A mixed-methods study investigating factors influencing rural youths' participation and experiences in outdoor, noncompetitive physical activity
Christiana, Richard Wayne
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Given the high prevalence rates of childhood obesity and current trend towards increased sedentary lifestyles, the promotion of physical activity among youth has become a major public health concern. Most of the current research on youths’ physical activity has been focused on participation in physical education, structured exercise, and competitive sports. Hence, little is known about the participation of youth in physical activities that are unstructured and noncompetitive. However, the potential benefits of youth engaging in these activities have been shown to be vast and include physical, psychological, emotional, and behavioral spheres. The outdoors presents an optimal setting in which to promote physical activity among rural youth since it offers more varied terrain and children tend to be more vigorously active when they are outdoors as opposed to indoors. The current study examined the influential factors of rural youths’ engagement in noncompetitive outdoor physical activity utilizing a mixed-methods design where both the quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis were given equal priority and weight. Early adolescents’ aged 10-14 years (n = 1032) from one rural middle school completed a self-administered questionnaire that assessed the constructs of an integrated conceptual model of self-determination theory and the theory of planned behavior related to participation in noncompetitive outdoor activity. Structural equation modeling was utilized to analyze the relationships among these constructs. In depth qualitative interviews were then conducted with a subsample of those who completed the questionnaire (n = 24) to elicit detailed descriptions of early adolescents’ experiences of participation in outdoor physical activities. Quantitative results provide evidence that early adolescents’ self-determined motivation to engage in noncompetitive outdoor activities predicts attitudes, subjective norms, perceived behavioral control, and intentions related to participation in these activities. Qualitative results provide support and detailed description for the relationships within the integrated conceptual model. The qualitative results also indicate the presence of a complex dynamic relationship of social and physical environmental factors influencing early adolescents’ participation in outdoor activities. Discussion of the study results includes implications for future research and practice. The researcher’s reflections on the benefits and issues faced while conducting a mixed-methods study are presented.