Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 46, Issue 9, pp 1982–1998 | Cite as

Who Wants to Play? Sport Motivation Trajectories, Sport Participation, and the Development of Depressive Symptoms

Empirical Research


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; M ages 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.


Expectancy-value theory Sport motivation Person-centered approach Ability self-concept Subjective task values Depressive symptoms 


Author Contributions

M.T.W. conceived of the study, participated in the theoretical design and coordination and drafted the manuscript; A.C. participated in the methodological design and interpretation of the data, performed the statistical analysis, and drafted part of the manuscript; J.A. participated in the theoretical design and interpretation of the data and drafted part of the manuscript. The three authors made equal intellectual contribution to the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Ethical Standards

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.

Ethical Approval

A review conducted by the Institutional Review Board approved the study to be consistent with the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects and to meet the requirements of the Federal Guidelines.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of PittsburghPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

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