Advances in Physical Education
2013. Vol.3, No.2, 103-110
Published Online May 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ape) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ape.2013.32018
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 103
Underserved Adolescent Girls’ Physical Activity Intentions and
Behaviors: Relationships with the Motivational Climate and
Perceived Competence in Physical Education
Alex C. Garn1, Nate McCaughtry2, Bo Shen2, Jeffrey Martin2, Mariane Fahlman2
1School of Kinesiology, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA
2Division of Kinesiology, Health, and Sports Studies, Wayne State University, Detroit, USA
Received February 23rd, 2013; revised March 25th, 2013; accepted April 8th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Alex C. Garn et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This study investigated underserved adolescent girls’ perceptions of the motivational climate in relation-
ship to their perceptions of competence in urban physical education, self-reported physical activity, and
future physical activity intentions. A total of two-hundred-seventy-six underserved (i.e., minority, urban,
high poverty) adolescent girls completed questionnaires and a multi-step approach was used to test these
relationships. First, a trichotomous model of the perceived motivational climate was tested using confir-
matory factor analysis and results suggested a good fit of the data. Structural equation modeling analyses
were then used to test both direct and indirect relationships between the perceived motivational climates
in physical education, perceived competence in physical education, and physical activity outcomes. Find-
ings revealed that the relationship between the perceived motivational climates and physical activity out-
comes were best understood when perceived competence in physical education was accounted for as an
Keywords: Perceived Competence; Urban Physical Education; Motivational Climate
The social environment in physical education (PE), espe-
cially at the secondary level, has often been criticized for fa-
voring males to the detriment of females (Larsson, Fagrell, &
Redelius, 2009). Reinforcing physical activity stereotypes,
curricular choices and class structures geared toward male ag-
gression, and lowering performance expectations based on
gender are all examples of how the social environment in PE
can potentially reduce girls’ feelings of physical competence
and engagement in PE (Domangue & Solmon, 2010; McCaughtry,
2004). This type of PE environment can also make physical
activity less appealing to girls (Kirk & Tinning, 2005). The
authors of both empirical studies (e.g., McKenzie, Marshall,
Sallis, & Conway, 2000) and systematic reviews (e.g., Fair-
clough & Stratton, 2005) suggest that adolescent boys are more
apt to be physically active than girls in and out of PE. Some
researchers suggest that only about a quarter of girls in high
school meet recommended physical activity guidelines (Butcher,
Sallis, Mayer, & Woodruff, 2008).
Underserved populations (i.e., ethnic minority, inner-city,
low socio-economic status) are at an even greater risk for low
levels of physical activity (Gomez, Johnson, Selva, & Sallis,
2004; Gordon-Larsen, McMurray, & Popkin, 2000; Martin &
McCaughtry, 2008). These authors suggest that living in pov-
erty, limited access to physical activity space, and neighbor-
hood safety concerns are formidable barriers to physical activ-
ity for many underserved adolescents. The physical activity
challenges that many underserved adolescents face outside of
school places urban PE in a unique position. Specifically, urban
PE is frequently one of the primary settings for underserved
adolescents to obtain physical activity (Gordon-Larsen et al.,
2000; Martin & McCaughtry, 2008). Because the social envi-
ronment in PE is often male-centered, underserved adolescent
girls may be exposed to an especially high risk of physical in-
Motivationa l Climate
Achievement goal theory is a framework that can potentially
help explain and predict relationships between social structures
in PE and physical activity outcomes in underserved adolescent
girls (Ames, 1992; Nicholls, 1989; Roberts, 2001). In achieve-
ment goal theory, the motivational climate represents situ-
ational factors associated with achievement cognitions, feelings,
and behaviors (Solmon, 1996). Specifically, students can view
the learning environment as emphasizing mastery, performance,
or performance avoidance goal structures (Ames, 1992; Midg-
ley, 2002; Roberts, 2001). A mastery climate focuses on class
structures that stress personal competence, self-improvement,
effort/persistence, understanding, and learning. Making mis-
takes is considered a normal aspect of learning in a mastery
climate. In other words, a mastery climate creates an environ-
ment that supports individuals when they make mistakes by
using the process to guide improvement and learning. Mastery
climates are considered to be the most adaptive environments
A. C. GARN ET AL.
for obtaining achievement outcomes (Braithwaite, Spray, &
Warburton, 2011; Roberts, 2001).
