Sport Psychology Research Paper Starter

Sport Psychology

(Research Starters)

This article addresses the use of sport psychology theory and applications in physical education. The National Association of Sport and Physical Education provides national content standards to guide physical educators and administrators in the development of curricula that focus on students' development of motor skill, motivation to engage in and continue physical activity both in and out of the classroom, and social and personal responsibility. Motivation and social and personal responsibility are areas of physical education that can be addressed through the use of sport psychology. Achievement Goal Theory provides a framework for understanding students' personal conceptions of ability and how that definition may affect the students' motivation to engage in a particular task/activity, put forth effort in learning or performing the task, and persist at participating in the task or activity. Using this theory as a guide, physical education teachers can use sport psychology to structure the motivational climate of their classes in a manner to influence the students' personal conception of ability by focusing class activities on an individual, self-referenced learning or competitive, other-referenced performance. Meeting the national standards is important as physical education programs are in danger of falling victim to state and local budget cuts in the public school system.

Keywords Achievement Goal Theory; Character Development; Ego / Performance Orientation; Moral Development; Motivation; Motivational Climate; National Standards; Task / Mastery Orientation; Sport Psychology


Sport psychology can be defined as psychological kinesiology or "the study of the psychological aspects of human movement" (Feltz & Kontos, 2002, p. 5). This definition may be considered broad; however, due to the wide spectrum of sub-disciplines that fall under the umbrella of kinesiology / sport and exercise science, different psychological theories and applications may be appropriately applied to each sub-discipline. Sport psychology, within the context of physical education, involves the application of psychological principles to the learning and teaching methods that are employed in the classroom in order to help motivate students to participate in the physical activities and to utilize these skills to engage in healthy behaviors outside of the classroom setting.

Sport psychology is important to the field of physical education in that components of sport psychology theory and practice can be used to meet curricula standards and learning objectives. The National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) has set forth recommended content standards for teaching and learning in physical education (NASPE, 2007). The six national standards provide a framework to guide state and local school administration in the development of physical education curricula (NASPE, 2007). Physical education standards are becoming more important as many state departments of education are no longer requiring physical education as part of the public school curriculum or school districts are making budget cuts and reducing the number of physical education teachers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a 2011 survey found that only 31% of U.S high school students had daily physical education classes, and only 29% had taken part in at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity in the preceding seven days. Therefore, the National Standards for Physical Education are important not only for guiding curriculum development, but to also demonstrate the purpose of physical education and its academic merit and value as a component of education.

The national standards propose six competencies that a physically educated person demonstrates. Four of the six standards can be directly encouraged by the application of sport psychology theories and techniques to teaching. These four standards address students' 1) Regular engagement in physical activity, 2) Achievement and maintenance of physical fitness that enhances health, 3) Responsible social and personal behavior, and 4) An understanding of the value of physical activity (NASPE, 2007). The use of sport psychology in teaching can assist physical educators in meeting the challenges set forth by the national standards. Without the tools and ability to make steps toward achieving these standards, students are more susceptible to becoming obese, uneducated about how to make healthy lifestyle choices, and are not provided opportunities to discover enjoyable lifetime physical activities. In addition, physical education can enhance other aspects of a student's education, including problem solving (Thorburn & MacAllister, 2013).


Motivation is a key component necessary for a student to be an active and engaged participant in physical education classes and invested in committing to a physically active lifestyle. Within the physical education context, motivation can be defined as why an individual participates in and persists at engaging in a particular activity or set of behaviors (Weiss & Ferrer-Caja, 2002). Achievement Goal Theory has been used as a framework for exploring motivation in the regular classroom since the 1980's (e.g., Ames & Archer, 1988; Nicholls, 1984, 1989) and since the 1990's in the physical education domain (e.g., Treasure, 1997) (Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999; Todorovich & Model, 2005; Treasure & Roberts, 1995; Halvari, Skjesol, & Bagoien, 2011). Achievement Goal Theory addresses the relationship between effort and ability in an achievement setting. The relationship between effort and ability is specific to each individual and determines if the student adopts a task/mastery-orientation or ego / performance-orientation. Within the context of physical education, a student who is task/mastery-oriented, judges his or her ability through self-referenced evaluation and feels successful when he or she puts forth more effort toward an activity or performance (Treasure & Roberts, 1995). The task-oriented student will choose challenging tasks and display greater persistence than those students who are ego / performance-oriented. Ego-oriented students focus on ability and view success as displaying superior ability (as compared to others) in completing a task or performing a skill. Ego-oriented individuals tend to avoid challenging tasks and do not persist as long as those students who are task-oriented (Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999; Treasure & Roberts, 1995). These variations or differing goal orientations are attributed to individual differences and situational factors (Papaioannou, Milosis, Kospidou, & Tsigilis, 2007). Ntoumanis, Thoeersen-Ntoumani, and Taylor (2012) found that coach and peer climates focused on task rather than ego produced more adaptive outcomes.

Achievement Goal Theory provides a lens for looking at student motivation in the physical education setting or situation; however, the application of this theory to the classroom setting is addressed through the concept and application of motivational climate. The development and introduction of the concept of motivational climate was not introduced until the late 1980's and early 1990's through the research and theory development conducted by Ames, Nicholls, Dweck and Leggett (Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999; Todorovich & Model, 2005). The motivational climate, as it relates to the classroom setting, can be defined as the social climate that is created by important social factors (e.g., the teacher) as it relates to perspectives on achievement (Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999; Treasure & Roberts, 1995). Researchers have suggested that a student's dispositional goal orientation or goal involvement (i.e., task/mastery or ego/performance) in combination with the social climate will determine the meaning of achievement and affect behavioral patterns in the educational setting (Ntoumanis & Biddle, 1999). A task/mastery orientation is fostered through the development of a classroom motivational climate that focuses on self-improvement and acquiring skill; whereas a climate that focuses on comparing oneself to others' performances and ability fosters an ego/performance-involvement or orientation. Through the development of a task-oriented motivational climate, physical education teachers can effectively work toward developing and attaining students who meet the national standards related to the motivation to engage in physical activity and to achieve, maintain, and value physical fitness.

Sport psychology concepts and application to physical education can also be used in the development of students who meet the national standard of becoming socially and personally responsible. Since the 1970's researchers, practitioners, and theorists have examined and argued for the use of physical education as domain ripe for...

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