Effect of Self-Determination Theory-based strategies for staging recreation encounters on intrinsic motivation of youth residential campers

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Journal of Park and Recreation Administration






Sagamore Journals

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Parents and caregivers generally believe that the camp experiences they purchase for their children will not only yield transient pleasure and lasting memories of fun encounters, but significant developmental outcomes as well. Camp professionals serving over 11 million youths each year embrace such outcomes and commonly advance mission statements that point to the development of friendship skills, self-confidence, competence, self-reliance, independence, citizenship, and many other developmental outcomes. Empirical evidence of how these outcomes might be facilitated through specific recreation leadership strategies (e.g., activity staging) is lacking. The Self-Determination Theory (SDT) would suggest that youth leaders (e.g., camp counselors, recreation activity specialists) could attend to competence, relatedness, and autonomy in staging experiences for the outcome of intrinsic motivation. Such evidence is essential if immediate conscious experiences of campers are to be optimized and stable outcomes to campers are to be expected. Thus, this study examined the effect of three strategies for staging a recreation encounter on intrinsic motivation of youth attending a residential summer camp. Youth participated in a storytelling activity on three occasions, with each occasion staged differently by leaders. One of the staging strategies included a technique intended to elicit high degrees of autonomy, along with competence. A second strategy was designed to evoke autonomy and relatedness, and a third condition represented a traditional model (i.e., competent tutor) for staging encounters in organized recreation settings. A significant effect was found for the contrast of the combined autonomy conditions (representing autonomy support) vs. the competent tutor condition. This finding is particularly important to camp practitioners. This applied test of Self-Determination Theory-based conditions presents evidence to practitioners that providing recreation encounters that foster the three basic psychological needs of competence, relatedness, and autonomy are more likely to increase intrinsic motivation compared to a traditional method (i.e., competent tutor). Accordingly, staff of youth serving programs might implement strategies derived from Self-Determination Theory in the stream of daily recreation activities to facilitate camper acquisition of intrinsic motivation. For instance, the detailed scripts in this study are a model of how to stage recreation encounters (i.e., storytelling activity) to increase intrinsic motivation of campers. Specifically 2 during the storytelling activity, the autonomy-supportive leaders 1) paused to allow time for responses, 2) provided specific, meaningful feedback to encourage effort, and 3) verbally acknowledged campers’ perspectives.

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