A performance climate features class structures that empha-
size showing high ability, competition, winning, and positive
social comparison (Ames, 1992). Duda and Ntoumanis (2003)
describe a performance climate in PE as a proving environment
of physical competence and ability. In a performance climate,
high ability is often demonstrated by winning with minimized
effort (Nicholls, 1989). A performance avoidance climate em-
phasizes class structures that focus on the avoidance of showing
low ability, losing, or receiving poor social comparisons. Mis-
takes are often equated to low ability and failure in a perform-
ance avoidance climate. In other words, a performance avoid-
ance climate stresses a culture of protecting physical compe-
tence. Thus, motivational climates focus on improving (i.e.,
mastery), proving (i.e., performance), and/or protecting (i.e.,
performance avoidance) ability.
A majority of the research focusing on the motivational cli-
mate in PE has not made the performance climate and per-
formance avoidance climate distinction (e.g., Wallhead &
Ntoumanis, 2004; Wang, Liu, Chatzisarantis, & Lim, 2010).
Achievement goal theorists have made convincing arguments
for the need to capture the approach-avoidance distinction in
personal achievement goal orientations (Elliot, 1999). Midgley
(2002) has extended this argument to the investigation of moti-
vational climates. In a series of studies in classroom settings,
Midgley and colleagues demonstrated the construct validity and
reliability of measuring a trichotomous model of the perceived
motivational climate that includes mastery, performance, and
performance avoidance goal structures as well as the discrimi-
nate validity between goal structures and psychological goal
orientations (see Midgley et al., 2000). The need to make the
distinction between performance and performance avoidance
climates is based on theoretical and measurement issues. Tradi-
tionally, achievement goal theorists have used a dichotomous
model (i.e., mastery and performance) and outline the maladap-
tive nature of performance climates in relation to achievement
outcomes (Ames, 1992). Both Elliot (1999) and Midgley et al.
(2000) have argued that: 1) aiming/supporting normative com-
petence can be adaptive in some cases; 2) goal structures that
support normative competence are different than goal structures
that stress the avoidance of normative incompetence; and 3)
performance goals/climates are generally related to negative
outcomes when they are measured with items that tap the
avoidance of normative incompetence. There is clearly a need
to examine different models of the motivational climate more
Motivati on al Climate and P h ysi cal Activity
The emphasis on improvement, effort/persistence, and intrin-
sic motivation within a mastery climate is theorized to regulate
physical activity behavior in PE (Parish & Treasure, 2003) and
trigger plans for future physical activity (Biddle et al., 1999;
Braithwaite et al., 2011; Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999). Multiple
researchers have reported a positive relationship between per-
ceptions of a mastery climate and students’ intentions to be
physically active outside of PE (Biddle et al., 1999; Ntoumanis
& Biddle, 1999) or engagement in future fitness activities in PE
(Domangue & Solmon, 2010). Parish and Treasure (2003) re-
ported a direct relationship between perceptions of a mastery
climate and physical activity in PE: however, only a small per-
cent of the variance (i.e., 3%) was accounted for. In a meta-
analysis study of motivational climate intervention studies in
PE, Braithwaite et al. (2011) reported a moderate effect size (g
= .49) in the relationship between mastery climate interventions
and health/fitness outcomes (e.g., exercise frequency, cardio-
Parish and Treasure (2003) did not find a relationship be-
tween perceptions of a performance climate in PE and physical
activity with a sample of adolescent students. However, an
argument can be made that because most researchers in the
physical domain have measured perceptions of performance
climates with a combination of approach and avoidance items/
subscales, the relationship between a performance climate and
physical activity outcomes is clouded. More investigation is
needed to explore how perceptions of performance climates,
when approach and avoidance distinctions are made, relate to
physical activity outcomes.
