The adolescent stage is characterized as being a vital moment of conscious self-discovery, where young people reflect on their own thoughts, maintain their first autonomous experiences with environments that surround and influence them, and where they coexist constantly between the idealization and adaptation of the social norms that surround them [1
]. From a functional point of view, adolescents build beliefs associated with their moral, intellectual, and social development, which are translated into formal thoughts that are the bases of their expectations, desires, and aspirations, but also of their frustrations, fears, and conflicts for adult life.
Within such realities, we must highlight the body image [2
], sentimental relationships [3
], mental health [4
], and gender identity [5
], together with the relationship between the practice of physical or sport activity and physical and psychological health [6
]. Adolescents develop a stable identity, based on beliefs, fruit of both the autonomy with which they learn [7
] and their brain development through decision-making [8
]. This identity is strongly intertwined with psychosocial functioning and well-being.
Hence, the growing importance of how the adolescent’s interaction with their knowledge and experiences in the practice of physical exercise, and their ideas about well-being [9
], suppose elements that guide their responses toward positive or negative evaluations of the same [10
Within such a belief system, psychological well-being is concept centered on the development of capacities that empower the adolescent (eudaimonic) and where the coherent and regular practice of physical exercise allows the improvement of resources, such as self-confidence [12
], mental strength [14
], self-control and self-regulation [16
], interpersonal skills [18
], and emotional adjustment [20
], thereby constituting an ideal context for people who practice sports which is balanced in such young people [22
The lifestyles and thoughts that establish a hedonistic culture (with constant messages in favor of the immediate satisfaction of impulses and desires) do not allow such an equilibrium in terms of well-being to consolidate, which is influenced by maturational stability (personal and social) [24
]. Therefore, the relevance on the "perfect way to achieve things" becomes a factor to be considered in the study of how adolescents act in the face of physical exercise, its establishment as a habit, and its personal value [25
As a specific feature referring to concrete actions and behaviors dominated toward the goal [28
], the study of perfectionism has allowed it to be contemplated as a transdiagnostic feature regarding how expectations and self-evaluations constitute the basis of such functioning, providing adaptive capacities through the functionality of aspects that can be mastered [11
]. In this sense, the benefits that physical activity has on psychological, sociocultural, and cognitive well-being functionalize a large number of mental procedures that allow the modification of behaviors and attitudes that people have toward physical exercise [29
Despite perfectionism being a personal disposition characterized by striving for flawlessness, it has been associated with positive processes and outcomes in the practice of physical activity (e.g., sport-specific engagement) [30
] in both transversal [31
] and longitudinal studies [11
Perfectionism, initially with dysfunctional connotations [32
], is seen as the tendency to set too high and unrealistic goals, adhere rigidly to them, and value oneself in terms of achieving them [27
]. In this way, concepts related to mental capacities of effort and emotional stability appear, which could derive from both functional (e.g., perseverance) and dysfunctional (e.g., obsession) patterns of thought, called perfectionist efforts, and refer to the search for self-imposed goals and standards accompanied by harsh self-criticism. On the other hand, mental patterns defined by the pursuit of demanding standards imposed by and for others, perceived external negative evaluation, and the discrepancy between expectations and performance comprise the so-called perfectionist concerns [35
At present, this functional–dysfunctional approach to perfectionism suggests that perfectionism has positive, dynamic, or adaptive aspects, while it also has negative, limiting, or maladaptive aspects [31
]. Studies reflecting gender in the relationship of practice of physical activity and personality traits determined that girls who were more extraverted and more open to experiences [32
] also showed more perfectionism and stress perception while practicing exercise, compromising their intentions to exercise [10
]. On the contrary, boys were more impulsive, more mentally, structured and sought higher standards (ambitious).
