Girls on the Run: Impact of a physical activity youth development program on psychosocial and behavioral outcomes

Maureen R. Weiss, Lindsay E. Kipp, Alison Phillips Reichter, Sarah M. Espinoza, Nicole D. Bolter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: Girls on the Run is an after-school physical activity-based positive youth development program designed to enhance girls’ social, psychological, and physical development. We evaluated the effectiveness of the program by employing a longitudinal design and mixed methods. Methods: Girls (N = 203; aged 8–11 y) completed survey measures of positive youth development constructs (competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring), physical activity, and sedentary behavior prior to, at the end of, and 3 months after the season. Subsamples of girls, coaches, caregivers, and school personnel participated in focus groups. Coaches completed information about their team’s community impact project and number of girls who completed the season-ending 5k. Results: The full sample improved in confidence and connection, whereas girls who started below the preseason average showed the greatest gains from preseason to postseason on all measures, and scores were maintained or continued to improve at follow-up. All stakeholders in focus groups corroborated evidence of season-long improvement in social and emotional behaviors and health outcomes. Involvement in the community impact project contributed to girls’ growth in character and empathy skills. Conclusion: Findings provide empirical evidence that Girls on the Run is effective in promoting positive youth development, including season-long and lasting change in competence, confidence, connection, character, caring, and physical activity, especially among girls who exhibited lower preseason scores than their peers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-340
Number of pages11
JournalPediatric exercise science
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by a grant awarded to the first author by Reemprise Fund, Foundation for the Carolinas. The authors thank Hailee Moehnke for valuable assistance with data collection, entry, and analysis; Rebecca Nelson, Lauren Wakabayashi, and Jill Kochanek for survey data entry; Sonali Rajan for data collection; and Emilio Ferrer for statistical advice. We are very grateful to Girls on the Run International for enabling us to conduct a study of this magnitude and for constant support and trust in our work. We give a special shout-out to Allie Riley, Senior Vice President of Programming and Evaluation, who served as a liaison with councils and facilitated our research efforts. We are thankful to the council directors, coaches, school personnel, and caregivers for their investment of time in our study. Finally, we are indebted to all the girls who completed surveys, participated in focus groups, and shared their experiences in Girls on the Run, which reinforced our desire and life’s work to make a difference in young girls’ lives.


  • Children
  • Community program
  • Evaluation research
  • Out-of-school time

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

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