When students believe they are physically competent in PE,
they are more likely to develop positive attitudes toward physi-
cal activity (Silverman, 2005), have intentions to be physically
active (Sproule, Wang, Morgan, McNeil, & McNorris, 2007),
and participate in physical activity (Sebiston & Crocker, 2008).
Girls appear to be especially cognizant of perceived compe-
tence when making their physical activity choices in and out of
PE (Ennis, 2011). Kavussanu and Roberts (1996) report that the
focus on self-improvement in mastery climates create realistic
expectations that allows students to develop and maintain
higher levels of perceived competence. More recent research
has provided support for the link between perceptions of the
motivational climate and perceived competence in PE (Do-
mangue & Solmon, 2010; Ntoumanis, 2001).
There has been limited work to date that has investigated the
motivational climate in urban PE settings (Wright, Li, & Ding,
2007). Diverging from traditional achievement goal theory
assumptions, Wright and colleagues reported that both percep-
tions of a mastery climate and performance climate in urban PE
had positive relationships with a sense of belonging in PE.
Examining perceptions of the motivational climate in urban PE
in relationship to perceived competence and physical activity
outcomes is especially warranted with underserved adolescent
girls because PE often represents a crucial physical activity
The Present Study
Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate un-
derserved adolescent girls’ perceptions of the motivational
climate in relationship to their perceptions of competence in PE,
self-reported physical activity behaviors, and future intentions
for physical activity. A multi-step approach was used to test
these relationships. The first step was to examine the construct
validity and reliability of the trichotomous (i.e., mastery; per-
formance approach; performance avoidance) model of the per-
ceived motivational climate. The second step was to test the
direct relationships between the perceived motivational climate
and physical activity outcomes without accounting for per-
ceived competence in PE. We hypothesized that direct rela-
tionship between the perceived motivational climate and
physical activity outcomes would produce a limited model,
especially in highlighting the relationship between perceptions
of the two performance climates and physical activity outcomes
and overall explained variance. The third step was to test the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A. C. GARN ET AL.
direct and indirect relationships among the perceived motivi-
tional climate, perceived competence in PE, and physical ac-
tiveity outcomes. We hypothesized that adding perceived com-
petence in PE would produce a more robust understanding of
the relationships between the motivational climate in urban PE
and physical activity outcomes in underserved adolescent girls.
It should be noted that achievement goal orientations were
not measured. The goal of this paper was to examine PE related
factors associated with physical activity outcomes. Achieve-
ment goal orientations are considered more general psycho-
logical constructs that are established across a number of dif-
ferent contexts (Duda, 2005). In other words, achievement goal
orientations develop from an array of social contexts (e.g.,
classroom, family, peers) whereas motivational climates and
perceived competence in PE are more closely linked to the PE
environment. Duda (2005) also reports that while there is likely
interactive play between climates and achievement goal orien-
tations, there is not strong evidence for this interaction in the
current literature. Similarly, she notes that correlations between
motivational climates and achievement goal orientations are
typically low. On the other hand, there is strong evidence for
the relationship between motivational climates and perceived
competence (Domangue & Solmon, 2010; Kavussanu & Rob-
erts, 1996; Ntoumanis, 2001) as well as perceived competence
and physical activity outcomes (Sebiston & Crocker, 2008).
Participants an d Se tti n g
Participants were two-hundred seventy six (N = 276) under-
served adolescent girls from five different inner-city high
schools in a large urban school district in the Midwest. Students
in the sample were in grades 9-12 and had a mean age of 15.76
(SD = 1.34). The ethnic/racial breakdown of the sample was
72% African American, 19% Hispanic American/Latina Ame-
rican, 2% Asian American, 1% American Indian/Pacific Is-
lander, and 6% Other. The large urban school district faced
numerous barriers including arguably the high dropout rate in
the US and severe economic challenges (Swanson, 2008). All
students were enrolled in PE.
