Enhancing Motivation in Physical Education: Promoting Intrinsic Motivation, Enhancing Perceived Physical Competence, and Creating a Mastery-Oriented Environment Will Increase Students' Enjoyment of Physical Activity

Article excerpt

Increasing physical activity among all individuals continues to be a national priority due to the positive physical and mental health benefits associated with maintaining an active lifestyle (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). In spite of the interest and concern to increase physical activity for all Americans, daily physical education among high school students dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 1995, and remained stable at that level until 2003 (Grunbaum et al., 2004). Of greater concern is that, when given the opportunity to participate in physical education as an elective course, fewer high school students are choosing to participate (Kolbe, Kann, & Brener, 2001). Experts stress that lifestyle physical-activity habits need to be developed early in life (Sallis & McKenzie, 1991) and that early, positive, physical activity experiences may increase the likelihood of maintaining a physically active lifestyle (Weiss, 2000). Thus, quality physical education programs and effective physical educators play a vital role in providing youngsters with early positive experiences of physical activity. Allied to this positive environment is the need to motivate individuals to initiate and maintain a physically active lifestyle.

A major objective of a quality physical education program is to educate all children and empower them with the skills necessary to enjoy the benefits of regular physical activity for the rest of their lives (Pangrazi, 2001). Physical educators can meet this goal by providing youngsters a physical-activity environment that is structured to increase their motivation to become, and remain, physically active. Several recent reviews have outlined the use of different theoretical frameworks that may prove effective in creating motivationally enhancing physical-activity environments (Kilpatrick, Hebert, & Jacobsen, 2002; Mandigo & Holt, 2000; Valentini, Rudisill, & Goodway, 1999).

The goal here is not to replicate the information from these previous reviews, but to integrate several motivational theories and extend their recommendations by including specific strategies that can be used to enhance motivation in a quality physical education program. Promoting intrinsic motivation, enhancing perceived physical competence, and creating a mastery-oriented physical-activity environment are three key areas that have been identified as important components of physical activity motivation, and they will be used as a framework for the current discussion. Due to the developmental nature of children, the following guidelines are limited to strategies that can be incorporated into elementary and middle school physical education classes. It is hoped that these strategies will increase the odds that even the least motivated student will be "turned on" to physical activity and be more likely to engage in physical activity in the future.

Promoting Intrinsic Motivation

One of the primary reasons youngsters participate in physical activity and sports is for the sheer enjoyment they experience while moving and interacting with their peers. Youngsters have an innate desire to be active, and it is the responsibility of the physical education specialist to fuel these desires. The concept of promoting intrinsic motivation--the motivation to engage in an activity for sheer pleasure and satisfaction--has often been examined in the context of physical education (Biddle, 2001; Kilpatrick et al., 2002). Experts agree that intrinsically motivated youngsters are more likely to perceive their physical activity experiences as positive, thus leading them closer to a physically active lifestyle (Weiss, 2000). The following recommendations can be used to enhance children's intrinsic motivation and thereby keep them engaged in physical activity.

To increase intrinsic motivation it is important to allow students the freedom to make choices during physical education. …