Motivation for sports and school go hand in hand for adolescent athletes

Adolescent athletes with high motivation for school also have high motivation for sports. Male students tend to be less interested in school than their female peers, a new study from Finland shows.

Successfully integrating elite sports with education requires motivation to commit oneself to both domains. In Europe, the EU has instructed its Member States to formulate and adopt national guidelines on dual careers of athletes. Sufficient policy actions are needed in support of combining elite sports with academic education. In Finland, for example, talented and elite adolescent athletes have the opportunity to complete their upper secondary education in special sports upper secondary schools, which offer equal competitive sport opportunities for both genders and often specialise in multiple sports.

A new study conducted among nearly 400 adolescent athletes in Finland examined the development of, and gender differences in, their task values for school and sports across the upper secondary school years. The students were aged 15-16 at the beginning of the study, and they were all completing their upper secondary education in a sports upper secondary school. They were followed four times during their upper secondary school years.

The researchers found that the task values for school and sports among the students were strongly related to each other. Students with high motivation for school also had high motivation for sports. On the other hand, students with lower motivation for school struggled to maintain their motivation for sports, too.

“In this study, we focused especially on potential gender differences. Female students are generally expected to have higher motivation for an academic career than male students, whereas in sports, gender role stereotypes often exert an impact on the importance attached to masculine characteristics. It has been suggested that, from the motivational perspective, such a masculine performance narrative directs males more easily towards dedication to sports,” Professor Jaana Viljaranta from the University of Eastern Finland says.

The results showed that male students’ school-related task values were lower than female students’ task values at the beginning of upper secondary school, and that the gender differences remained across the school years. However, no gender differences were found in the students’ motivation for an athletic career.

“These findings indicate that female students may be more committed to integrating elite sports and education than male students.”

To support the processes of dual career construction for male students, special attention should be paid to developing their motivation for school.

“Awareness of the gender differences shown in this study could help better understand what kind of support students need in sports upper secondary school to guarantee them the possibility of a dual career,” Professor Viljaranta points out.

The study was supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture and led by Adjunct Professor Tatiana V. Ryba at the University of Jyväskylä.

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Materials provided by University of Eastern Finland. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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