How positive staff relationship and support can encourage youth to be more active.

Riciputi, S., McDonough, M. H., Snyder, F. J., McDavid, M. L. (2019). Staff Support Promotes Engagement in a Physical Activity-Based Positive Youth Development Program for Youth From Low-Income Families. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.

Summarized by Karina DeAndrade

Notes of Interest: In this study, researchers sought to examine if the relationship between staff and their students would affect how interactive a student was in an activity. Specifically, data was collected from 229 male low-income youths from the ages of 7 to 15. Findings suggest that youth were more likely to have a positive relationship with staff they were more similar to in terms of race and gender and this positive relationship led youth to be more active and participate in studies.


Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The purpose of this study was to examine whether youth perceptions of staff support predicted their behavioral and emotional engagement in a physical activity-based positive youth development (PYD) program and the degree to which these associations were moderated by staff’s gender and racial/ethnic similarity to youth. A total of 229 low-income youth (aged 7–15; 59% male; 48.5% Hispanic, 22.3% White, and 16.6% Black) were surveyed at the end of a 20-day summer program with questions assessing leader support, behavioral and emotional engagement, and self-reported demographic information. Eighteen staff leaders (Mage 20.72; 33% male; 78% White) were also surveyed at a single time-point to self-report demographic information. Data were analyzed using structural equation modeling. Staff support positively predicted both behavioral and emotional engagement. Matches between youth and their staff leader on both gender and race/ethnicity directly predicted behavioral engagement, whereas the effect of staff support on emotional engagement was enhanced for youth dissimilar in race/ethnicity to their leader. Staff support may promote engagement in PYD programs, with the similarity of staff to youth on race and gender impacting the manner in which engagement is realized. This study demonstrates the importance of teaching staff the value of interactions with youth from different backgrounds and genders to promote engagement in the programs and support PYD outcomes for all youth.


Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The purpose of this study was to examine the degree to which the quality of the youth–staff relationship in a physical activity-based PYD program predicted youth behavioral and emotional engagement and the degree to which this relationship was moderated by youth–staff similarity in race/ethnicity and gender, when controlling for participant age. Perceived support had a positive association with both types of engagement, and youth who were similar to their leader in race/ethnicity and gender were also more likely to have more positive behavioral engagement. There was also an interesting trend toward staff support having a more positive predictive effect on emotional engagement when youth and staff were dissimilar in race/ ethnicity.

Youth who felt more supported by staff leaders reported higher levels of both behavioral and emotional engagement, consistent with research showing that youths’ perception of staff quality is positively related to youth engagement (Greene et al., 2013) and that staff relationships can promote or detract from youth desire to be involved with PYD programs (Fredricks et al., 2010). Staff’s ability to influence and promote engagement may act through channels of reinforcement and instructional feedback in program activities, promoting a sense of competence with regards to the social skills the program aspires to teach (Harter, 2012a).


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