Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Psychology


Although the benefits of sport participation are well established, the dropout rate in youth sport remains high. This is problematic given dropout from youth sport has been associated with significant negative health and developmental implications, the effects of which can last into adulthood. This thesis aimed to propose a conceptual framework that can be applied to the youth sport context to understand participation/dropout behaviour. Chapter 2 provided a theoretical foundation for the research program. After reviewing the existing literature surrounding youth sport participation/dropout, the social-cognitive model of achievement motivation, and key social figures in youth sport, an integrated theoretical model was proposed. It was argued that implicit beliefs about ability, achievement goals, and relationships with parents, coaches, and peers would be associated with participation and dropout behaviour. The proposed model provided a framework which guided the following empirical chapters.

Chapter 3 aimed to provide support for the use of enjoyment and behavioural intentions as proxy measures of participation/dropout behaviour throughout the research program. Of the 327 regular sport participants at baseline, 247 (75.5%) continued participating in their main sport and 26 (8%) dropped out. Fifty-four (16.5%) participants could not be matched due to study attrition. A hierarchical logistic regression model estimated the probability of dropout. Step 1 included a number of covariates and indicated that age, parental support, coach-athlete relationship quality, and peer acceptance were significantly associated with dropout. In step 2, enjoyment and behavioural intentions to continue were included. Step 2 explained further variance in dropout, with both enjoyment and behavioural intentions to continue inversely associated with dropout. Peer acceptance was the only covariate to remain significantly associated with dropout in Step 2. Findings therefore support the use of enjoyment and behavioural intentions as indicators of sport participation/dropout behaviour.

Chapter 4 focused on the cognitive components of the model by testing the proposed links between implicit beliefs, achievement goals, and proxy measures of dropout including enjoyment and behavioural intentions to continue. Multiple mediation path models using 327 regular sport participants aged between 11 and 15 years indicated that implicit beliefs were indirectly linked with enjoyment/intention to continue through achievement goals. Specifically, individuals high in incremental beliefs reported greater enjoyment and intention to continue, perhaps due to endorsing mastery-approach goals. Conversely, individuals relatively high in entity beliefs reported less enjoyment, which was perhaps due to endorsing performance-avoidance goals. These individuals also reported less intention to continue, regardless of their achievement goals. Results provided support for the cognitive components of the proposed theoretical model.

Chapter 5 focused on the social components of the proposed model by examining the links between perceptions of relationships with parents, coaches, and peers and enjoyment/intention to continue. A latent profile analysis using the same participants from Chapter 3 (n = 313 following the removal of outliers) revealed four distinct social climate profiles: positive social climate (45.1%); diminished social climate (19.8%); positive coach relationship quality (19.8%); and, positive friendship quality (15.3%). The greatest levels of enjoyment and intention to continue were reported by individuals within the positive social climate and the positive coach relationship profiles, as compared to the diminished social climate and positive friendship quality profiles. Additional mediation analyses revealed that the social climate profiles were linked with intention to continue indirectly through enjoyment. Findings highlighted the key role of social figures in youth sport and suggested the coach may be particularly important.

Finally, chapter 6 tested the overall theoretical model proposed in chapter 2. Specifically, the study explored whether implicit beliefs and achievement goals were related to enjoyment over a one-year period, and whether perceived changes in the coach-athlete relationship moderated these relationships. Indirect and conditional indirect effect analyses were conducted using 247 regular sport participants (Mage=13.03 years). After adjusting for enjoyment at Time 1, incremental beliefs were indirectly related to Time 2 enjoyment via mastery-approach goals. However, this effect was only evident when the quality of the coach-athlete relationship was perceived to have deteriorated. Although the effect of the coach was not in the expected direction, results highlighted the protective value of adaptive implicit beliefs and achievement goals over time.

Overall, the findings from this thesis demonstrated the adaptive role of incremental beliefs and mastery-approach goals in the youth sport context, along with the importance of considering key social figures in youth sport research. This suggests that a purely cognitive motivational model is incomplete, and social factors should be integrated within the social-cognitive model of achievement motivation to gain a better understanding of participation and dropout behaviour in youth sport.



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.