Relationship Between Motivation, Sex, Age, Body Composition and Physical Activity in Schoolchildren

José Enrique Moral-García

Sergio López-García

José D. Urchaga

Rubén Maneiro

Raquel M. Guevara

*Corresponding author: Rubén Maneiro

Original Language Spanish

Cite this article

Moral-Garcia, J.E., Lopez-García, S., Urchaga, J.D., Maneiro & R., Guevara, R.M (2021). Relationship Between Motivation, Sex, Age, Body Composition and Physical Activity in Schoolchildren. Apunts. Educación Física y Deportes, 144, 1-9.



Doing physical activity in adolescence is regarded as one of the health protection factors that deliver numerous physical, mental and social benefits. This study set out to ascertain the relationships between the motivation to do physical activity in a group of secondary education adolescents (taking task or ego orientation into account) and the sex, age, level of physical activity, BMI and morphotype variables. It is a descriptive cross-sectional study involving 466 adolescents aged between 11 and 16 years (13.95 ± 1.46 years), of whom 53.9% (n = 251) were boys and 46.1% girls (n = 215). It was found that girls and younger students are more task-oriented in doing physical activity as are obese and overweight subjects and those who regard themselves as an ectomorph morphotype. Boys are more ego-oriented in doing physical activity. The multiple factors involved in doing physical activity in adolescence need to be studied. It would seem expedient to promote task orientation in the performance of physical activity in secondary education (especially among boys and older adolescents) both in and out of school, since this can lead adolescents to embrace a greater level of physical activity or to maintain their level in the future.

Keywords: ego, morphotype, motor activity, Secondary Education, task.


Physical activity (PA) is regarded as one of the most decisive factors in people’s health status. Regular physical activity has a positive impact on quality of life, promotes the adoption of other healthy habits and also provides numerous physical, psychological and social benefits (Rosa-Guillamón, 2019). In adolescence, doing physical activity takes on particular relevance: on the one hand, because habits that will be maintained in adult life are established, and on the other because it acts as a protective factor against other risk behaviours to health such as obesity and being overweight or the use of harmful substances (Usán et al., 2018).
Obesity and being overweight in childhood and adolescence are regarded as one of the main public health problems of our times by the World Health Organisation (OMS, 2020). Moreover, they often generate associated health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, hypertension, low self-esteem, etc. Since PA is essential to maintaining a healthy weight, several studies have focused on ascertaining the factors that condition participation by young people in regular PA, these factors being environmental, personal or family-related (Laird et al., 2016; Yao & Rhodes, 2015).
Of the personal factors that condition the performance of PA, a person’s goal orientation is important and may be of two types: task- or ego-oriented. Thus, task-oriented people conceptualise success on the basis of personal improvement and effort, whereas ego-oriented individuals are more geared towards attaining greater skill or competence than others (Guivernau, 1994). For this reason, some research into PA has targeted the analysis of motivation and the search for success in PA, focusing on the study of goal orientation. In this line, the Goal Orientation in Exercise Scale (GOES) (Killpatrick et al., 2003) has proven to be a useful tool in the study of non-competitive exercise. The research conducted by Moreno et al. (2007) validates the scale and attributes suitable validity of construct, reliability and predictive validity to it with a global score of 0.8 (Moreno et al., 2007).
The scientific literature identifies motivation as a primary factor in regular performance of PA, studying the relationships between the type of motivation to do PA and other variables such as the sex and age of the adolescents or their level of PA performance (De la Torre-Cruz et al., 2017). Moreover, some research has shown that task orientation in doing PA is directly related to a greater level of performance (Giner et al., 2020) and sustained performance in the future (Jaakkola et al., 2016).
In terms of adolescents’ sex, the studies point to task orientation being greater in girls and to ego orientation being greater in boys. Task orientation is also shown to be greater the younger the age, as ego orientation increases with age in adolescents, particularly in boys (Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2016).
Morphotype is defined as the morphological type that characterises a specific group of organisms, a classification tool depending on the individual’s physical constitution. Therefore, there are three types of morphotype: ectomorph (skinny, lean build, thin and elongated frame), mesomorph (athletic build, strong muscle development, strong frame) and endomorph (rounded and soft build, undefined muscles). In adolescence, the greatest frequency of PA, according to the studies, is recorded in the mesomorph group, whose main reasons for doing PA are enjoyment and socialisation, and who also see themselves as being more competent through the performance of physical activity and sports. Finally, ectomorph adolescents, followed by endomorphs, do weekly PA least frequently (Moral-García et al., 2014).
Despite the background, there is insufficient information to relate adolescents’ goal orientations to different variables related to sex, body composition and doing PA. Therefore, the objective of this research was to analyse the connection between goal orientations, to wit ego or task, and sex, age, level of PA performance, body mass index and morphotype in secondary education students. The hypotheses were that males and more physically active students were more ego-oriented; as age increases, students are increasingly more ego-oriented; overweight or obese adolescents are more task-oriented compared to normal-weight adolescents; schoolchildren who regard themselves as endomorphs are more task- than ego-oriented.



