Instructor Behavior and Youth Physical Activity in Recreation Center Programs: The Role of Management on Improving Outcomes


  • Dwayne Sheehan


SOFIT, recreation center, management, physical activity, children, MVPA, direct observation


Managers of recreation center youth physicalactivity (PA) programs are concerned with customer satisfaction. Satisfactionis determined by a sense of quality, which comes in many forms. In youth PAprograms, two forms are outcomes quality (e.g., are children physically activeduring the program?) and interaction quality (e.g., how do instructors interactwith participants?). To understand if instructors are creating an environmentfor maximum PA participation, objective measurement needs to take place;however, few recreation centers allocate resources to this endeavor. Directobservation is one of the most accurate and comprehensive ways to measurePA as it is able to capture PA, environmental and social data nonintrusively.This study used the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time (SOFIT) toevaluate participant and instructor behaviors in recreation center PA programs.SOFIT measures lesson context (management, knowledge or motor content),instructor interactions (promoting fitness, demonstrating, instructing, managing, observing or other task), and participant PA levels (lying, sitting, standing,walking or vigorous). Of interest in this study were the relationships betweenmoderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) and lesson context, and MVPA and instructorinteractions for children ages 3 to 14. The data analysis was conducted by agegroups (i.e., 3-6 years, 6-9 years and 9-14 years). The median proportion oftime spent in MVPA increased with age (overall 38%). Knowledge developmentand skill practice were the most often observed components, especially in theyoungest age group. The oldest age group spent much more time in game playthan the other groups. Instructors spent the majority of their time in generalinstruction and demonstration. The youngest participants received the mostpraise while the instructors observed the oldest participants more than the otherage groups. For the middle age group, time spent in general content (transition,management, and break) and game play showed increasing effects on MVPAwhile the skill development showed a decreasing effect. In the oldest age group,knowledge content was a predictor of decreasing MVPA while general contentwas a predictor of increasing MVPA. For the oldest age group, the instructordemonstrating was a positive predictor of MVPA while the instructor observingwas a negative predictor. Different lesson contexts and instructor behaviorshave varying effects on MVPA in children depending on their age. Providing evidence-based objective data can inform management of the quality of programsand allow managers to provide support to the frontline staff in the creation of abetter repertoire of strategies for increasing PA with children of all ages.






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