Physical activity, young people and the changing place of sport in their lives

Por: Doune Macdonald e Jan Wright.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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This paper presents work from a national project which investigates the place and meaning of physical activity and physical culture in young people’s lives. The project was motivated by a desire to go beyond the literature on participation rates to understand the relationships between physical activity, identity, geography, and cultural and social locations. It investigates how participation is shaped by physical, social and cultural capitals.


The project has taken quantitative and qualitative approaches which have allowed the researchers to move from initial survey work to build ongoing relationships with the participants. Participants were selected via the surveying of students in the first and fourth years of high school. From these surveys a cohort of young people (approx. 78 from groups varying in their gender, location, ethnicty and socio-economic status) have been interviewed six to eight times in the last four years. Interivews addressed issues of sport and physical activity engagement over time, location and access, family commitments, health, the body, and popular culture. The data from all of the interviews have been analysed using NUD•IST.


Qualitative data raises issues of how the habitus is constructed and reconstructed over time in relation to sport and physical activity. For some young people, the place and meaning of sport remains relatively constant in their life experiences while for others it fluctuates. Changes in age, family structures, geographic locations, and educational status impact young people in different ways. In particular, the capital [1] of individuals and families may facilitate young people’s engagement in sport and physical activity (e.g. transport, encouragement, payments for access to school or community facilities) or limit this engagement (e.g. need for young people to have paid work, geographical isolation, family routines).

Discussion / Conclusions

This research complements quantitative, population-based surveys of young people and sport. More particularly, it reinterprets some of the findings which suggest a "drop out" from sport [2] and further, helps us to better understand what facilitates and motivates young people to be physically active [3].


[1]. Bourdieu P. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London, Routledge.
[2]. Booth M. et al. (1997). NSW Schools Fitness and Physical Activity Survey. Sydney, NSW Dept of School education.
[3]. Wright J., Macdonald D. & Groom L. (2003). Sport, Education & Society, 8, 17-33.




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