Evaluating Girls on the Run in Promoting Positive Youth Development: Group Comparisons on Life Skills Transfer and Social Processes

in Pediatric Exercise Science
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  • 1 University of Minnesota
  • 2 Texas State University
  • 3 University of Iowa
  • 4 San Francisco State University
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Purpose: Girls on the Run (GOTR), a physical activity-based positive youth development program, uses running as a platform to teach life skills and promote healthy behaviors. In this companion paper of our comprehensive project, the authors evaluated program impact on positive youth development by comparing GOTR participants to youth in other organized activities (Sport and physical education [PE]) on life skills transfer and social processes. Qualitative methods complemented quantitative data through interviews with GOTR stakeholders. Method: The participants included 215 girls in GOTR and 692 girls in the same grades and schools who did not participate in GOTR (Sport = 485; PE = 207). They completed self-report measures of life skills transfer, peer and coach relatedness, and coach autonomy support at the season’s end. GOTR subsamples of girls, coaches, caregivers, and school personnel participated in focus groups. Results: Girls in GOTR compared favorably to the Sport and PE girls on all life skills—managing emotions, resolving conflicts, helping others, and making intentional decisions—and to the PE girls for all 3 social processes. The GOTR and Sport girls did not differ on coach relatedness and autonomy support, but the Sport girls rated teammate relatedness higher. The GOTR girls’ scores on life skills transfer remained stable at a 3-month follow-up assessment. Stakeholders in the focus groups shared corroborating evidence that, through participating in GOTR, girls learn skills that generalize to school and home contexts. Conclusion: Using comparison groups, a retention assessment, and mixed methods, the findings provide evidence that GOTR is effective in teaching skills and strategies that generalize to broader life domains. The processes that explain group differences on life skills transfer include GOTR’s intentional curriculum of skill-building activities delivered by coaches within a caring and autonomy-supportive climate.

Weiss is with University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA. Kipp is with Texas State University, San Marcos, TX, USA. Phillips Reichter is with University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA. Bolter is with San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, USA.

Weiss (mrweiss@umn.edu) is corresponding author.
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