A descriptive cross-sectional study was performed in which random probability sampling was used to obtain the sample. A total of 466 compulsory secondary education (CSE) adolescents aged between 11 and 16 years (13.95 ± 1.46 years) participated, of whom 53.9% (n = 251) were boys and 46.1% girls (n = 215), and who were attending two schools, one rural and the other urban. Before the research began, both the schools and the students’ parents or legal guardians were informed and were asked to sign an informed consent form to authorise the students’ participation. The inclusion criteria were as follows: authorisation by the school, positive informed consent, having no injury or disease preventing the regular performance of PA and a positive medical report confirming optimal health status. The exclusion criteria were refusal by the student to participate or failure to fulfil one or more of the inclusion criteria. The study followed the premises of the Declaration of Helsinki at all times as well as research ethical standards in sport sciences. The approval of the Research Ethics Committee of the Pontifical University of Salamanca was also secured.

Materials and instruments

Sociodemographic questionnaire.
The respondents (male and female) were asked to provide information about sex and age.

PA performance questionnaire.
The “MVPA” (Prochaska et al., 2001) international questionnaire, comprised of two items that collect information about the days in the week on which at least one hour of moderate-to-vigorous PA is performed, both in the previous week and in a typical week, was used to analyse the degree of PA. The response scale for both of them was the same (0 = no day, 1 = one day, 2 = two days, 3 = three days, 4 = four days, 5 = five days, 6 = six days and 7 = seven days). Both items were used in the study and the mean of both was calculated, as in previous studies (Martínez-López et al., 2018). The questionnaire’s internal consistency was determined, yielding high values (Cronbach’s alpha = .885). This questionnaire was used to form two initial groups: sedentary (equal to or less than 3 days of PA a week) and active (at least 4 days of PA a week).

Body Mass Index (BMI).
Body composition was studied by means of BMI (height-weight ratio). The measuring instruments used for weight and height were an Elegant model digital scale by ASIMED® (Barcelona) and a SECA® 214 portable stadiometer (Ruiz-Ariza et al., 2019). The participants were measured barefoot (wearing thin sports socks) and were weighed with light clothing, comprised of shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt. BMI was estimated by means of the kg/m2 ratio and the subjects were classified as low weight, normal weight and overweight.

Goal Orientation in Exercise Scale (GOES) questionnaire (Kilpatrick et al., 2003).
It is used to measure goal orientations in physical exercise. The scale is comprised of 10 items which begin with the sentence “I feel more satisfied doing exercise when…” Five of them measure task orientation (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) (example of item 1 “I learn something while exercising and it makes me want to participate more”) whereas the remaining five measure ego orientation (6, 7, 8, 9 and 10) (example of item 6 “I can do better than my friends”). The question has a Likert-type scale ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (5). The original internal consistency of the instrument for both subscales was alpha .79 and .90 for task and ego, respectively.

Perceived morphotype.
Developed by Sheldon in 1970 by means of infographics (endomorph, mesomorph or ectomorph), it can be used to help students to choose the image they most relate to (Sheldon, 1970).


The questionnaires were administered in normal class time and were supervised at all times by the physical education teaching staff who had been trained by the team of researchers. The participants were given brief instructions and the confidentiality of their responses was ensured. Participation was totally voluntary and the participating students received no compensation for their contribution. The questionnaire took approximately 20 minutes to complete depending on participant capability and age.

Data analysis

The normality of the variables analysed was examined by means of the Kolmogorov-Smirnov test. The sample description was conducted with frequency analysis. The differences between groups were analysed by means of a one-way ANOVA. Bivariate Pearson correlation analysis was performed. The data were processed anonymously at all times by means of a coding system and a 95% confidence interval was used for all the results. The statistical analyses were performed with the SPSS program, v. 23.0 for Windows (SPSS Inc., Chicago, USA).


