Motor Skill Development and Youth Physical Activity: A Social Psychological Perspective

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Children and youth participate in physical activities to develop and demonstrate physical competence, attain social acceptance and approval, and experience enjoyment. Satisfying these motives enhances interest in sustaining physical activity, which contributes to improved motor skills, self-confidence, social relationships, and other positive outcomes. My essay explores motor skill development and youth physical activity through a social psychological lens and the benefits of integrating scientific knowledge from our respective fields to inform research and professional practice. Motor development and sport psychology researchers can collaborate to address critical issues related to motor and perceived competence and physical activity. I recommend five ways for integrating knowledge: (1) applying social psychological theory to guide research questions, (2) using more longitudinal designs, (3) using a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods, (4) designing studies on physical literacy, and (5) employing a positive youth development (PYD) approach for improving motor and social-emotional skills. These efforts can assist teachers, coaches, and parents in creating opportunities for youth to learn and improve fundamental motor and sport skills and to achieve feelings of competence, autonomy, relatedness, and joy for motivating a lifetime of physical activity.

Weiss (mrweiss@umn.edu) is with the School of Kinesiology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA.

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  • Weiss, M.R. (2019b). Youth sport motivation and participation: Paradigms, perspectives, and practicalities. Kinesiology Review, 8(3), 162170. doi:10.1123/kr.2019-0014

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  • Weiss, M.R., Amorose, A.J., & Kipp, L.E. (2012). Youth motivation and participation in sport and physical activity. In R.M. Ryan (Ed.) Oxford handbook of human motivation (pp. 520553). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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  • Weiss, M.R., & Bredemeier, B.J. (1983). Developmental sport psychology: A theoretical perspective for studying children in sport. Journal of Sport Psychology, 5(2), 216230. doi:10.1123/jsp.5.2.216

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  • Weiss, M.R., Kipp, L.E., Phillips Reichter, A., Espinoza, S.M., & Bolter, N.D. (2019). Girls on the Run: Impact of a physical activity youth development program on psychosocial and behavioral outcomes. Pediatric Exercise Science, 31(3), 330340. PubMed ID: 30795719 doi:10.1123/pes.2018-0168

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  • Weiss, M.R., McCullagh, P., Smith, A.L., & Berlant, A.R. (1998). Observational learning and the fearful child: Influence of peer models on swimming skill performance and psychological responses. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 69(4), 380394. PubMed ID: 9864756 doi:10.1080/02701367.1998.10607712

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  • Weiss, M.R., & Wiese-Bjornstal, D.M. (2009). Promoting positive youth development through physical activity. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest, 10(3), 18. PubMed ID: 32335606

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  • Weiss, M.R., & Williams, L. (2004). The why of youth sport involvement: A developmental perspective on motivational processes. In M.R. Weiss (Ed.), Developmental sport and exercise psychology: A lifespan perspective (pp. 223268). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

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  • Wulf, G., & Lewthwaite, R. (2016). Optimizing performance through intrinsic motivation and attention for learning: The OPTIMAL theory of motor learning. Psychonomic Bulletin Review, 23(5), 13821414. PubMed ID: 26833314 doi:10.3758/s13423-015-0999-9

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  • Zhang, T., Solmon, M.A., & Gu, X. (2012). The role of teachers’ support in predicting students’ motivation and achievement outcomes in physical education. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 31(4), 329343. doi:10.1123/jtpe.31.4.329

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