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Regular physical activity provides adolescents with important physical, mental and social health benefits. Self-perceptions are thought to be important for motivation and involvement in physical activity. Understanding how self-perceptions vary between genders and throughout adolescent years is important in addressing the issues surrounding physical activity participation.

Self-Perceptions and Physical Activity among Scottish SchoolchildrenJo Kirby, Jo Inchley & Candace CurrieChild and Adolescent Health Research Unit (CAHRU), University of Edinburgh

Logistic Regression

Among boys, perceived sports competence predicted being highly active in all years with odds ratios from ranging from 2.62-3.70.

Among girls, self-efficacy predicted being highly active in secondary school with odds ratios of 2.43 and 3.56.


A 5-year longitudinal study, investigating patterns and determinants of physical activity in early adolescence. Data were collected annually by self-report questionnaire between final year of primary (P7) and fourth year of secondary (S4); final longitudinal sample of 641 pupils. The following self-perceptions variables were explored: exercise self-efficacy, perceived sports competence, global self esteem and physical self worth. Gender differences were analysed using chi-square tests. Temporal trends between years were assessed using the chi-squared test for linear trend. Logistic regression analysis investigated the way in which self-perceptions predicted high physical activity levels.


Physical activity trends

Boys were consistently more active than girls in each year, although a decrease between P7-S4 in the proportion of boys (82.1%-41.9%) and girls (61.1%-16.6%) who were high active.


Older boys reported higher levels of self-efficacy than girls (41.2% and 23.6% respectively in S4), with the proportion of girls reporting high self-efficacy decreasing between P7-S4 (37.7%-23.6%). High self-efficacy was related to high physical activity among both genders in all years.

Perceived Sports Competence (PSC)

Boys reported higher levels of PSC than girls in all years (35.7% and 7.6% respectively in S4). An increase occurred in the proportion of boys and girls reporting low PSC across the primary-secondary transition, with continued increase among secondary girls. High PSC was related to high activity among both genders in all years.


Boys reported higher self-esteem than girls in all years (51.1% and 19.6% respectively in S4). The proportion of girls reporting high self-esteem fell during secondary years, whereas an increase occurred among boys during this time. High self-esteem was only associated with high physical activity among S1and S3 boys and among S1 and S4 girls.

Physical Self Worth (PSW)

Boys reported higher levels of PSW than girls across all years (40.3% and 14.1% respectively in S4). There was no change in PSW levels among boys, whereas girls showed an overall decrease across the years; the most marked decrease occurred between P7-S3. High PSW was associated

with high physical activity in all years among

girls and in S1, S3-S4 among boys.

  • Main Findings
  • Gender differences are apparent in exercise self-efficacy, perceived sports competence, self-esteem and PSW; with boys consistently reporting more positive self-perceptions than girls.
  • High self-efficacy and perceived sports competence are associated with high activity levels in ALL years for BOTH genders. Among girls, high PSW is associated with high activity levels.
  • High perceived sports competence predicts being highly active among boys in all years, and among older girls. High self-efficacy is an important predictor of being highly active among secondary school girls.


Positive self-perceptions are associated with increased physical activity levels among boys and girls. However, girls, particularly in the later secondary years, consistently report less positive self-perceptions than boys. Such information should be considered in the development of appropriate physical activity interventions.

This project was funded by NHS Health Scotland and the Scottish Government (Health Improvement Division)

Jo Kirby |Child and Adolescent Health Research Unit | The Moray House School of EducationThe University of Edinburgh | Holyrood Road | Edinburgh EH8 8AQ

Tel 0131 651 6559 | Fax 0131 651 6271 | Email