PE classes met three times per week for 55 minutes per class
at all five schools. The Exemplary Physical Education Curricu-
lum (EPEC; Michigan Fitness Foundation, 2005) was the man-
dated district-wide curriculum used in all PE classes. EPEC
focuses on personal conditioning, wellness, lifelong physical
activities, and social development. The curriculum was aligned
with the NASPE (2004) content standards for quality physical
education. The physical educators (n = 5) had an average of
21.49 (SD = 3.16) years of teaching experience and received
professional development training for EPEC.
Motivational climate. Perceptions of the motivational cli-
mates in PE were measured with the classroom structures in-
ventory of the Patterns of Adaptive Learning Scales (PALS;
Midgley et al., 2000). The classroom structures inventory con-
sists of three subscales: mastery goal structures (6 items), per-
formance goal structures (3 items), and performance avoidance
goal structures (5 items). Minor adaptations were made to the
PALS to better represent PE goal structures. Sample items of
the mastery goal structures subscale include “In PE class, it is
really important to improve” and “In PE class, it is really im-
portant to understand the activities, not just perform them”.
Sample items of the performance goal structures subscale in-
clude “In PE class, doing better than others is the main goal”
and “In PE class, being the best player is really important”.
Sample items of the performance avoidance goal structures
subscale include “In PE class, it is really important not to make
mistakes in front of other students” and “In PE class, it is really
important to avoid losing to other students”. Items were meas-
ured on a five point scale (1 = not at all true; 5 = very true).
Perceived competence in PE. Four items were used to
measure students’ perceived competence in PE (Xiang & Lee,
1998). “How good are you in PE” and “How good are you
compared to others in your PE class” are sample items. A five
point scale (1 = poor; 5 = very good) was used to measure each
item. Xiang and Lee reported appropriate levels of reliability
with PE students.
Physical activity intentions. Intentions for physical activity
were measured with the following two items: “I intend to be
physically active everyday next week” and “I am planning on
being physically active everyday next week”. The two items
were measured on a five-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). These two items have been used
in previous school-based studies examining physical activity
intentions (e.g., Rhodes, Macdonald, & McKey, 2006).
Physical activity. The Physical Activity Questionnaire for
Adolescents (PAQ-A) was used to measure physical activity
(Kowalski, Crocker, & Kowalski, 1997). The eight items of the
PAQ-A use a seven day recall format (e.g., “In the last seven
days, on how many days right after school did you do sports,
dance, or play games in which you were very active”). For each
item, adolescents are asked to identify how many days in the
past week they were physically active (i.e., 0, 1 - 2, 3 - 4, 5 - 6,
7 or more). The first item consists of a physical activity check-
list containing approximately 20 different physical activities.
The mean of all eight items for each individual student was
used as a total physical activity score. The PAQ-A has demon-
strated sound reliability, construct validity, and concurrent va-
lidity (Kowalski et al., 1997).
First, permission was granted by the University Institutional
Review Board, school district, and teachers to conduct the cur-
rent study. Next, parents provided informed consent and stu-
dents provided ascent. A trained research assistant who was
familiar with the PE teachers and had prior experience admin-
istering data collection with the students involved in the study
directed the data collection. The research assistant visited PE
classes, explained the study and questionnaires to the students,
and supervised/answered students questions until all partici-
pants completed the questionnaires. The students completed the
questionnaires during one class period of PE.
Data were initially screened for outliers and distribution
characteristics. Cronbach’s alpha coefficients were calculated
to evaluate internal consistency of all subscales. Confirmatory
factor analysis (CFA) was used to examine the construct valid-
ity of the motivational climate subscales of the PALS. Descrip-
tive statistics and simple correlations were then calculated.
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A. C. GARN ET AL.
Finally, structural equation modeling (SEM) with maximum
likelihood estimation procedures was used to investigate the fit
of the data to the proposed models and simultaneously examine
relationships among variables. Specifically, two separate mod-
els were tested. In model one, we investigated the direct rela-
tionships between perceptions of the motivational climate and
physical activity outcomes. In model two, perceived compe-
tence in PE was added as an intermediary variable in the rela-
tionship between perceptions of the motivational climate and
physical activity outcomes. In the measurement model, partially
aggregated indicators (i.e., parcels) were created for the per-
ceived mastery climate and physical activity latent variables
(Little, Cunningham, Shahar, & Widaman, 2002). Parcels pro-
vide advantages to obtaining a parsimonious model by stabiliz-
ing parameter estimates and increasing the reliability of indica-
tors (Coffman & MacCallum, 2005). Specifically, a random
assignment technique was used to create three parceled indica-
tors for perceptions of the mastery climate (six items) and self-
reported physical activity (eight items) latent variables.
