My research focuses on physical activity as a context for promoting youths’ social, psychological, and physical development. I use physical activity as an overarching term referring to structured (organized sport, school physical education, after-school programs) and unstructured activities. Main topics of study include the influence of coaches, parents and peers; self-perceptions (notably self-esteem and perceived competence); motivational orientations and behaviors; moral development; and observational learning. My focus embraces a developmental theoretical perspective, one that seeks to describe and explain psychosocial and behavioral changes over time within individuals, and differences and similarities in changes among individuals. Findings from developmental studies provide effective teaching strategies to make a difference in children’s lives—enhancing social, psychological, and physical development through participation in the physical achievement domain.
I have conducted a programmatic line of research on youth development through sport and physical activity for over 30 years. Earlier in my career, I conducted substantial research in my role as Director of the Children's Summer Sports Program at the University of Oregon for 15 years, a developmental skills program serving youth 5 to 13 years of age. These studies extended the knowledge base on youths’ social and psychological development through participating in sport and physical activity.
Recently we completed a 4-year longitudinal study of positive youth development through sport, evaluating the impact of The First Tee life skills program on participants’ life skills learning and developmental outcomes (e.g., confidence, character). Youth were assessed on knowledge and transfer of life skills learned in the golf context to other domains such as school, home, and peer groups.
My students, collaborators, and I continue to study physical activity as a context for youth development, including the social and contextual factors (e.g., climate, social support, skill-building activities) that promote healthy outcomes and prevent health-risk behaviors, such as physical inactivity and sedentary behaviors. Currently we are evaluating the effectiveness of the CHAMPIONS program in Tallahassee, Florida, which is an intervention to promote physical fitness and psychosocial outcomes among elementary through middle school youth in physical education classes. Youth are assessed on biometric, fitness, physical activity, and psychosocial indicators over the course of an entire school year.
I have edited 4 books on youth sport and physical activity: Competitive Sport for Children and Youths (Weiss & Gould, 1986), Advances in Pediatric Sport Sciences: Behavioral Issues (Gould & Weiss, 1987), Worldwide Trends in Youth Sport (De Knop, Engstrom, Skirstad, & Weiss, 1996), and Developmental Sport and Exercise Psychology: A Lifespan Perspective (Weiss, 2004). These publications contributed to a subarea I coined as developmental sport psychology, which enhances understanding of participants’ experiences in sport and physical activity. A synopsis of a few research areas that have made an impact on the field is given below.
My students and I have studied sources and consequences of perceived competence—youths’ beliefs about how capable or skilled they are in sport and physical activity. We found that consistent sources of perceived competence include feedback by significant adults as well as evaluation by and comparison to teammates and friends. Self-referenced criteria such as effort, enjoyment, and skill improvement also contribute to youths’ self-appraisals of ability. Youths’ perceptions of competence show developmental trends—younger children name parents as a source of information more frequently than older youth, who rely more often on peer comparison and coach feedback. Our work demonstrates that perceived competence is strongly related to achievement cognitions, emotions, and behaviors, including attributions for performance, positive and negative affect, and participation patterns. Thus understanding age-related differences in sources of perceived competence is important to help educators design developmentally appropriate physical activities that create opportunities for growth.
We have explored adult-child and peer relationships with youths’ psychosocial and behavioral responses in physical activity. Parents’ beliefs about their child’s competence, modeling of physical activity, and responses to performance attempts are linked strongly to youths’ perceived competence, affect, and motivation. Positive and informational feedback by coaches following performance attempts, coupled with low punitive and non-reinforcing behaviors, relate to higher perceived competence, intrinsic motivation, and team cohesion. An autonomy-supportive leadership style is related to participants’ feelings of self-determination, intrinsic motivation, and effort and persistence. When coaches and teachers structure a learning climate that emphasizes self-referenced criteria for defining success—mastery, effort, improvement—youth express positive beliefs about their competence, greater feelings of autonomy, higher levels of enjoyment, and an intrinsic motivational orientation. Finally our research has shown strong linkages between peer acceptance and close friendship with youths’ perceived competence, emotions, motivation, leadership, and moral functioning. In sum, parents, coaches, and peers represent important sources of social influence on youths’ motivational and moral attitudes and behaviors.
Participating in sport and physical activity has the potential to help youth adopt positive values, such as cooperation, respect, responsibility, and sportsmanship, and reject temptation to engage in physical and verbal aggression. Positive outcomes do not emerge automatically but must be nurtured through a deliberate curriculum and teaching strategies. We have studied correlates of moral beliefs and behaviors, finding that age, gender, sport type, competitive experience, moral reasoning, social approval, and social goal orientations are associated with youths’ moral judgments, intentions, and behaviors. We conducted intervention studies in the school setting in an effort to promote moral reasoning and prosocial behaviors. For example, in our evaluation of the Fair Play for Kids program in Canada, we found that 4th to 6th graders who participated in an intervention that included role modeling, reinforcement for altruistic behaviors, and opportunities to discuss and resolve dilemmas showed significant and meaningful improvement in moral attitudes and behaviors over the school year compared to youth who did not experience the intervention. In sum, promoting character requires implementing a deliberate curriculum and effective skill-building activities by caring and competent adults and peers.
Participation in physical activity offers opportunities to learn life skills and healthy behaviors. To do so, however, requires an intentional curriculum, personal development goals, and supportive relationships with coaches, parents, and peers. My research has identified robust findings for several areas of youth development through physical activity, and we continue to add to the knowledge base by evaluating physical activity-based youth development programs in their effectiveness to achieve such goals.
