A socio-ecological approach to understanding adolescent girls’ engagement and experiences in the PE environment : a case study design

Mitchell, Fiona and Inchley, Jo and Fleming, Jo and Currie, Candace (2015) A socio-ecological approach to understanding adolescent girls’ engagement and experiences in the PE environment : a case study design. Graduate Journal of Sport, Exercise and Physical Education Research, 3. pp. 44-62.

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Adolescence is known to be a period of increased risk for the development of unhealthy behaviours such as physical inactivity (Currie et al., 2011). Low physical activity (PA) levels are especially noted in girls, who typically engage in less PA than boys throughout the teenage years (Whitehead and Biddle 2008). In Scotland, evidence suggests there is a significant decline in PA among adolescent girls, with only 41% of 13−15 year olds achieving the current recommendations, compared with 56% of 11−12 year olds (Scottish Executive, 2011). In addition, a proportion of girls are not engaging with school PE classes (Niven et al.,2014; Kirby et al.,2012). In order to understand more about how and why this decline exists, a sample of 20 ‘disengaged’ 12−13- year-old girls (second year of secondary school) were recruited from four case study schools in Scotland. This study aims to explore the interaction between the social and physical environment, and how these affect disengaged girls’ experiences and engagement in PE. Girls were categorised as ‘disengaged’ from PE if they did not participate regularly and reported negative emotions about the subject. Girls took part in in-depth in terviews to explore their experiences and engagement in PE. The theoretical framework is based on Welks (1999) Youth Physical Activity Promotion model (YPAP), a socio-ecological approach which conceptualises the influential correlates of PA as: individual-level predisposing and enabling factors, including personal attributes and environmental variables and reinforcing (social) factors . This model was applied within a Scottish education context to understand the importance of each component and also the interaction between these and the influence that one may have on another. The results indicate that although the type of activity offered in PE is important, it appears that perceptions of competence and the social environment these were delivered in, such as single-sex classes, had more of an influence on girls’ engagement in PE. For this group of Scottish adolescent girls, the wider psychosocial environment in which PE takes place may have a greater impact on levels of enjoyment and participation than the PA itself.