The general description of the sample by means of the frequency analysis determined, with regard to age, that the largest group was 13-14 years (43.9 %), followed by 15-16 years (37.9 %) and 11-12 years (18.2 %). In terms of PA level, the active participants (51.2 %) group was larger than the sedentary participants (48.8 %) group. By BMI, 57.7 % were of normal weight, 35.8 % low weight and 6.5 % overweight. Morphotype presented a distribution in which 59.2 % were catalogued as mesomorphs, 21.9 % as ectomorphs and 18.9 % as endomorphs.

The ANOVA showed significant differences between the task- and ego-orientation subscales in the sex, age, PA level, BMI and perceived morphotype variables. Males presented a greater ego orientation than females (p < .05) in items 8 “I am the best” (2.52 ± 1.32 vs. 1.96 ± 1.10) and 9 “I am the only one who can exercise at some high intensity” (2.60 ± 1.22 vs. 2.08 ± 1.18). In terms of age, task orientation was more marked among younger students than older ones (p < .05), as shown by items 2 “I learn a new skill by trying hard” (4.42 ± .76 vs. 3.66 ± 1.12); 3 “Something I learn while exercising makes me want to go and participate more” (4.30 ± .76 vs. 3.69  ± 1); 4 “An exercise skill I learn really feels right” (4.32 ± .82 vs. 3.60 ± 1.14); and 5 “I am learning and having fun” (4.55 ± .73 vs. 3.86 ± 1). The level of PA performance reflected significant differences (p < .05) where the active schoolchildren were more motivated than the sedentary ones, both in item 1 “I learn something while exercising and it makes me want to participate more” (4.01 ± 1.09 vs. 3.71 ± .94) and item 3 “Something I learn while exercising makes me want to go and participate more” (4.18 ± .93 vs. 3.68 ± .99) of task orientation, and in item 9 “I am the only one who can exercise at some high intensity” (2.50 ± 1.28 vs. 2.22 ± 1.14) and item 5 “I am learning and having fun” (4.28 ± .94 vs. 4.02 ± .98) of ego orientation. Although BMI presented fewer significant differences, item 3 “Something I learn while exercising makes me want to go and participate more” (p < .05) showed that low-weight adolescents (3.98 ± 1.06) were more task-oriented than normal-weight (3.95 ± .95) and overweight (3.93 ± .96) participants. Perceived morphotype showed that ectomorphs were the least motivated, both in task-related items and in item 1 “I learn something while exercising and it makes me want to participate more”, and ego, with item 9 “I am the only one who can exercise at some high intensity”, yielding significant differences in both items between the three groups (3.70 ± 1.12 vs. 3.85 ± .99 vs. 4.17 ± 1.06 y 2.08 ± 1.08 vs. 2.40 ± 1.19 vs. 2.44 ± 1.40, respectively). The remaining results for the other variables are also presented in Table 1.

Table 1
Analysis of variance of the GOES questionnaire by sex, age, level of PA, BMI and morphotype.

See Table

An analysis of associations was also performed, yielding a positive correlation between the ego and task factors (p < .01; PC: .542). The negative correlation between the respondents’ sex and the ego (p < .01; PC: -.297) and task (p < .01; PC: -.229) subscales shows that males tended to present greater orientation in both cases than females. Age is negatively correlated (p < .01; PC: -.287) to task, suggesting that task orientation diminishes as age increases. PA level was positively correlated to task (p < .01; PC: .243) and negatively to the adolescents’ sex (p < .01; PC:-.246) and age (p < .01; PC: -.184), showing that the physically more active participants are more task-oriented and also that PA level is higher in males and younger schoolchildren. BMI was positively correlated to age (p < .01; PC: .244) showing that BMI rises as age increases. Finally, morphotype was positively correlated to task (p < .05; PC: .155) and negatively to BMI (p < .01; PC: -.334), thus confirming that endomorph participants are the least task-oriented and also that there is a clear relationship between endomorphs and overweight individuals (Table 2).


Numerous studies have sought to identify the conditioning factors associated with the performance of PA in adolescence, the most frequent being related to satisfaction, motivation, body image, BMI, the performance of exercise by people from their own environment (family and peers), etc.

