Benefits of Extracurricular Participation in Early Adolescence: Associations with Peer Belonging and Mental Health

  • Eva OberleEmail author
  • Xuejun Ryan Ji
  • Martin Guhn
  • Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl
  • Anne M. Gadermann
Empirical Research


Extracurricular participation plays an important role in positive youth development. Yet, little is known about the stability and change in extracurricular participation from middle childhood to early adolescence. Also, there is a gap in knowledge about the underlying processes that drive developmental outcomes associated with extracurricular participation. The present study examined transitions in extracurricular participation from grade 4 to 7, and investigated whether shifting from non-participation to participation in activities was associated with better mental health, considering peer belonging as a mediator. Latent Class Analyses of early adolescents’ (50% female) self-reports on the Middle Years Development Instrument in grades 4 and 7 (N = 10,149) revealed four clusters of extracurricular involvement at both grade levels (i.e., “no activities”, “all activities”, “sports only”, “individual activities”). Latent Transition Analysis showed that young people were most likely to stay in the same activities cluster from grade 4 to 7. About 10% were non-participants in grade 4 and had moved to activities by grade 7. In this subgroup, moving from non-participation to both sports and to all activities was associated with better mental health over time; this pathway was fully mediated by higher levels of peer belonging. The results suggest that supporting non-participants to join extracurricular activities can have implications for their mental health. Practical implications for communities, such as removing potential barriers to involvement before the onset of adolescence, are discussed.


Extracurricular activities Middle childhood Early adolescence Positive and negative mental health Latent transition analysis 


Authors' Contributions

EO conceived of the study, designed research questions, interpreted findings, and coordinated and drafted the manuscript; XRJ participated in the design of data analyses, performed statistical analyses, and contributed to drafting the manuscript; AMG participated in the interpretation of data analyses and provided critical review and editing of the manuscript; MG and KAS-R provided critical review and editing of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


EO received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to carry out this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This research was approved by the Behavioural Research Ethics Board at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. Ethical approval #: H17-01723.

Informed Consent

A passive consent protocol was implemented in this study. All students were included in the research, unless their primary guardians withdrew them from the study. Participants’ assent was obtained for participation in the study.

Supplementary material

10964_2019_1110_MOESM1_ESM.docx (27 kb)
Supplementary Information.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Population and Public Health, The Human Early Learning Partnership, Faculty of MedicineThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of Educational and Counselling PsychologyThe University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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