The role of motor competence in meaningful physical education

For many students motor competence holds a significant role in the meaningfulness (or conversely meaninglessness) of a physical education experience.  However, perhaps equally important to the individual’s actual level of motor competence is their perceived motor competence – what the students themselves imagine or understand their motor competence to be. Students’ experiences of physical education have often been more positive with higher levels of perceived motor competence (Dyson, 1995; Lee, Carter, & Xiang, 1995).  Similarly, low perceptions of motor competence have sometimes resulted in lower levels of enjoyment and an inability to participate satisfactorily in physical education classes (Erhorn, 2014).  Some students have expressed a desire to be “good” at the activity they are being asked to engage in and to be perceived as so by others, for example, peers and teachers (Nilges, 2004).  Students have also often reported higher levels of effort in physical education in association with higher levels of perceived motor competence.

In their study of 285 primary and secondary school students experiencing team invasion games in physical education, Gray, Sproule, and Wang (2008) found that students’ perceptions of their motor competence were influenced by various factors.  Some students seemed to measure their motor competence based on their level of success when executing game skills, which means their perceived motor competence was task-specific. This suggests the importance of providing students with an appropriate level of challenge, as discussed in our previous posts, to ensure participants are able to experience some degree of success when learning new skills.  For other students, their perceptions of their motor competence were influenced more by their social interactions: by their performance relative to that of others in the class, by receiving praise from the instructor, or by negative comments made by classmates (Gray et al., 2008).  Achievement motivation theorists would call this an ego-oriented view of competence. This highlights the necessity of the physical education teacher properly managing appropriate and respectful social interactions in the classroom, as well as providing appropriate and specific feedback to participants regarding their processes and performance.

We suggest it is important for the physical education teacher to consider the importance of, not only each of Kretchmar’s (2006) components for meaningful experiences, but also the interplay between them.  Clearly an individual’s perceived motor competence may be influenced by the challenge of the experience and by the social interactions therein.  Our review of the literature has suggested the same may be true in other instances as well – a topic to which we will return in a future post.

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