Evaluation criteria outlined by Hu and Bentler (1999) and
Kline (2006) were used to determine how well the proposed
measurement models fit the data in the CFA and SEM. The
specific indexes/cutoffs to determine the fit of the measurement
model to the data were: χ²/df ratio (<3), root mean square error
of approximation (RMSEA; <.06 = good fit; <.08 = acceptable);
Comparative Fit Index (CFI; >.95 = good fit; >.90 = accept-
able); and the Tucker-Lewis Index (TLI; >.95; >.90 = accept-
able). A minimum standardized factor loading of >.40 for indi-
cators was also used to evaluate the measurement model (Kline,
A preliminary Multivariate Analysis of Variance (MANOVA)
was used to examine the possibility of between-school variance
for the study variables. School was used as the independent
variable while all six study variables were entered as dependent
variables. Results from the MANOVA were not significant
(Wilks’ λ = .91; p = .22) suggesting between-school variance
was not significantly different among schools.
Confirmatory Factor Analysis
Results from the CFA that examined the construct validity of
the trichotomous perceived motivational climate model are
presented in Figure 1. Findings yielded a good fit of the data to
the proposed trichotomous model (Hu & Bentler, 1999; Kline,
2006). Standardized factor loadings ranged from .53 - .89 sug-
gesting that each indicator loaded on its intended latent variable.
Fit indices also highlighted a good fit of the data to the model.
Specifically, the χ²/df ratio was under two, both the CFI and
TLI were equal to or above .95, and the RMSEA was below
Descriptive statistics, internal consistency estimates, and
simple correlations are presented in Table 1. The internal con-
sistency estimates ranged from .75 - .89. All variables except
self-reported physical activity had mean scores above the
mid-point of its respective scale. The mean scores ranged from
a high of 4.02 (i.e., perceptions of a mastery climate) to a low of
2.60 (i.e., self-reported physical activity). Therefore, on average,
Confirmatory factor analysis results of the perceived mo-
tivation climate trichotomous model. Mastery = percep-
tions of a mastery climate; PerfApp = perceptions of a
performance approach motivational climate; PerfAvoid =
perceptions of a performance avoidance motivational cli-
mate. Fit indices suggest good fit of the proposed model:
χ²/df ratio = 134.15/74 = 1.81; CFI = .96; TLI = .95;
RMSEA = .054 [.039 - .069].
Descriptive statistics, cronbach’s alpha coefficients, and simple correla-
tions of all variables.
Variable M (SD) α 1 2 3 4 5 6
1.Mastery 4.02 (.63) .83 -
2.PerfApp 2.65 (1.14).89 .14* -
3.PerfAvoid 2.64 (0.98).86 .12* .63** -
4.Perceived Comp 3.49 (0.83).85 .25** .15* .08 -
5.Future Intentions 3.61 (0.80).75 .35** .12 .05 .47** -
6.Physical Activity 2.60 (0.67).75 .15* .13* .05 .47** .41** -
Note: M = mean; SD = standard deviation; α = Cronbach alpha; Mastery = per-
ceived mastery motivational climate; PerfApp = perceived performance approach
motivational climate; PerfAvoid = perceived performance avoidance climate
Perceived Comp = perceived competence in PE; Future Intentions = future inten-
tions for physical activity. *p < .05; **p < .01.
the girls reported being physically active approximately 2 - 3
times per week. The strongest correlations were between per-
ceptions of a performance approach motivation climate and
perceptions of a performance avoidance motivation climate (r
= .63), perceived competence in PE and physical activity (r
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A. C. GARN ET AL.
