Background: Boys with DCD have lower rates of participation in leisure-time physical activities, which are important developmental contexts for males, than boys without DCD. There is evidence that variable developmental trajectories exist although factors contributing to an optimal child- activity-environment fit are poorly understood Therefore, identifying the processes influencing leisure-time physical activity participation patterns, and the impact that low participation has on subjective quality of life is a clinical and research priority. Identifying factors and circumstances that promote or inhibit successful adaptation to physical coordination difficulties has potential to contribute to the mental and physical health of boys with DCD. In this thesis psychological mechanisms influencing leisure-time participation and subjective quality of life were explored with a view to informing an ecological open systems model called SCOPE-IT (Synthesis of Child-, Occupation-, and Environment- in Time), developed to conceptualise the multiple inputs from child-, activity- and environment-level factors that contribute to health and well-being.
Objectives: The first research priority was to identify mediation processes influencing relationships between physical coordination ability and leisure-time participation. Three psychological process variables were investigated; perceptions of freedom in leisure, self-concept perceptions and dispositional goal motivations. Three quality of life-related outcomes related to subjective quality of life were also explored; global life satisfaction, general self-concept and loneliness. Differences between these variables for boys with and without DCD were compared before mediation processes were investigated as the key research initiative of the thesis.
Method: Sixty boys with DCD and 113 boys without DCD completed self-report measures of the psychosocial variables under consideration. Parents completed a retrospective recall of leisure-time behaviour over the previous 12-months and a 7 -day diary for the out-of-school hours. The 7-day diary recorded intensity, duration, content, social and physical context of leisure-time activities.
Results of Descriptive Analyses: Boys with DCD had lower mean scores than boys without DCD for perceived freedom in leisure and self-concept appraisals for physical ability, physical appearance, peer and parent relations, general self-concept and global life satisfaction. Higher loneliness was reported by boys with severe and moderate DCD than boys without DCD who had medium to high levels of physical coordination.
Lower participation in team sports and informal group physical activities, but higher participation in structured groups, such as choir, that involved low levels of physical activity energy expenditure, were found for boys with DCD compared to boys without DCD. These leisure-time social-physical activity patterns of boys with DCD contributed to significantly lower physical activity energy expenditure rates for the previous week's out-of- school hours when compared to energy expenditure of boys without DCD. Correlation analyses showed that more time spent in social-physical activities was positively associated with global life satisfaction, general self-concept and perceived freedom in leisure, and was negatively associated with loneliness for all boys. Therefore, the relationships between these variables were further investigated for mediation effects.
Results of Mediation Analyses: Team sports were identified as the only significant activity participation context that mediated relationships between physical coordination ability and two outcomes: global life satisfaction and loneliness. Psychological processes contributing to team sport participation were also investigated. Perceived freedom in leisure was identified as a significant psychological mechanism mediating the relationship between physical coordination ability and team sport participation. When the relationships between physical coordination and different levels of energy expenditure were investigated it was found that self-perceptions of peer relations changed the negative relationship between level of physical coordination ability and participation in low energy expenditure activities.
Mediation analyses for relationships between boys' physical coordination ability and self-perceptions of life satisfaction and general self-concept were undertaken. Significant mediators of these relationships included: self-concept appraisals of physical ability and appearance, peer and parent relations, and adoption of task-oriented goals. Perceived freedom in leisure partially mediated the relationship between physical coordination ability and global life satisfaction.
Conclusions: Team sports participation was positively associated with life satisfaction, perceived freedom in leisure, social satisfaction, general self-concept and moderate to vigorous energy expenditure for boys aged 1 0 to 13 years. From a physical and mental health perspective the finding that boys with DCD spent significantly less time in team sports and in all social-physical contexts than boys without DCD was of concern because these leisure-time contexts provide developmentally important sources of enjoyment and friendship-building for young males. When descriptive analyses were conducted it was found that boys with DCD had lower general self-concept, global life satisfaction, task goal orientations and perceived freedom in leisure than boys without DCD, and also reported more loneliness than their well-coordinated counterparts. These results provide convincing evidence that parents, teachers and practitioners must be vigilant and address potential physical and mental health-related concerns for boys with DCD.
The finding that a small number of boys with DCD participated in both team sports and informal group physical activities was encouraging and consistent with previous research describing ongoing and active participation in social-physical activities for a few determined adolescents with DCD. This prompted the investigation of psychological mechanisms that might support participation in social-physical activity contexts and protect against negative outcomes, such as loneliness, or promote positive outcomes, such as life satisfaction. Perceived freedom in leisure was identified as one mechanism that contributed to the positive relationships between physical coordination ability and both team sport participation and global life satisfaction. Participation in team sports, itself, was found to be a process variable changing the negative relationship between physical coordination ability and loneliness, and positively contributing to life satisfaction for all boys irrespective of physical coordination ability. Further investigation of the features of team sport environments that protect against loneliness and which promote life satisfaction is warranted.
Researchers and practitioners are challenged to consider the four components of perceived freedom in leisure as psychological factors that potentially underpin decisions about choice, effort and time spent in team sport settings. Perceived freedom in leisure was regarded as having potential to inform models such as SCOPE-IT model which guided these investigations. However, further research with more representative populations is required to verify these preliminary findings. ln addition, in keeping with the premise of the SCOPE-IT model, investigations of environment-level variables are required to fully understand the fit between child, activity and environment factors.
This study moved beyond a descriptive analysis of the psychosocial features and leisure-time activity participation patterns of boys with DCD. The identification of mechanisms influencing leisure-time participation in team sports, life satisfaction and loneliness was regarded as having potential to inform clinical practice, theory development and lead to future research initiatives aimed at promoting and maintaining health, contributing to the formulation of policies and preventive health strategies for these children.