Physical Activity, Leading Roles, and Positive Youth Development

Positive youth development (PYD) describes the investigation of ways to improve every domain of a child’s life. This includes physical, mental, and academic aspects, and targets development that is based on skill building, progress, and success. Rather than focusing on eliminating negative activities, such as bullying, drug or alcohol use, or aggression, PYD focuses on accentuating the positive opportunities and attributes a child has. This is especially critical for children of low socioeconomic status (SES). With limited resources, many SES children are at increased risk for obesity and the many physical health conditions that can accompany that, such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, increases in physical activity can improve psychological health and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can also act as a bridge to social interactions with role models, which can ultimately help influence self-esteem, academic performance, and overall life satisfaction.

The importance of programs that utilize PYD cannot be understated. However, its impact has been understudied to date. To extend the existing literature on PYD, Sarah Ullrich-French of the Department of Educational Leadership and Counseling Psychology at Washington State University assessed 197 young people before and after they participated in a four-week PYD program. She evaluated their levels of social competence, physical ability, self-worth, desire for physical activity, and optimism.

Ullrich-French found that the participants had significant increases in all measures at the end of the program. The most striking finding was that the social connections that the children made led to improvements in mental health. The participants who felt supported by their activity leaders were more interested in pursuing physical activity and felt better about themselves and their futures. These findings demonstrate that it is not only the activity in PYD, nor peer relations, but also leader interactions that contribute greatly to the outcome. Ullrich-French notes that these findings, although modest, should be replicated in longitudinal studies. However, she believes that the results of her study show that PYD can be beneficial to all youth, especially those from low SES. “Moreover, they suggest that perceptions of social connection can be meaningfully enhanced within a relatively short time in physical activity-based programs,” she said.

Ullrich-French, Sarah, Meghan H. McDonough, and Alan L. Smith. Social connection and psychological outcomes in a physical activity-based youth development setting. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 83.3 (2012): 431+. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 28 Sep. 2012.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • shannon


    October 16th, 2012 at 4:01 AM

    How could you ever think that not offering today’s kids ways to improve their positive development wouldn’t be a good thing? This is not only something that effects them today, but also as they graduate and move into society as productive and working members. Better to give them these resources as they grow up before low self esteem could develop into bigger problems.

  • Malcolm


    October 16th, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    Always a good idea to put the young people through activities that will keep their spirits and confidence up.What these activities do is that not only do they provide direct benefits but also indirect benefits such as team spirit,leadership appreciation as has been mentioned here,and it pushes them to perform,something that is not easy when doing activities alone.The very sense of doing something is a good think IMO.It gives you that satisfaction from deep within.

  • Javon


    October 16th, 2012 at 11:02 AM

    I hate to even have to think this or bring this up, but I have a sneaky feeling that the reason that the role that PYD plays on the lives of youth has been neglected simply because alot of what is good about this focuses mainly on how it is good for minority children
    Yes, I said it and don’t ever like to have to go there but I think that if this was something that helped more white kids than black then there would be a whole lot more focus on just how valuable this could be.
    I think that what we have failed to see is that PYD and programs that support this can do something good for society as a whole, and not just one targeted segment within. When we find a way to make each segment strong, then we have to look at this as strengthening the fabric of society as whole. I know that this is something that I hope to achieve in my own lifetime, and I am sure that many others feel the same but are just afraid to voice that.

  • CiJi


    October 17th, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    I love this idea!

    We all spend too much time trying to stamp out the negative, which can be good too. But we spend far too little time also trying to talk up the positive.

  • sadie revis

    sadie revis

    October 18th, 2012 at 4:56 AM

    For a large part when you give children in these disadvantaged environments a way to feel good about themselves then most of the time they will take this opportunity and run with it. They are looking for a way to be better, but most of them have never even bee given the chance to find that one thing at which they feel they can be a success. Positive programming such as this offers them that real chance to see that they can have more than what they have been given in the past and that the chance is there for them to succeed if they are just willing to reach out and take hold of the oppportunities.

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