Friday, October 15, 2010

Motivating Positive Behaviors and Attitudes

Participation in a physical education class can be influenced by a number of factors. Some children are ready and eager to try every activity. And some children seem unwilling to try any. Understanding what motivates these behaviors can help physical education teachers to connect with the children they teach and encourage participation.

Let’s take the example of Kate and Robin who are both in the ninth grade. Kate is an eager participant and readily takes on challenges. She isn’t deterred by her failures and enjoys participating in the different activities. Robin doesn’t appear to enjoy physical education and avoids participating if possible, even though she is quite capable. When she does participate, she chooses either simple tasks or impossible challenges to ensure the easy success or assured failure. Although it is tempting to focus on only Robin’s needs in this scenario, it is important to not neglect Kate. It is the extremes of these two girls that illustrate the challenge that faces physical education teachers: what is the best way to address the differing needs of students?

We’ll start with an achievement motivation assessment profile of each student. Kate clearly shows that she is task-oriented. Task-oriented individuals are focused on learning and improving. For Kate, failures are not a problem because the point is not to win: the point is to work on getting better and have fun. Without the pressure of always succeeding, Kate enjoys physical education. Robin, on the other hand, is ego-oriented. Ego-oriented individuals are focused on performing better or equal to their peers. For Robin, failures are unacceptable risks because the point is to win or to always perform a task successfully. This means that the pressure is always on to succeed and consequently Robin is not able to enjoy athletic activities. Although ego-orientation can work under some circumstances, it’s not working for Robin because she doesn’t believe she can succeed if challenged. To have a more positive experience, Robin needs to become more task-oriented like Kate is. Not only would Robin be more successful, she would also have more fun.

The challenge now is how to encourage task-oriented behavior in both girls. The answer is by changing the motivational climate. Ames and Archer (1988, as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008) defined motivational climate as people’s perceptions of the goal structure and is a function of the group goals, underlying reward system, interactions among group members, and individual interpretation of the specific social structure. In simple terms: what goals and behaviors are rewarded? Rather than having winning or success be the behaviors primarily rewarded, the emphasis needs to be on learning and effort. Mastery climate is more likely to encourage self-referenced improvement and effort (Wang, Woon Chia, Chatzisarantis, & Lim, 2010). In creating an environment that rewards task-oriented behaviors, both girls will be encouraged: Kate to continue on her path and Robin to change her focus from comparing herself to others.

Part of implementing this change in climate is going to involve setting more personal goals for each girl. Kate may already be setting personal goals like improving her volleyball serve, but talking with her on an individual basis can help reinforce these goals and the goal-setting behavior. Robin will need a little more help setting goals for herself. And in the beginning the goals may need to be short-term goals that she can accomplish in a single practice session to boost her self-confidence. Then as she advances she can set more long term personal goals. Both students should be rewarded for their efforts with verbal praise or other rewards that the girls find motivating.

Although it may seem that Kate and Robin’s needs are at odds with each other, there is a solution that addresses both of their needs. By encouraging task-oriented behavior within a mastery climate, both girls will receive the encouragement that they need to be successful and enjoy physical education.


Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise
     (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Wang, J., Woon Chia, L., Chatzisarantis, N., & Lim, C. (2010). Influence of
     perceived motivational climate on achievement goals in physical education: A
     structural equation mixture modeling analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise
     Psychology, 32 (3), 324-338. Retrieved from SPORTDiscus with Full
     Text database.


  1. As you already mentioned I believe it is important not ignore Kate's needs in favor of Robin's alone, we should devote equal time for each student.

    Using task-oriented behavior techniques we should be able to give both students the motivation needed to continue or increase their participation levels. This will occur because we will shift the focus away from winning and losing; towards improving their skill and to having fun. I also like how you plan on using goal setting techniques to help facilitate their transformation from complete opposites, to both being goal-oriented participants.

  2. Well done. I consider your point of view quite convincing. It’s obvious the two girls will need to be encouraged differently, however by simply implementing a task-oriented mastery climate within the physical education setting the two will be able to receive increased enjoyment with physical activity. I do believe by teaching Robin in this type of environment she will be encouraged to improve her attitude and will be able to change her focus. Also, Kate will be allowed to keep on her path and be able to concentrate on improving her skills as well.

  3. Jevon, I really liked your evaluation of the two girls. I agree that the activities the girls are participating in should not be focused on winning and losing. It's clear that the team games the girls are participating in now are not having desired effects, so changing the atmosphere really could have significant effects on Robin's participation level without effecting Kate's own personal enjoyment.