Self-Esteem Levels: Age And And Athletic Participation Effects

George Parrott, Janine Taylor, Sheila Enes, Nick Galli
California State University, Sacramento
15 March 2001



Perceptions about the self and notably perceptions about the physical self affect personality development and overall mental health (DiNucci, Finkenberg, McCune, McCune, & Mayo, 1994). Studies have shown that participation in physical activities, such as team and individual sports, has a positive impact on a person's self-perceptions and self-esteem (Ferron, Narring, Cauderay, & Michaud, 1999; Huddy & Cash, 1997; Kamal, Blais, Kelly, & Ekstrand, 1995; Kamal, Blais, McCarrey, Laramee, & Ekstrand, 1992; Spreitzer, 1994; Taylor, 1995). Huddy and Craig (1997) conducted a study comparing 139 male participants in a 1993 marathon (an individual type sport) with 500 demographically-matched non-participants. The marathon runners and the controls were given multidimensional body-image inventory questions. The marathon participants were found to evaluate their physical appearance and their health more positively then the control group. However, the runners were found to be less invested in their physical appearance than were the non-athletes. Another study of men and women at the college and high-school levels did not find significant differences between non-athletes and athletes (in both team and individual type sports) in self-esteem (Ibrahim & Morrison, 1976). One possible reason for not having found differences in this study is that the athletic group included both individual and group-sport athletes. The differences found between athletes and non-athletes in self-esteem in the Huddy and Cash (1997) study were based on comparing atheletes involved in individual sports (running and swimming) to a group of non-athletes. Therefore, it may be the case that individual-sport athletes benefit more from participation in physical activity than do those athletes involved in group-type sports when it comes to having a positive affect on self- esteem.

Other studies have demonstrated that strong links exist between health status and physical activity, sport practice, and level of fitness, even during the critical personality development years of childhood and adolescence (Bouchard, Sheperd, & Stephens, 1998; Baranoski et al., 1992). The research in this area has been focused primarily on the positive effects that participation in athletic activities has on self-esteem in young athletes (DiNucci et al., 1994). Adolescents' participation in sports and their self-esteem appear to be reciprocally related. Specifically, participation in athletic activities tends to increase adolescents' self-esteem, and adolescents with higher self-esteem have also been shown to be more likely to become further engaged in athletic activities (Ferron, et al., 1999). However, it has also been found that the amount of time adolescents spend involved in sports and physical activity generally decreases with age (Illmarinen & Ruthenfranz, 1980).


Because involvement in physical activities has been shown to lead to higher self-esteem, it was hypothesized that those athletes who maintained their physical activity level would have higher self-esteem than those athletes who did not.

Results:
Parrott Fitness Scale
The results in Table 2 indicate a significant main effect of athletic status (p < .05), but not of age group (p > .05). Specifically, the athletes (M = 57.11, SD = 8.70) were more deeply concerned with their physical fitness than were the non-athletes (M = 51.26, SD = 10.66). The athletic status main effect accounted for 5% of the variability in the fitness scale scores. The Age Group x Athletic Status two-way interaction was not statistically significant (p > .05).

Rosenberg Self-Esteem
Results of simple effects tests for the Age Group x Athletic Status interaction indicated that the young athletes and young non-athletes did not significantly differ on Rosenberg self-esteem (p > .05). However, the older athletes had significantly higher Rosenberg self-esteem than did the older non-athletes (p < .05). In addition, the young athletes had significantly lower Rosenberg self-esteem than did the older athletes (p < .05), but the younger non-athletes and older non-athletes did not significantly differ from each other (p > .05). The Age Group x Athletic Status interaction accounted for 9% of the variability in the Rosenberg self-esteem scores.

Bohon Self-Esteem
The athletic status main effect accounted for 8% of the variability in the Bohon self-esteem scores. The results also indicated a statistically significant Age Group x Athletic Status two-way interaction (p < .05). Results of simple effects tests for the interaction indicated that the younger athletes and younger non-athletes did not significantly differ on Bohon self-esteem (p > .05). However, the older athletes had significantly higher Bohon self-esteem than did the older non- athletes (p < .05). The older athletes also had significantly higher Bohon self-esteem than did the younger athletes (p < .05), but the younger and older non-athletes did not significantly differ on Bohon self-esteem (p > .05). The Age Group x Athletic Status two-way interaction accounted for 6% of the variability in the Bohon self-esteem scores.

Table 1
Means for the Physical and Psychological Measures by Age Group and Athletic Status
    Age Group x Athletic Status
    Young Older
    Athlete Non-athlete Athlete Non-athlete
Dependent variable         M      SD      M      SD      M      SD      M      SD

Parrot Fitness scale      57.50  9.28   51.27   11.45   56.00  6.93    51.25  10.07
Rosenberg self-esteem     26.67  5.35   29.53    6.04   33.64  5.23    27.58   5.52
Cooper-Smith self-esteem 100.23 14.73   99.53   11.88  110.43 14.50    99.33   7.80
Bohon self-esteem         28.13  4.56   27.87    2.95   32.14  4.57    26.83   4.13



Discussion:

The hypothesis that athletes who maintained their physical activity level would have higher self-esteem than those athletes who did not was supported by two of the three self-esteem scales used in this study. The results for the Bohon and Rosenberg self-esteem scales indicated that older athletes (athletes who maintained their activity level) had a higher level of self-esteem than the older non-athletes (athletes who did not maintain their activity level). On these two measures, participants who were older and still active had higher self-esteem than those who were not active. However, the results for the Cooper-Smith self-esteem scale did not indicate a significant difference between the self-esteem levels of the older athletes and non-athletes. In fact, there were no differences found between any of the groups on Cooper-Smith self-esteem.  The younger athletes and non-athletes were not found to differ from each other on any of the self-esteem measures. This finding is very surprising, given the fact that past research has shown athletic activity to have a positive effect on self-esteem in younger persons. However, because the younger non-athletes in this study were all college students, it could be the case that a difference was not found because college student non-athletes have a higher level of self-esteem than non-athletes who are not enrolled in college. When looking at the Parrott Fitness Scale, the athletes were more concerned with physical fitness (regardless of age) than were the non-athletes. This is not surprising given the fact that the athletic status of the participants was determined based on their self-reported minutes of physical activity performed weekly. These findings do support the notion that physical fitness is linked with physical activity.


[Further references and other details excluded from this summary are available from: gparrott@csus.edu

This study was compiled and written up by Janine Taylor, a B.A. student of mine in her assignment from me as part of her undergraduate research methods training here at CSUS. She treated a part of some larger database that we are working with examining broad aspects of "lifespan and the self."]