High levels of vitality [39
], adaptive perfectionism [9
], and maladaptive perfectionism [42
] are associated with vigorous PA. Based on the cognitive and behavioral response when we move toward a proposed goal, perfectionist patterns appear to define the importance and demand of these goals (personal standards), how we are going to achieve them (in a planned vs. disordered path), and what resources we are going to rely on to reach them (strengths–efforts vs. weaknesses–concerns) [43
]. Hence, maintaining high levels of exercise involves perfectionist efforts to achieve either by reaching those standards or by not reaching them, as well as by not losing them if they are within reach [44
The maintenance of persevering effort from the intention of practice [45
], a sense of coherence (correspondence with the reasons or goals to be achieved) [46
], and the degree of importance given to it [47
], function as moderators and predictors of the perceptions of health and subjective well-being for those who perform physical exercise. Likewise, physical exercise practiced on a regular basis in adolescence is related to a healthy lifestyle maintained in time and intensity so that its effects are visible and vigorous, thus strengthening self-esteem [48
], the favorable body image [49
], and the positive attitude toward psychological changes [50
]; aspects that are essential in the face of this functional balance toward adult life in the day-to-day of adolescent life as they grow into adults [51
The present methodological proposal intends, with a non-random, descriptive, and inferential design, to establish relationships between physical exercise and psychological well-being, with the aim of finding differential and causal explanations, while taking into account perfectionist patterns in a sample of Spanish adolescents. By trying to improve the functional–dysfunctional explanation of perfectionism [33
], the hypothetical model (Figure 1
) proposes that an increase in the intensity of physical exercise is related to better indicators of psychological well-being, posing the hypotheses that: (a) those adolescents with greater adaptive perfectionism will indicate greater psychological well-being, while those with higher levels of psychological well-being will show less maladaptive perfectionism; (b) adolescents who engage in vigorous physical exercise will show both adaptive perfectionism (functional patterns are activated) and maladaptive perfectionism (activation of dysfunctional patterns); (c) non-vigorous practice will be positively related to maladaptive perfectionism and negatively related to adaptive perfectionism; and (d) a greater importance of physical exercise will be a positive predictor of psychological well-being in adolescents.
The present study attempted to establish relationships between physical exercise and psychological well-being, with the objective of finding differential and causal explanations, taking into account the perfectionist patterns of a sample of Spanish adolescents and the degree of importance they assign to the physical exercise they perform. In addition, the interests and attitudes that the adolescents showed toward physical exercise were initially established, with the purpose of understanding the value of them and their understanding for the indicators of well-being.
In the description of the reasons and interests in the relationships of adolescents with the practice of physical exercise, it was sought to point out different aspects associated with the degree of importance for those who pursue them. Of these, being strong and vigorous or feeling active were the most indicated, reaffirming studies that point to adolescence as the stage where motor competence is consolidated, which is associated with the improvement of healthy aspects, such as weight, cardiorespiratory capacity, and strength [41
]. Such a description contrasts and complements other studies that previously indicated other types of motives, such as those made by Moreno-Murcia, Cervelló, Huéscar, and Llamas [64
] that pointed to fun, being with friends, and a enjoying practice, or that of Gómez-López, Ruiz-Juan, García-Montes, Granero-Gallegos, and Piéron [65
], who showed that there was no single reason to maintain active behavior due to the motivations being of an intrinsic nature, such as pleasure, health, and, most importantly, evasion. Rhodes and Kates [66
] pointed out, after a systematic review, the relevance of affective involvement as the main source of motivation, while others such as Goguen-Carpenter et al. [67
] and Jakobsen and Evjen [68
] highlighted the interest, enjoyment, and feeling of competence as the most important elements for the practice of physical exercise in childhood and adolescence.
Taking into account the value that the sample of adolescents attributed to the intensity of the practice of physical exercise, it was considered appropriate to establish different differential analyses regarding the behavior of the variables vigorous practice and non-vigorous practice, showing greater indicators of perfectionism (both adaptive as maladaptive), psychological well-being, and the degree of importance of the physical exercise they performed [69
]. Such results reflected both the ambiguity of the perfectionist patterns in the perception of physical exercise and the relevance of vigorous activity as a source of well-being (also bearing in mind that this was one of the reasons most noted by the participants).
Although perfectionism maintains a multidimensional nature, the existence of ambivalent patterns is common in its relations with sports practice under constant functionality and dynamism [11
]. Both the functional orientation (which allows one to adapt more effectively and with greater awareness) and the dysfunctional orientation (which orientates the reactivity toward fear and gives greater value to external pressures) feed off a greater intensity in the practice of physical exercise [74
]; the first reaffirms such beliefs of security and focus (e.g., desire, commitment, or audacity), and the second avoids the associated negative symptomatology (e.g., greater anxiety, fear, or low self-esteem) and focuses toward the adolescents’ health [27
As expected, as previous studies on physical exercise and psychological well-being in adolescents have pointed out [6
], self-evaluation regarding how important physical exercise is performed is an adequate predictor of well-being in adolescence [6
]. Precisely, the relevance observed in the present study indicated that the importance attributed to physical exercise was different when it came from the maladaptive perfectionist pattern, although later it was configured to be a positive mediating value toward psychological well-being [11
Teenagers who practiced a little vigorous exercise pointed to a greater inappropriate perfectionism, however patterns based on concerns, doubts, and fears activated the intention to practice physical exercise. With a focus on health conditions, fears and concerns could be established as adequate regulators to generate intentions that promote healthy attitudes [13
These data offer interesting and new ways regarding which type of beliefs have a greater influence on the assessment process of a task, and how this assessment induces changes toward positive and negative tendencies between the relationship of maladaptive perfectionism and well-being [17
]. Other previous works offered similar results, associating psychological well-being with self-oriented perfectionism (to grow on the own perfectionist beliefs), behavioral imbalances, and psychological discomfort alongside prescribed social perfectionism (to grow from what others dictate) [21
Adolescence has been identified as the stage of the life cycle where essential aspects of the character are configured from identification with others. In this stage, functional or dysfunctional resources begin to be discovered, before the more autonomous awakening of psychosocial aspects that determine adult life (e.g., achievement expectations, personal goals, social relationship skills, help behaviors, impulse regulation); dimensions that regulate and motivate the behavior of the individual in the future, and which maintain a direct relationship with an adolescent’s perception of well-being.