I am especially proud of the students I have had the honor and pleasure to work with. I have mentored 24 doctoral students, who hold faculty positions in higher education or serve as research scientists. I have also advised 35 master's theses and projects and advised over 60 other master's students, who contribute to the field as coaches, teachers, and health and fitness professionals. This link takes you to a listing of graduate students, degrees obtained, source where thesis or dissertation was published, and placement in academic, research, or professional position.
Weiss, M.R., Stuntz, C.P., Bhalla, J.A., Bolter, N.D., & Price, M.S. (iFirst article, 2012). ‘More than a game’: impact of The First Tee life skills programme on positive youth development: project introduction and Year 1 findings. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise, and Health, 1-31. DOI:10.1080/2159676X.2012.712997.
Kipp, L.E., & Weiss, M.R. (in press). Physical activity and self-perceptions among children and adolescents. In P. Ekkekakis (Ed.), Handbook of physical activity and mental health. London, UK: Routledge.
Bolter, N.D., & Weiss, M.R. (in press). Coaching behaviors and adolescent athletes’ sportspersonship outcomes: Further validation of the Sportsmanship Coaching Behaviors Scale (SCBS). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.
Kipp, L.E., & Weiss, M.R. (in press). Social influences and psychological and physical well-being among female adolescent gymnasts. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.
Weiss, M.R., Amorose, A.J., & Kipp, L.E. (2012). Youth motivation and participation in sport and physical activity. In R.M. Ryan (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of human motivation (pp. 520-553). New York: Oxford University Press.
Weiss, M.R., Kipp, L.E., & Bolter, N.D. (2012). Training for life: Optimizing positive youth development through sport and physical activity. In S.M. Murphy (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of sport and performance psychology (pp. 448-475). New York: Oxford University Press.
Bolter, N.D., & Weiss, M.R. (2012). Coaching for character: Development of the Sportsmanship Coaching Behaviors Scale (SCBS). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 1, 73-90.
Price, M.S., & Weiss, M.R. (2011). Peer leadership in sport: Relationships among personal characteristics, leader behaviors, and team outcomes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 23, 49-64.
Weiss, M.R. (2011). Teach the children well: A holistic approach to developing psychosocial and behavioral competencies through physical education. Quest, 63, 55-65.
Weiss, M.R., & Bolter, N.D. (2011). Moral and motor development. In V.G. Payne & L.D. Isaacs (Eds.), Human motor development: A lifespan approach (8th ed.) (pp. 88-111). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Weiss, W.M., Weiss, M.R., & Amorose, A.J. (2010). Sport commitment among competitive female athletes: Test of an expanded model. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, 423-434.
Stuntz, C.P., & Weiss, M.R. (2010). Motivating children and adolescents to sustain a physically active lifestyle. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 4(5), 433-444.
Weiss, M.R., & Barnett, L.A. (2010). Children’s physical activity and healthy development: Physical, social, emotional, and cognitive benefits. In. L. Payne, B. Ainsworth, & G. Godbey (Eds.), Leisure, health, and wellness: Making the connections (pp. 201-212). State College, PA: Venture Publishing.
Bhalla, J.A., & Weiss, M.R. (2010). A cross-cultural perspective of parental influence on achievement beliefs and behaviors in sport and school domains. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 81, 494-505.
Stuntz, C.P., & Weiss, M.R. (2009). Achievement goal orientations and motivational outcomes in youth sport: The role of social orientations. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 255-262.
Weiss, M.R., & Wiese-Bjornstal, D.M. (2009). Promoting positive youth development through physical activity. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest, 10 (3), 1-8.
Weiss, M.R., Amorose, A.J., & Wilko, A.M. (2009). Coaching behaviors, motivational climate, and psychosocial outcomes among female adolescent athletes. Pediatric Exercise Science, 21, 475-492.
Weiss, M.R. (2008). “Riding the wave:” Transforming sport and exercise psychology within an interdisciplinary vision. Quest, 60, 64-84.
Weiss, M.R. (2008). “Field of Dreams:” Sport as a context for youth development. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 79, 434-449.
Weiss, M.R., Smith, A.L., & Stuntz, C.P. (2008). Moral development in sport and physical activity: Theory, research, and intervention. In T.S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 187-210). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Weiss, M.R., & Amorose, A.J. (2008). Motivational orientations and sport behavior. In T.S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 115-155). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Weiss, W.M., & Weiss, M.R. (2007). Sport commitment among competitive female gymnasts: A developmental perspective. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78, 90-102.
Weiss, M.R., Bhalla, J.A., & Price, M.S. (2007). Developing positive self-perceptions through youth sport participation. In H. Hebestreit & O. Bar-Or (Eds.), The encyclopaedia of sports medicine, Vol. X: The young athlete (pp. 302-318). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science, Ltd.
Weiss, W.M., & Weiss, M.R. (2006). A longitudinal analysis of commitment among competitive female gymnasts. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7, 309-323.
Moran, M.M., & Weiss, M.R. (2006). Peer leadership in sport: Links with friendship, peer acceptance, psychological characteristics, and athletic ability. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18, 97-113.
Reeve, R.E., & Weiss, M.R. (2006). Sports and physical activities. In G.G. Bear & K.M. Minke (Eds.), Children’s needs III: Development, prevention, and intervention (pp. 485-498). Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Weiss, M.R., & Amorose, A.J. (2005). Children’s self-perceptions in the physical domain: Between- and within-age variability in level, accuracy, and sources of perceived competence. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 27, 226-244.
Weiss, M.R., & Gill, D.L. (2005). What goes around comes around: Re-emerging themes in sport and exercise psychology. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76 (Supplement), S71-S87.
Weiss, M.R., & Fretwell, S.D. (2005). The parent-coach/child-athlete relationship in youth sport: Cordial, contentious, or conundrum? Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 76, 286-305.