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Leisure experiences in extracurricular activity participation enhance adolescent coping efficacy

Heaslip, Gabriel (2017) Leisure experiences in extracurricular activity participation enhance adolescent coping efficacy. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis investigates the relationship between adolescents’ involvement in extracurricular activities and coping efficacy. Adolescence is a dynamic phase of a young person’s life that can, for some, involve heightened stress. Developing confidence in adolescence to cope with potential stress is vital for a young person’s healthy transition into adulthood. This thesis pursued three main objectives when exploring whether structured extracurricular leisure time activities may provide a positive context for adolescent coping efficacy. First, the thesis investigated whether, and to what intensity, activity participation enhanced coping efficacy either immediately or longer term. Second, the developmental experiences in activities that might give rise to the benefits to coping efficacy were studied. Third, the question of whether the potential benefits of extracurricular activities applied to at-risk adolescents to a greater extent than to those not at-risk was investigated.

A large representative sample of adolescents from Western Australia was surveyed as part of the Youth Activity Participation Study of Western Australia (YAPS-WA). The adolescents were asked about their leisure time experiences, coping efficacy and risk-taking behaviours as well as additional demographic information. The empirical studies of which this thesis is composed draw on multiple waves of data from YAPS-WA. Study 1 (Chapter 3) is a longitudinal paper which utilised both Wave 1 and Wave 2 data from the YAPS-WA project (see Appendix A and B for a copy of entire Wave 1 and 2 surveys, respectively). Study 2 (Chapter 4) investigated data from Wave 7 (see Appendix C for a copy of entire Wave 7 survey). Study 3 used data from Wave 3 from the YAPS-WA project (see Appendix C for a copy of entire Wave 3 survey).

Study 1 investigated the relationship between extracurricular activity intensity in the first year of high school (year 8) and coping efficacy one year later. This study compared the predictive strength of participation in sporting and non-sporting activities and tested whether they made independent or overlapping contributions to coping efficacy. Further, the question of whether activity participation intensity showed a linear or a nonlinear relationship with coping efficacy was addressed. The study showed that, in bivariate analyses, greater sporting intensity predicted significantly greater coping efficacy in both years. In contrast, non-sporting activity intensity had a quadratic association with coping efficacy. Results suggested that different types of activity participation might have different optimal patterns of participation for coping efficacy. After controlling for gender, school SES, initial coping efficacy, and current participation, non-sporting activity intensity in year 8 significantly predicted coping efficacy one year later. Overall, the findings suggest that sporting activities have immediate benefits proportional to intensity of participation whereas non-sporting activities have an enduring benefit for coping efficacy, but may not produce maximum benefit at very high level of intensity.

Study 2 focused on the experiences within extracurricular activities that may foster positive coping efficacy. The main findings of this study revealed that the relationship between extracurricular activity intensity and adolescent coping efficacy was fully mediated by the developmental experiences within the activities. Specifically, analyses demonstrated that experiences of initiative in sports and positive peer interactions in non-sporting activities explained the relationship between greater intensity of participation and adolescent coping efficacy. In contrast, experiences of leadership and positive adult interaction did not contribute to coping efficacy. These findings reveal that extracurricular activities are beneficial to adolescent coping to the extent that they afford specific developmental experiences.

Study 3 examined the relations between non-sporting extracurricular activity participation intensity and risky behaviour. Adolescents’ coping efficacy was tested as a moderator of the association between extracurricular activity participation and risk-taking among adolescents at different levels of contextual risk. Results for moderately at-risk youth indicated a significant interaction, such that greater activity intensity was associated with less risk-taking for adolescents with higher coping efficacy. However, higher intensity activity participation predicted more risk-taking for adolescents with low coping efficacy.

This research demonstrates that the benefits associated with extracurricular activities extend to coping efficacy, and some also endure over time. The experiences that benefit coping efficacy differ between types of activities, with sports contributing unique initiative-oriented experiences to coping efficacy whereas non-sports contribute relationship-oriented experiences. Contrasting with sports participation, greater intensity of participation in non-sports may not always be beneficial to coping efficacy – particularly if the extra hours are not conferring additional opportunities for developmental experiences. The findings indicate that different forms of extracurricular participation may have different optimal patterns of participation. Furthermore, the protection that activities offer against risk-taking may vary depending on adolescents’ coping efficacy.

Overall, the findings indicate that involvement in structured, extracurricular leisure time pursuits can enhance coping efficacy in adolescence. All three studies offer insight into the complex relationship between activity participation and coping efficacy. The findings of this thesis have relevance to both policy and clinical psychological practice, which will be discussed in more detail.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Psychology and Exercise Science
Supervisor: Davis, Helen and Barber, Bonnie
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