The practice of physical activity on a regular basis in school and outside of school is established as both a behavior and a regulating habit of these learning individuals, where a young person with active habits puts into practice such resources through their physical efforts, stimulating basic systems of human functioning (e.g., cerebral, hormonal, social, psychological, identity) and influencing their perceptions about themselves and their surroundings. In this way, they build functional patterns that facilitate individualization of what they deem perfect to achieve objectives, or at least learn to manage different personal strategies that allow them to value their proximity to their goals.
After observing and analyzing the results obtained with detail and rigorous scientific procedure, it is evident that the knowledge of these indicators is important when managing any process of psychological change aimed at improving sports skills. With proper planning and ordering of the different levels of physical exercise, psychological well-being will be affected. The regular practice of physical exercise with considerable intensity (within a balance in terms of effort, intention, and realization) achieves physical improvement and allows the development of more positive perceptions of one’s own image and, as a consequence, of elements such as self-esteem [50
] and well-being. Thus, a positive assessment of physical exercise predicted good indicators of psychological well-being in adolescents who participated, although it would be of great importance to consider whether the assessment of the importance maintained in the long-term (intensity and duration), would generate the same linkage as a transversal study.
This study presents a series of limitations focused on the difficulty of obtaining the permits for data collection; a process that required a considerable temporary cost. In addition, the use of different researchers required a brief preparation session to agree on the application protocol. Accepting that the transversal methodology allows fewer options for generalization when the samples are not very large, the results obtained provide relevant information that will have to be corroborated in future empirical proposals. In spite of this, the obtained data allowed the confirmation of our hypotheses, as well as the obtainment of a design that fit the purposes of this investigation.
Future proposals that arise from the data obtained involve raising concerns about the way to connect adolescents with physical exercise, accepting some individual differentiation in terms of their mental patterns, cognitive styles, and psychosocial responses to physical exertion. In addition, we will consider studies to be suitable that allow adolescents to conceive attitudes to remain active; that is to say, studies based on the conviction of the utility that the practice of physical exercise contributes to well-being and the healthy physical conditions, instead of orienting such experiences of physical activity toward less stable aspects, such as competitiveness or rehabilitation.
Different personal variables (such as self-concept, impulsiveness, search for sensation, mental toughness, etc.) must be considered in future work, as well as resources and psychological skills (such as resilience, self-regulation, or skills with others). In this way, we can know the multidimensional nature of how perfectionism built individually and socially intervenes in the learning of the psychosocial response in adolescents.
At the same time, the establishment of designs that allow contextual differentiation will allow them to be observed under aspects such as gender, social contexts, profiles of teachers, coaches, parents, etc., thus allowing generalization regarding the explanation of established predictive relationships or establishing different contexts for teaching styles or social support in sports practice.
The definition of “perfect and unique paths” to experience well-being should not be the goal of scientific advances; rather the opposite, since this would be exclusive and reductionist. On the contrary, the integration of different strategies and the relationships between variables, from multi-level and multi-causal points of view, will allow interactions of adolescents with the contexts of physical exercise to serve for the functionality of their resources toward an active life and, ultimately, the ability to adapt to understand and interpret their states of effort and welfare.
The WHO has been pointing out for decades that an adequate balance regarding the practice of regular and daily physical exercise allows both physical and psychological benefits. To engage in sport requires a balance between approaching the desired objectives in an ordered and functional way (attitudes which will help to reach objectives) or agonic, doubtful, and dysfunctional (which can cause imbalances when reaching objectives). This will have repercussions on the intention to continue with the mentioned practice, and on the resulting psychological well-being. Athletes and coaches, since adolescence, should have clear processes for the approach and learning of the advances that are generated with the practice of sport. Starting from the structural aspects of teaching and accessibility to sports practice (e.g., competitive vs. recreational orientation and teaching vs. technification), will help to develop perfectionist patterns that allow functionality in the practice of physical exercise, which will in turn influence the intention of practice based on trust, while dysfunctional patterns will be based on a path of doubts, fears, and worries.