Intrinsic goals for leisure-time physical activity predict children's daily step counts through autonomous motivation

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ObjectivesThe present study tested a motivational sequence in which children's goals for leisure-time sport and physical activity (PA) from Goal Content Theory predicted pedometer-determined PA through behavioural regulation constructs from Self-Determination Theory.DesignQuantitative cross-sectional study.MethodsA sample of 1272 Flemish (Dutch speaking part of Belgium) sixth graders (M age = 11.42 years) filled in a questionnaire on PA goal content, behavioural regulations and pubertal status. Children's height and weight were measured to assess Body Mass Index (BMI). To measure daily PA behaviour, participants wore a pedometer for seven consecutive days. Structural equation modelling was performed to test the proposed motivational sequence and to examine the mediation effect of behavioural regulations towards leisure-time sport and PA on the relation between PA goal content and daily step counts.ResultsA structural equation model supported the hypothesized sequence in which intrinsic goals for leisure-time sport and PA predicted children's daily step counts through autonomous motivation towards leisure-time sport and PA. Multi-sample invariance testing revealed that the proposed model was largely invariant across BMI groups, pubertal status and gender.ConclusionsThe findings highlight the importance of emphasizing intrinsic goals for participation in leisure-time sport and PA in children aged 10–12 years. By stimulating children to participate in PA and sports by referring to intrinsic goals, children are more likely to enjoy PA, which in turn might increase the likelihood of a regular and long-term PA engagement.HighlightsOverweight and maturity were related with extrinsic physical activity goals.Intrinsic goals predicted children's daily steps through autonomous motivation.The hypothesized model was invariant across weight groups and pubertal status.

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