Student Motivation in Physical Education: Breaking Down Barriers; Student Motivation in Physical Education Typically Declines after the Early Years. Why? and What Can Be Done about It?

By Mowling, Claire M.; Brock, Sheri J. et al. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 2004 | Go to article overview

Student Motivation in Physical Education: Breaking Down Barriers; Student Motivation in Physical Education Typically Declines after the Early Years. Why? and What Can Be Done about It?


Mowling, Claire M., Brock, Sheri J., Eiler, Kim K., Rudisill, Mary E., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Students in kindergarten appear to be propelled by curiosity and driven by an intense need to explore. They are willing to interact with and make sense of their environment. Rarely does one hear complaints that preschoolers are unmotivated in physical education (Lumsden, 1994). Unfortunately, in many cases, students begin losing interest in physical education as they progress through school. A fundamental requirement for developing a successful physical education program is to interest and motivate students to learn the intended objectives. Motivation is defined as "the collection of causes that engage someone in an activity" (Wakefield, 1996, p. 494). In order to better understand the decline in students' motivation with regard to physical education, the authors extensively explored the literature and undertook observations of physical education programs at the elementary (K-4) and middle school (5-8) levels. The intention was to develop a better understanding of the practical application of previous motivational research. As graduate teaching assistants at the schools, several of the authors were in an excellent position to observe and interact with the students.

The rural elementary school that was studied consists of approximately 900 students and is located in the southeast United States. The average physical education class has about 75 students with two certified teachers and two aides. The facilities are new, with ample equipment and supplies for each student. The middle school in the same school system has approximately 550 students. The average class has between 90 and 100 students and three certified teachers. The facilities are outdated, with inadequate equipment and supplies for each student. Observations and interactions with the students for 12 hours a week for 15 weeks revealed that many students in grades three, four, seven, and eight were noticeably inactive in the lessons and constantly complained that physical education was boring. Consequently, the authors decided to explore this motivational phenomenon from kindergarten through middle school. The physical education teachers gave permission to have their classes observed and their students interviewed in an attempt to identify barriers to motivation. The interviews and observations led to the identification of barriers related to the following factors: intrinsic motivation, extrinsic rewards, the teacher, the curriculum, the administration, and the school setting. The purpose of this article is to provide definitions associated with each identified barrier to motivation, discuss observations of the possible causes of these barriers, and offer helpful suggestions with relevant examples. It is hoped that this information will help practitioners to break down barriers and encourage student motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

The first potential barrier to motivation relates to the intrinsic motivation of students. A problem arises in the uniqueness of each individual because what motivates one student to learn may not motivate another (Rink, 1998). Therefore, involvement for some may become an unpleasant task, and any intrinsic motivation to participate is lost. Intrinsically motivated students undertake an activity for its enjoyment or challenge (Lepper, 1988). External benefits and rewards are not needed to encourage motivation (Kilpatrick, Hebert, & Jacobsen, 2002). Through interviews and observations from the elementary and middle schools, the authors attempted to identify the possible reasons for the lack of intrinsic motivation.

Elementary School. When asked about physical education, third grade students made such comments as, "I don't like it. It's boring every time," and "I don't like it that much because I don't like exercises. I just like the fun days." Students appeared to make a connection between exercising and not having fun. The students expressed boredom and dislike during exercises. Student statements suggest a lack of intrinsic motivation during physical education.

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Student Motivation in Physical Education: Breaking Down Barriers; Student Motivation in Physical Education Typically Declines after the Early Years. Why? and What Can Be Done about It?
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