Self-Determination Through Circus Arts: Exploring Youth Development in a Novel Activity Context


  • Jennifer P. Agans Pennsylvania State University
  • Jacqueline L. Davis University of British Columbia
  • Spyridoula Vazou Iowa State University
  • Tal Jarus University of British Columbia



out-of-school time, positive youth development, youth circus, self-determination, physical activity


Youth development takes place in many contexts, with different resulting participant outcomes. Broadening the scope of research to include non-traditional contexts such as youth circus arts programs, which are both similar to and different from other out-of-school-time contexts, may promote better understanding of the ways in which these programs impact youth development. The present study examined the prevalence of support for basic psychological needs and positive developmental outcomes among youth circus program participants. Single time-point quantitative surveys were completed by 111 youth members of the American Youth Circus Organization (62% female), ranging in age from 10 to 21. Results indicated psychological need support predicted positive developmental outcomes. Relatedness was the strongest predictor of intrinsic motivation, affect, and positive youth development. This study illustrates a novel way in which physical activity and youth development can be integrated in youth programs. It contributes to the understanding of youths’ self-determined motivation in physical activities and points to the importance of examining under-studied youth activity contexts such as circus arts.


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