While there are many studies out there that examine the general intrinsic motivation for physical activity, little research has been done on emotions as a crucial factor in understanding student motivation in a PE setting.23 Nov 2023
Analyzing Students' Emotional Experiences in Physical Education
June 26, 2022
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While there are many studies out there that examine the general intrinsic motivation for physical activity, little research has been done on emotions as a crucial factor in understanding student motivation in a PE setting. By considering the students’ subjective emotional experiences, a more holistic understanding of physical activity behavior change and why students are not getting enough daily physical activity can be better understood.
The levels of physical activity in school-aged children
In Germany, only 22.4% of girls and 29.4% of boys aged 3 to 17 reach the WHO guideline of physical activity, and their physical activity significantly decreases from age 3 to 17. Therefore, a deeper understanding of emotions among students during physical activity will better inform what is triggering their regular physical activity during leisure time. In addition, the control-value theory of learning and achievement emotions serves as an appropriate and established theoretical framework, as it presents antecedents and outcomes of emotions in school settings.
The benefits of perceived autonomy supports in student self-efficacy
The sample consisted of 1030 student participants between 11 and 18 years who attended Grades 6 to 10 of the German Mittelschule, which is a type of school with the lowest educational level among secondary schools in Germany. 408 participants were female (39.6%), and 622 participants were male (60.4%). Whether or not the PE teacher was perceived to be providing cognitive autonomy and organizational autonomy supports positively predicted students’ academic self-efficacy in PE.
Furthermore, the students’ academic self-efficacy in PE positively predicted their enjoyment in PE, which had a negative effect on their anxiety in PE. The intrinsic value that students identified in PE also positively predicted students’ enjoyment and negatively predicted their anxiety.
The students’ enjoyment in PE was a positive predictor of their physical activity during leisure time.
Finally, perceived cognitive autonomy support provided by the PE teacher positively predicted students’ physical activity in leisure time via students’ PE-related academic self-efficacy, intrinsic value, enjoyment and anxiety.
Creating positive emotional experiences
If students are provided the opportunity to influence their learning environment, they tend to have higher action-control expectancies and assign more relevance to their PE class. PE can be seen as a potentially powerful platform for the promotion of leisure-time physical activity, especially if it is conducted in a way that evokes regular positive achievement emotions in students while keeping negative ones on a minor level. This study suggests a substantial potential of emotional experiences in PE as a powerful predictor of physical behavior outside of school.
“Positive emotional experiences in PE could be seen as a main factor to increase physical activity in a lifelong perspective and could thus help students to improve their overall health.”
“PE teachers have the opportunity to create positive emotional experiences for students and to reduce the experience of negative emotions by use of autonomy-supportive teaching strategies.”
“PE exhibits the potential to affect students’ thoughts and feelings related to PE in leisure time and thus is a promising starting point for children and adolescents with regard to an active lifestyle in the long term.”
As special educators, we tend to focus on our students’ core subjects. We may easily forget the importance of PE and how emotions can play a big role in their motivation to do well in their physical activity. The findings of this study allow me to attend to the students’ emotional experience during physical activity in recess and PE classes. It will also allow me to use autonomy-supportive teaching strategies by considering the environment and creating opportunities in the classroom for physical activities they enjoy.
Zimmermann, J.; Tilga, H.; Bachner, J.; Demetriou, Y. The Effect of Teacher Autonomy Support on Leisure-Time Physical Activity via Cognitive Appraisals and Achievement Emotions: A Mediation Analysis Based on the Control-Value Theory. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2021, 18, 3987. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18083987