Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


According to Competence Motivation Theory (Harter, 1978; Weiss 2000), children are more likely to participate in behaviours such as physical activity if their experiences are enjoyable, with enjoyment coming from several sources. These include actual competence (how good they are at the behaviour), social support (for the behaviour from significant others) and perceived physical competence (how good they think they are at the behaviour). Constructs within this theory have been tested among children using sports participation as a proxy measure of physical activity (Ulrich, 1987). However, more accurate methods of measuring physical activity that can provide objective data for this behaviour among children now exist.

The purpose of the current study was to investigate cross-sectional relationships between the following constructs of Competence Motivation Theory: actual competence (fundamental movement skill proficiency), perceived physical competence, social support for physical activity, enjoyment of physical activity and objectively measured physical activity among children and adolescents. The sample comprised 288 children and adolescents from upper primary (Years 5 and 6; n = 121) and lower secondary (Years 7 and 8; n = 167) school. Actual competence was process-assessed using a battery of 12 fundamental movement skills based on criteria from the Get skilled: Get active checklists (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2000). Perceived physical competence was measured using a modified version of the Self-Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985). Students were asked about the level of social support they received from parents, siblings and peers to participate in physical activity (Saunders, Pate, Felton, Dowda, Weinrich, Ward, et al. 1997) and about their levels of enjoyment towards physical activity (Motl, Dishman, Saunders, Dowda, Felton, & Pate, 2001). Physical activity was measured using Actigraph 7164 accelerometers. The number of minutes per week spent in moderate physical activity (MPA), vigorous physical activity (VPA), moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), and total physical activity (TPA) were used in statistical analyses. Relationships between actual competence, perceived physical competence, social support, enjoyment and physical activity, were examined using separate multiple regression models for each age and gender group (primary school boys and girls, and high school boys and girls), with the different physical activity outcomes as the criterion variables.

For primary school boys, no constructs of Competence Motivation Theory predicted MPA, and actual competence was the only predictor of VPA. For primary school girls, family support and peer support were predictors of MPA and were marginally associated with MVPA and actual competence was a predictor of VPA. For high school boys and girls, no constructs of Competence Motivation Theory predicted MPA, VPA or MVPA. None of the constructs of Competence Motivation Theory were associated with TPA for any sex or year group. There was a marginally significant association between actual competence and TPA for primary school girls although only 6% of the variation was explained by the constructs of Competence Motivation Theory. Interestingly, for primary and high school boys and for high school girls all constructs of Competence Motivation Theory (actual competence, perceived physical competence, family support, and peer support) were significantly related to enjoyment of physical activity. For primary school girls, only actual and perceived physical competence were related to enjoyment of physical activity.

The findings from the current study differ from prior investigations that have examined the relationships between constructs of Competence Motivation Theory and self-reported physical activity in children and adolescents. They suggest that Competence Motivation Theory may have limited empirical support among older children and adolescents, and that other factors external to Competence Motivation Theory may be stronger correlates of objectively measured physical activity in these age groups.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.