The primary objective of this paper was to study the possible correlations between the performance of PA by adolescents and their motivation to do so (task or ego orientation), as well as other variables that may condition the performance and/or maintenance of physical activity, such as sex, age, BMI and perceived morphotype.

Correlations were found in all the variables studied, the first discovery being that the motivation to do PA (task or ego orientation) was correlated to all the variables studied. By sex, boys presented greater ego orientation than girls, while there is greater ego orientation in the performance of PA as age increases. Active adolescents are more motivated by PA and adolescents with a lower BMI are more task-oriented in doing it. By morphotype, ectomorph subjects (skinny, lean build, thin and long frame) are the least motivated (in both task and ego orientation).

The first hypothesis was that males and more physically active students were more ego-oriented, which was fulfilled in terms of goal orientation depending on the respondents’ sex. As in other studies (Castro et al., 2019; Carriedo et al., 2015; Sánchez-Alcaraz et al., 2016), boys presented greater ego orientation in the performance of PA. In recent years, the role of gender in doing physical and sports activities has been studied (Alvariñas-Villaverde & Pazos-González, 2018; Calvo-Ortega & Perrino-Peña, 2017) and it has been found that girls evince greater interest in less sports-related activities, whereas boys tend to be more inclined towards competition (Alvariñas-Villaverde & González-Valeiro, 2020).
Since the second hypothesis posited that older students were more ego-oriented, this hypothesis may also be regarded as having been met. On the basis of these results, it would seem expedient to promote greater task-focused motivation in a more specific fashion among secondary education students as this type of motivation improves the performance of PA, commitment and enjoyment and therefore the maintenance of this activity (García et al., 2019). It also helps young people who do sport to be more consistent or persevering and to make an effort when faced with complex tasks (Gutiérrez et al., 2017).
The third hypothesis, which suggested that obese or overweight adolescents were more task-oriented than normal-weight adolescents, is met, concurring with the study by Ahmed (Ahmed et al., 2017), although the result may be due among other things to the fact that they are less concerned with physical appearance.

The fourth hypothesis, which posited a positive relationship between regarding oneself as endomorph and being more task-oriented, is not met since the analysis of associations shows that endomorph participants are the least task-oriented whereas ectomorphs are the most task-oriented participants. In view of the scant research that takes these two variables (BMI and morphotype) into account in goal-orientation studies, it could be worthwhile to consider both aspects when strategies that favour intrinsic motivation in doing PA are addressed.

In any case, the scientific literature shows that motivation is a key factor in the performance of physical activity and that task orientation is a core aspect to be promoted in the development of in-school and out-of-school activities since it delivers numerous benefits: better academic performance (Castro et al., 2019), greater motivation, better habits, etc.


Scientific evidence demonstrates the multiple benefits of doing PA in childhood and in adolescence, including the maintenance of good health and suitable weight, short- and long-term disease prevention, improved academic performance, the adoption of other healthy lifestyle habits, etc.
Studying the possible variables that condition doing PA is therefore relevant on account of its potential impact on improving people’s quality of life.

The findings of this research point to the need to consider certain variables in studies on PA habits among adolescents: goal orientations (ego and task), sex and age, BMI and morphotype have proven to be relevant in this respect. Thus, in the sample studied, boys were more ego-oriented in the performance of PA, and this orientation also increases with age. Adolescents with a higher BMI (overweight and obesity) are more task-oriented. Contrary to the hypothesis, endomorph subjects are not the most task-oriented as it was the ectomorph subjects who exhibited this type of motivation in doing PA.

Based on these and other similar results, it is apposite to advocate measures, both inside and outside school, to promote task orientation in PA for adolescents. For example, other authors examined the motivational processes that unfold in physical education classes and proposed strategies to accomplish a motivational climate that increases task engagement (García et al., 2005).

Strong points, limitations and future outlook

Goal orientations were studied and related to ones that provide very valuable information, using validated instruments that have already been extensively employed with this population group.
One of the limitations of this study is that it is cross-sectional and so relationships of causality could be established.
Future research should consider other decisive psychosocial variables in the performance of PA by adolescents, as well as the design of an experimental study that would be conducive to extracting relationships of causality between the variables analysed.


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ISSN: 2014-0983

Received: April 18, 2020

Accepted: October 20, 2020

Published: April 01, 2021