted (n = 14; age 13.6 ± 0.3 years). Interpretative phenomenological analysis was used to identify the „whats‟ (i.e. content) of the girls‟ PA stories and structural analysis was used to identify „how‟ the girls told their PA stories. Findings suggest that the PA environment had an impact on their sense of self with regards to levels of enjoyment, perceived competence, confidence and self-presentation issues. These findings support the current research trend towards a focus on the environment the individual is experiencing rather on the individual. Overall the findings suggested that the decrease in PA behaviour in early adolescent girls may depend more on perceptions of competence and ability in a particular environment rather than the possible influence of the physical changes accompanying maturation.