Who Wants to Play? Sport Motivation Trajectories, Sport Participation, and the Development of Depressive Symptoms
Although sport involvement has the potential to enhance psychological wellbeing, studies have suggested that motivation to participate in sports activities declines across childhood and adolescence. This study incorporated expectancy-value theory to model children’s sport ability self-concept and subjective task values trajectories from first to twelfth grade. Additionally, it examined if sport motivation trajectories predicted individual and team-based sport participation and whether sport participation in turn reduced the development of depressive symptoms. Data were drawn from the Childhood and Beyond Study, a cross-sequential longitudinal study comprised of three cohorts (N = 1065; 49% male; 92% European American; Mages for youngest, middle, and oldest cohorts at the first wave were 6.42, 7.39, and 9.36 years, respectively). Results revealed four trajectories of students’ co-development of sport self-concept and task values: congruent stable high, incongruent stable high, middle school decreasing, and decreasing. Trajectory membership predicted individual and team-based sports participation, but only team-based sport participation predicted faster declines in depressive symptoms. The use of a person-centered approach enabled us to identify heterogeneity in trajectories of sport motivation that can aid in the development of nuanced strategies to increase students’ motivation to participate in sports.