Doctoral Dissertations

Orcid ID

Paula-Marie M. Ferrara - missing image.gif

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Kelley Strohacker

Committee Members

Scott E. Crouter, Rebecca A. Zakrajsek, Pamela S. Angelle


Experts recommend physical activity promotion to preserve former high school athletes’ (FHSAs) post-sport transition quality. Specific understanding regarding behavioral changes over time after retirement is unknown and necessary for program development. The purpose of this mixed methods study was to document temporal changes to exercise behavior, perceived fitness, and identity in FHSAs, understand their exercise experiences over time, and explain why observed changes occurred. Methods: Participants completed eight online surveys from the beginning of their college fall to spring semesters. Questions assessed bodyweight, perceived fitness (Likert scale 1-5), aspects of self-reported exercise, perceived barriers (Likert scale 1-5), and identity (Likert scale 1-7). Quantitative analyses included hierarchical mixed modeling procedures, idiographic visual analysis, and calculation of intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) to determine within-person response consistency over time. A subsample completed a personalized, semi-structured interview incorporating their survey data. Resultant qualitative data underwent thematic analysis. Results: Thirty-five participants (85.4% retention, 28 women, 18±0 years) completed the survey portion of the study. At the group level, no statistically significant changes were observed in the primary outcomes. However, idiographic assessments revealed considerable intra-individual variation, with most variables demonstrating “poor”-“fair” consistency (ICC .271-.654). Only bodyweight (ICC=.987), athlete identity (ICC=.788), and exercise identity (ICC=.898) exhibited “good”-“excellent” consistency. Fourteen individuals completed interviews, yielding five themes: adapting to transition, from “athlete” to “athletic exerciser”, motivational determinants to exercise, within-person pre-condition, and environment. Discussion: While group level findings indicated participants maintained relatively high levels of exercise, identity, and ‘good’ perceptions of fitness, noted variability suggests average values were not representative of individuals’ responses. Such variation in exercise behavior seems indicative of general college freshmen and was explained by participants’ time devoted to schoolwork, exercise-specific social supports in college, and COVID-19 restrictions. While FHSAs’ sports backgrounds provided a degree of exercise-related competence and ability to self-regulate behavior, they struggled with balancing fitness losses and expectations. Further, while past research implies identity is an antecedent to exercise, a cyclical relationship was conceptualized from participants’ qualitative data. Future directions should explore this relationship further, other former athlete populations’ behavior, and ways of nurturing FHSA’s exercise-related competence and self-regulatory capacity.

Available for download on Thursday, August 15, 2024

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