= .47) and perceived competence in PE and physical activity
intentions (r = .47).
Structural Equation Modeling
The main purpose of the current study was to investigate re-
lationships among perceived motivational climates in PE, per-
ceived competence in PE, and physical activity outcomes for
underserved adolescent girls. We tested two separate SEM
models in order to accomplish this task. In the first model, the
direct relationships between the girls’ perceptions of the moti-
vational climates and physical activity outcomes were exam-
ined. Results for this direct model are presented in Figure 2.
Examination of the measurement model revealed a good fit of
the data (Hu & Bentler, 1999; Kline, 2006). Standardized factor
loadings ranged from .57 - .89, the χ²/df ratio was less than two.
Furthermore, CFI and TLI estimates were close to .95 and the
RMSEA was just below .06. Findings from the structural model
revealed that perceptions of a mastery climate were related to
both future intentions for physical activity (β = .44, p < .01)
and self-reported physical activity (β = .17, p < .05). Percep-
tions of a performance approach climate were related to physi-
cal activity (β = .21, p < .05) while perceptions of a perform-
ance avoidance climate were negatively associated with self-
reported physical activity. There was no significant relationship
between perceptions of performance approach or performance
avoidance motivational climates and future intentions for
physical activity. Perceptions of the three different motivitional
climates accounted for 21% of the variance in future intentions
for physical activity and 5% of the variance in self-reported
In the second model, perceived competence in PE was added
to the model (see Figure 3). Results again yielded support for
the measurement model. Standardized factor loadings ranged
from .60 - .89 and the χ²/df was well below two. The CFI and
Standarized path coefficients from structural equation
model of direct relationships among perceptions of the
motivational cliamte in physical education, self-re-
ported phsyical activity, and future intentions of
physical activity. Fit indices suggest good fit of the
proposed model: χ²/df ratio = 131.50/68 = 1.93; CFI
= .96; TLI = .94; RMSEA = .058 [.043 - .073]. The R²
values for future intentions for physical activity = .21;
R² values for self-reported physical activity = .05.
Standarized path coefficients from structural equation model of
relationships among perceptions of the motivational cliamte in
physical education, percieved competence in phsyical education,
self-reported phsyical activity, and future intentions of physical
activity. Fit indices suggest good fit of the proposed model:
χ²/df ratio = 179.66/126 = 1.43; CFI = .98; TLI = .97; RMSEA
= .039 [.025 - .052]. The R² values for perceived competence in
physical education = .15; R² values for future intentions for
physical activity = .44; R² values for self-reported physical
activity = .31.
TLI estimates were well above .95 and the RMSEA was .039.
Examination of the pattern of relationships revealed that per-
ceptions of a mastery climate had positive direct relationships
with perceived competence (β = .27, p < .01) and future inten-
tions for physical activity (β = .29, p < .01). The standardized
indirect effect between perceptions of a mastery climate and
self-reported physical activity was β = .15. Perceptions of a
performance approach climate had a direct relationship with
perceived competence in PE (β = .36, p < .01) and indirect
relationships with future intentions (β = .18) and physical activ-
ity (β = .20). Perceptions of a performance avoidance climate
had a negative relationship with perceived competence in PE (β
= −.20, p < .01) and limited indirect relationships with future
intentions (β = −.11) and self-reported physical activity (β =
−.10). Perceived competence in PE had robust relation- ships
with both future intentions (β = .55, p < .01) and physical ac-
tivity (β= .52, p < .01). In this model, 15% of the variance was
accounted for in perceived competence in PE, 44% of the vari-
ance in future intentions, and 31% of the variance in self-re-
ported physical activity.
The findings of this study provide both theoretical and prac-
tical insights about relationships between urban PE and physi-
cal activity outcomes in underserved adolescent girls. One con-
tribution of this study was the testing of a trichotomous model
of the perceived motivational climate in PE. In the physical
domain, use of the approach/avoidance framework has focused
on achievement goal orientations. As Duda and Ntoumanis
Insight into motivational processes in PE will always be re-
stricted if we only examine students’ goal orientations. There is
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 107
A. C. GARN ET AL.
a dynamic system going on here that we need to come to grips
with in our research designs. More insight is necessary regard-
ing how PE teachers convey the “messages” about achieve-
ment goal focus to students and how, when, and in which cases
students start to internalize these messages and think, feel, and
act accordingly (p. 431).
