3.2.1. Personal Preference and Fun Guides Physical Activity Engagement
The adolescents stated that for them to engage in PA, the PA should be fun. What constituted fun PAs varied, however, and as did the activities that the adolescents mentioned (e.g., playing games, football, basketball, martial arts), as illustrated below:
Interviewer: How come you play football then?
Zavier (b): Because it’s fun.
Jamel (b): Because it’s fun. (FG 7)
Overall, the findings are consistent the results of previous studies, which have highlighted the need for adolescents’ PA to be fun [32
], and that fun relates closely to intrinsic motivation [18
]. For instance, a systematic review and meta-analysis by Owen et al. [34
] showed that autonomous motivation (i.e., intrinsic and identified regulation) was positively associated with children’s and adolescents’ PA levels, which highlights the importance for adolescents to engage in PAs that they find personally meaningful and enjoyable.
In some of the focus groups, the adolescents mentioned that boys, in general, are more physically active compared to girls. In other focus groups, however, the adolescents described different views on whether boys are more physically active than girls. The adolescents’ reasoning ended with the idea that PA engagement depends more on personality and personal preferences, as illustrated below:
Interviewer: Are there any differences between boys’ and girls’ leisure time activities?
Hamza (b): Boys usually participate more in sports.
Interviewer: More than girls?
Amarion (b): No, not how I see it.
Interviewer: What do you think?
Amarion (b): I don’t want to distinguish between the sexes. There are girls who play a lot of sports, and there are guys who are not so much into sports. So, it depends on how you are as a person.
Interviewer: It’s not about sex, but about who you are and what you like?
Mina (g): Yes, what you like. (FG 9)
However, research has shown that boys are generally more physically active and participate more in sports clubs than girls [14
], and in the present study’s sample, only 24% of boys and 6% of girls were physically active enough to meet current PA recommendations [30
]. Moreover, when discussing which sports clubs the adolescents attended, one boy emphasized that dance was something that he liked, as shown below:
Ahmad (b): And dance. Albanian dance.
[The other adolescents burst into laughter.]
Ahmad (b): What? I like it! (FG 4)
Leisure time activities such as dance are commonly viewed as being feminine [35
], and it is possible that boys in the above-quoted group shared that view, which could explain their laughter. From a SDT viewpoint, however, the boy who liked to dance took the opportunity to express his volition and, as such, satisfy his need for autonomy (cf. [18
3.2.2. Variation Makes Physical Activity Fun
The adolescents suggested that it is essential to try different activities until one finds activities that he or she personally enjoys. They also mentioned variation as a way of making PA fun. For example, the adolescents highlighted that they liked PE because it provided them with the opportunity of choosing and trying several different PAs. Traditional teaching in PE supplies pupils with a version of “sports light” [36
], and this kind of variation in PA makes PE fun, as exemplified in one of the focus groups:
Interviewer: How come you like it [PE]?
Grace (g): Because you try different activities. You don’t do the same thing every lesson. (FG 5)
Similarly, in relation to organized sports in sports clubs, the adolescents suggested that it is important to try different sports until you find one that you like, as illustrated by of one of the adolescents:
Jazmin (g): You can try different ones, until you find a sport that you like. (FG 3)
In a similar vein, Martins et al. [3
] showed that autonomy is important in relation to adolescents’ PA engagement. Variation and the opportunity to choose from among different forms of PA relate to the basic need of autonomy [18
]. Because SDT stipulates that satisfying the need for autonomy promotes intrinsic motivation [18
], it makes sense that variation and the opportunity to choose among different PAs promoted the adolescents’ perceptions of fun.
3.2.3. Physical Skills Make Physical Activity Fun
Some of the adolescents mentioned that PA was especially fun when they felt skilled and competent at the activity, which was mentioned in relation to PE, spontaneous PA, and participation in sports clubs. The adolescents stated that they felt competent when they learned new skills and developed their physical abilities. Similarly, some of the adolescent girls mentioned that they liked to play basketball in PE because they were good at it, as seen below:
Interviewer: Is there something else that you would like to do in physical education that you think is more fun?
Kayla (g): No, not really. We girls like to play anything, as long as we’re good at it.
Sara (g): Basketball.
Kayla (g): Yes, girls like to play basketball because they’re skilled at it. (FG 2)
When the adolescents discussed feeling competent, they neither mentioned winning nor focused on performance. Instead, they emphasized the importance of doing their best and having fun, as exemplified in one of the focus groups:
Interviewer: Is it important to win?
Filip (b): No, not as long as you play well.
Malik (b): And have fun.
Filip (b): Then, it’s not important to win.
Malik (b): As long as you have fun. (FG 4)
It is therefore problematic that organized PA, in sports clubs, usually focuses on performance-based results with a win-at-all-costs mentality, and encourages competitive pressure (cf. [37
]) instead of emphasizing doing one’s best and the fun of the activities. In a similar vein, Martins et al. [3
] observed that adolescents characterized a competitive, performance-oriented environment by a lack of fun. Other studies have highlighted that feelings of competence contribute to the experience of fun related to adolescents’ PA [32
]. For instance, Martins et al. [3
] also found that perceived competence was an important factor for adolescents’ PA maintenance, whereas a lack of competence decreased adolescents’ PA over time [3
]. From an SDT-based perspective, it is logical that feelings of competence make PA fun, for SDT stipulates that satisfying the need for competence promotes intrinsic motivation [17
3.2.4. Friends Make Physical Activity Fun
The adolescents mentioned that being physically active together with friends contributed to their sense of fun during PA. Social interaction as an important motivational factor was exemplified in one of the focus groups, as follows:
Interviewer: How is it that you engage in sports?
Caleb (b): To have fun and spend time with friends.
Jamal (b): You can hang out with your friends.
Malik (b): You’re with friends. You play together, you swim together, and you wrestle together. (FG 4)
This finding aligns with the results of several previous studies that have shown that friends are an important part of adolescents’ engagement in PA, and that being physically active with friends makes PA fun [32
]. Being physically active with friends is closely linked to the need for relatedness (cf. [17
]). According to Ryan and Deci [18
], satisfying the need for autonomy and competence promotes intrinsic motivation, whereas satisfying the need for relatedness promotes intrinsic motivation only in a more distal sense. By contrast, several quantitative studies have failed to identify a link between adolescents’ satisfaction of the need for relatedness and autonomous motivation in PA contexts and PE (e.g., [39
]). The present study, however, found support for the notion that satisfying the need for relatedness is important for adolescents’ intrinsic motivation in PA contexts.
Altogether, this theme illustrates that professionals (e.g., teachers, school nurses, health pedagogies, coaches) who work with adolescents should create opportunities for adolescents to engage in PA that they find fun and enjoyable, while also seeking to reduce the competitive and performance-based nature of PA. According to the adolescents, fun and enjoyable PAs offer options and variation (e.g., different activities, options in relation to each activity), opportunities to learn and develop (e.g., new skills, progress in activities that develops existing abilities), and comradery (e.g., activities with friends or classmates). From a SDT-based perspective, it is essential that adolescents’ PA occurs in an environment that supports their need for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (cf. [18
]). It is therefore crucial that professionals in PA contexts provide adolescents with autonomy support, structure, and interpersonal involvement (cf. [19