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

Dwayne Sheehan


Managers of recreation center youth physical

activity (PA) programs are concerned with customer satisfaction. Satisfaction

is determined by a sense of quality, which comes in many forms. In youth PA

programs, two forms are outcomes quality (e.g., are children physically active

during the program?) and interaction quality (e.g., how do instructors interact

with participants?). To understand if instructors are creating an environment

for maximum PA participation, objective measurement needs to take place;

however, few recreation centers allocate resources to this endeavor. Direct

observation is one of the most accurate and comprehensive ways to measure

PA as it is able to capture PA, environmental and social data nonintrusively.

This study used the System for Observing Fitness Instruction Time (SOFIT) to

evaluate 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 between

moderate-to-vigorous PA (MVPA) and lesson context, and MVPA and instructor

interactions for children ages 3 to 14. The data analysis was conducted by age

groups (i.e., 3-6 years, 6-9 years and 9-14 years). The median proportion of

time spent in MVPA increased with age (overall 38%). Knowledge development

and skill practice were the most often observed components, especially in the

youngest age group. The oldest age group spent much more time in game play

than the other groups. Instructors spent the majority of their time in general

instruction and demonstration. The youngest participants received the most

praise while the instructors observed the oldest participants more than the other

age groups. For the middle age group, time spent in general content (transition,

management, and break) and game play showed increasing effects on MVPA

while the skill development showed a decreasing effect. In the oldest age group,

knowledge content was a predictor of decreasing MVPA while general content

was a predictor of increasing MVPA. For the oldest age group, the instructor

demonstrating was a positive predictor of MVPA while the instructor observing

was a negative predictor. Different lesson contexts and instructor behaviors

have varying effects on MVPA in children depending on their age. Providing evidence-based objective data can inform management of the quality of programs

and allow managers to provide support to the frontline staff in the creation of a

better repertoire of strategies for increasing PA with children of all ages.


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

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