Physical Education

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Overview: Self-Determination in 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 organized 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 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.

Suggested Readings & Research


(2021) Teaching and Teacher Education

Self-determination theory in physical education: A systematic review of qualitative studies

Chris Lonsdale

(2020) Journal of Educational Psychology

Self-determination theory applied to physical education: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Chris Lonsdale Richard Ryan Nikos Ntoumanis

(2012) Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Experimentally based, longitudinally designed, teacher-focused intervention to help physical education teachers be more autonomy supportive toward their students

Johnmarshall Reeve

(2019) British Journal of Sports Medicine

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

Chris Lonsdale Nikos Ntoumanis

(2014) Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy

Research on self-determination in physical education: Key findings and proposals for future research

Leen Haerens Maarten Vansteenkiste

(2013) Teaching and Teacher Education

Development and evaluation of a training on need-supportive teaching in Physical Education: Qualitative and quantitative findings

Leen Haerens Maarten Vansteenkiste

(2020)

Facebook group PETCoN (Physical Education Teacher Collaborative Network). An innovative approach to PE teacher in-service training: A self-determination theory perspective

(2020) Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Effects of a school-based intervention on motivation for out-of-school physical activity participation

Nikos Chatzisarantis Martin Hagger

(2012) Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Experimentally based, longitudinally designed, teacher-focused intervention to help physical education teachers be more autonomy supportive toward their students

Johnmarshall Reeve

(2015) BMC Public Health

Increasing children’s physical activity through a teaching-assistant led extracurricular intervention: Process evaluation of the action 3:30 randomised feasibility trial

Simon Sebire

(2015) International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition

Effect and cost of an after-school dance programme on the physical activity of 11–12 year old girls: The Bristol Girls Dance Project, a school-based cluster randomised controlled trial

Simon Sebire

(2018) International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity

Results of a feasibility cluster randomised controlled trial of a peer-led school-based intervention to increase the physical activity of adolescent girls (PLAN-A)

Simon Sebire