Physical Education

Children inherently love to move. Thus, sport and physical activity can provide intrinsically rewarding experiences that also provide many physical, psychological and social benefits. Teaching a physical education lesson, however, presents unusual motivational challenges. In contrast to organised recreational sport participation and unstructured play, in which children (usually) can decide whether or not to participate, or at least which activity they want to do, physical education lessons lessons are often mandatory. This requirement to attend physical education lessons can undermine students’ intrinsic interest. Also, in physical education lessons, students’ displays (and by extension, evaluations) of competence are typically public, whereas in academic lessons one’s performance is often relatively more covert.

For several decades, researchers have been using self-determination theory to understand students’ motivation processes in physical education. In recent years, this research has increasingly focused on methods that teachers can use to enhance student motivation. Randomized controlled trials of SDT-based interventions have shown that teachers can learn to better support students’ psychological needs during physical education lessons, and this support has multiple benefits for teachers and students.

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Vasconcellos, D.Parker, P.Hilland, T.Cinelli, R. (2019) Self-determination theory applied to physical education: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology,

Cheon, S. H., Reeve, J.Moon, I. S. (2012) Experimentally based, longitudinally designed, teacher-focused intervention to help physical education teachers be more autonomy supportive toward their students. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 34(3) ,365-396

Lonsdale, C.Lester, A.Owen, K. B.White, R. L. (2019) An internet-supported school physical activity intervention in low socioeconomic status communities: results from the Activity and Motivation in Physical Education (AMPED) cluster randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53(6) ,341-347

Van de Berghe, L., Vansteenkiste, M.Cardon, G.Kirk, D. (2014) Research on self-determination in physical education: Key findings and proposals for future research. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 1 ,97-121

Aelterman, N., Vansteenkiste, M.Van Keer, H.De Meyer, J. (2013) Development and evaluation of a training on need-supportive teaching in Physical Education: Qualitative and quantitative findings. Teaching and Teacher Education, 29 ,64-75

Chris Lonsdale,
 PhD, Phys Ed Editor

Chris is the Program Leader of the Motivation & Behaviour Research Program at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at Australian Catholic University. His research examines the motivational underpinnings of behavior in a variety of contexts, including education, healthcare, and physical activity. His most recent and important contributions have centered on the application of motivational theory to promote health behaviors that enhance well-being. His work includes six large-scale randomized controlled trials of theory-based interventions.