Emergence of five physical activity profiles among active children


Physical activity (PA) behaviour is a general construct that comprises a variety of dimensions (e.g., organised sports, exercise, free play, active transportation). Children reporting similar PA levels may therefore exhibit diverse profiles of PA dimensions as well as different motivational regulation and basic psychological needs. In this qualitative study, different PA profiles were identified and explored among active children, defined as those consistently engaging in ≥ 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous PA per day. A purposeful sample of active children [N=25; mean age=12.2 (0.6) years; 48% female] enrolled in the Monitoring Activities of Teenagers to Comprehend their Habits (MATCH) cohort study (Bélanger et al., 2013) were interviewed to explore their experience with PA as well as their psychological needs and motivation for PA. Data were transcribed verbatim and coded independently by three researchers. Five distinct PA profiles were identified: specialists, regulars, explorers, outdoor enthusiasts, and accidentally actives. In a cross-profile analysis, preferred types of PA, commitment towards various types of PA, variety in types of PA practiced, and contexts in which PA is practiced (e.g., individual vs group, organised vs unstructured, competitive vs recreational) were themes that distinguished the profiles. Participants in these profiles were also distinguishable based on motivation for PA and basic psychological need satisfaction of competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Taken together, the current findings suggest that active children present different PA profiles and demonstrate the value in drawing on self-determination theory and youth sport development frameworks to help better understand PA experiences in childhood. Considering that PA levels decrease with age, recognising distinct PA profiles and their associated characteristics may help tailor interventions to these PA profiles, and in turn help children maintain PA participation. 

Acknowledgments: The MATCH study is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Sport Canada through the joint Sport Participation Research Initiative and by the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation. Julie Goguen Carpenter was funded through a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Master's degree Award from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. Tanya Scarapicchia is currently funded by the Fonds de recherche santé du Québec (FRSQ). Jennifer Brunet is supported by a Canadian Cancer Society Career Development Award in Prevention.