Midgley and colleagues (2000) created an instrument to dis-
tinguish between perceptions of performance and performance
avoidance classroom structures, but to date its application in PE
has been missing. Results from the CFA supported the con-
struct validity of the trichotomous model. Furthermore, clear
divergences in the pattern of relationships between perceptions
of a performance climate and perceptions of a performance
avoidance climate and outcome variables were present. Our
results supported Elliot’s (1999) theorizing that more often than
not, maladaptive outcomes are associated with perceptions of
performance avoidance structures.
The high mean score for perceptions of a mastery climate
was a pleasant surprise. It is possible that the teachers’ imple-
mentation of the EPEC curriculum contributed to this finding,
although we do not have direct evidence. The teachers of this
study were experienced and had sustained professional devel-
opment experiences with EPEC. The EPEC curriculum empha-
sizes personal development, lifelong sports, and aligns to
NASPE (2004) content standards. The EPEC focus on the indi-
vidual appears to match key ingredients of a mastery climate
(e.g., focus on improvement and process of learning). On the
other hand, the low amount of physical activity reported by
these underserved girls was in line with previous research find-
ings (Gordon-Larsen et al., 2000). The participants of this study
were clearly not meeting recommended guidelines for physical
activity (USDHHS, 2008). Other researchers have also targeted
underserved girls because they are at-risk for physical inactivity,
obesity, and morbidity (Robinson et al., 2008; Wilson et al.,
2008). Although this was not an intervention-based study like
Robinson et al. (2008) or Wilson et al. (2008), both sets of re-
searchers reported the severe need for more physical activity
research targeting underserved adolescent girls.
Relationship s am ong Variables
Examination of the relationships among the perceived moti-
vational climates in PE, perceived competence in PE, and
physical activity outcomes provides some interesting topics of
discussion. First, comparison of the two SEM models high-
lights the importance of perceived competence in PE, when
examining the relationship between perceptions of motivational
climates in PE and physical activity outcomes. For example,
only a minimal amount of the physical activity variance (5%)
was explained by the direct relationships between the perceived
motivational climate and physical activity, mirroring past re-
search (Parish & Treasure, 2003). The fact that 26% more
variance was explained in self-reported physical activity when
perceived competence in PE was included suggests that it is a
key intermediary factor when considering how perceptions of
the motivational climates in PE are related to physical activity
in underserved adolescent girls.
Interestingly, in the direct model perceptions of a perform-
ance climate and perceptions of a mastery climate had similar
positive relationships with self-reported physical activity. The
major difference between the two types of approach-oriented
perceptions of the motivational climate was the relationship
with intentions for future physical activity. Interpretation of the
standardized beta coefficient revealed that perceptions of a
mastery climate increased the likelihood for self-reported
physical activity by almost half of a standard deviation. Percep-
tions of a mastery climate still appeared to be more advanta-
geous than perceptions of a performance climate in relation to
the physical activity outcomes: however; physical educators
who are able to create approach-oriented motivational climates
with goal structures that support both personal and normative
success would likely also see an increase in underserved ado-
lescent future intentions for physical activity and to a limited
degree, self-reported physical activity. More investigations are
needed to determine the optimal balance between mastery and
performance class structures to promote physical activity out-
comes in PE.
The negative relationship between perceptions of a perform-
ance avoidance motivational climate and self-reported physical
activity in the direct model was aligned to the assumptions of
approach/avoidance achievement goal theory (Elliot, 1999;
Midgley, 2002). Avoidance mentalities have a long association
with negative achievement outcomes (McClelland, 1973). PE
climates that are viewed as performance avoidance contexts
where explicit or implicit structures punish students for show-
ing low ability or making mistakes appears to be detrimental to
underserved girls’ physical activity. Specifically, with this type
of perception PE may actually represent another barrier to un-
derserved girls’ physical activity.
As hypothesized, results from the indirect model provided a
more comprehensive picture of the associations between the
perceived motivational climate in PE and physical activity out-
comes for these underserved adolescent girls. All three percep-
tions of the motivational climate in PE had relationships with
the girls’ perceived competence in PE. Perceptions of a per-
formance climate and mastery climate were positively related to
perceived competence. While it was expected for an “improve-
ing outlook” (i.e., mastery) of goals structures in PE to be asso-
ciated with increased perceived competence (Roberts, 2001;
Wallhead & Ntoumanis, 2004), it was somewhat surprising that
a “proving outlook” (i.e., performance) was, too. It is possible
that perceptions of a performance climate in PE may provide
opportunities for underserved girls to obtain social recognition
and positive feedback for their physical competence. A “protec-
tive outlook” was negatively related to perceived competence in
PE. There appears to be a fine line between perceptions of a
performance climate and performance avoidance climate (r
= .63) that results in quite distinct outcomes.
It should be noted that our results represent a “snapshot” of
the perceived motivational climate in PE. It is unclear how
promoting performance climates or performance avoidance
climates over time would be related to perceived competence in
PE and physical activity in underserved adolescent girls. It is
possible that perceived competence could and likely would
decrease for girls who consistently perceive failure in meeting
normative goal structures (Roberts, 2001). Similarly, the per-
ceptions of a performance climate—perceived competence rela-
tionship in PE could potentially erode if minimal skill devel-
opment or learning was taking place for low skilled students.
Having trained and experienced teachers implement the ac-
countability-based EPEC curriculum may help explain the posi-
tive link between perceptions of a performance climate and
perceived competence in this study.
Perceptions of a mastery climate had both direct and indirect
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A. C. GARN ET AL.
relationships with future intentions for physical activity across
the two models. From an achievement goal theory perceptive,
this may be due to the mastery climate focus on the process and
personal improvement (Solmon, 1996). In other words, when
PE goal structures stress the importance of the process over the
outcome, there appears to be a greater association with making
plans to be active in the future. Making immediate plans to be
physically active could potentially help many underserved ado-
lescent girls seek out opportunities that minimize physical ac-
tivity barriers (Gomez et al., 2004). High school physical edu-
cators teaching in the urban context should be especially aware
of the benefits that implementing motivational climate per-
ceived as mastery-oriented can have for adolescent girls be-
cause the social environment in PE often places them at a dis-
advantage for obtaining physical activity outcomes (Cheypa-
tor-Thompson, You, & Hardin, 2000; Domangue & Solmon,
The girls’ perceived competence in PE had robust effects on
their intentions to be physically active and physical activity
behavior. Perceptions of a mastery climate may be especially
effective at providing girls with more equitable physical activ-
ity opportunities in PE that produce feelings of physical com-
petence in that domain. In fact, the development of achieve-
ment goal theory was closely tied to understanding how to cre-
ate more equitable experiences for students and athletes
(Nicholls, 1989; Roberts, 2001). Based on our findings and
theorizing from Ennis (2011), investigating the motivational
climate in conjunction with the domain specific characteristics
of the PE context (e.g., instruction, curriculum) may provide a
clearer picture on how to increase the perceived competence of
a wider variety of students in PE including underserved ado-
In conclusion, this study is not without limitations. The
cross-sectional design and reliance on self-report data are clear
limitations. Future research would benefit from including sys-
tematic observations of the PE learning environment, prospec-
tive and longitudinal research designs, as well as more objec-
tive measures of physical activity (e.g., accelerometers). How-
ever, results from this study do provide meaningful information
about how school-based settings can positively contribute to the
physical activity patterns and future intentions of underserved
adolescent girls. Support for the achievement goal theoretical
model tested in this study highlights practical strategies for
urban PE teachers to increase important cognitive mediators of
physical activity. Future researchers should continue to inves-
tigate theoretical models that provide structure to expanding the
current knowledge-base about enhancing the levels of physical
activity for underserved adolescent girls.
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