How Motivational Climate research might be used by teachers and coaches to positively influence children’s experiences in sport

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Children have a very important place in the sporting world. It has been suggested that children “are the most numerous participants because of popularity in schools” (Prytherch, 1989, pg. 3), therefore sport has a role to play in the growth of personality, self-confidence, and in wider context of education.

Physical activity is an important part of a healthy child. It has physical, psychological and social benefits. Regular physical activity improves children’s mental health and contributes to growth and development. This results in increased self-esteem and perceived physical competence which are necessary variables that enable children to cope with mental stress and anxiety. Improvements in discipline, academic performance and self concept are benefits associated with regular physical activity.

Consequently motivation plays a huge part in the improvement and self drive within a child to be successful in these areas. It can be defined as “the internal mechanisms and external stimuli, which arouse and direct behaviour” (James et al, 2000, pg. 147). It is important for teachers to locate these behaviours within motives in order to positively influence children’s experiences of sport.

Roberts, Spink & Pemberton (1999) suggested that a recent matter to utilize in sport psychology is the enhancement of motivation and the prevention of drop outs or unpleasant experiences in sport. This can be closely linked to Atkinson’s (1964) achievement motivation theory. In this study Atkinson (1964, citied in James

Thompson & Wiggins, 1999. pg. 2) refers the theory, as to one’s contact with the environment and the aspiration to be successful. People have a need to achieve or a need to avoid failure when placed in certain situations (Cox, 1998). As a result of this theory, it seems that choosing the correct environment, for which the child learns in, is a vital element of increasing motivation.

Psychologists have undertaken research into the notion of the teaching environment; this can also be acknowledged as the motivational climate. Rink (1993) suggests “Physical Education classes should be characterised by an environment that is conductive to learning, P.E areas should be places where students can have positive experiences” (1993, citied in Bailey 2001.pg. 39), this learning experience focuses on motivation as determined by the alleged motivational climate that the persons in charge of the teaching session create. Therefore this area of study focuses on the learning experience within situational demands rather than dispositional demands (Roberts, Spink & Pemberton, 1999).

Motivational climate can improve common quandaries that young children often face in physical education. Anxiety, sources of enjoyment and perceived competence are just some of the problems that children come across. Anxiety is a “negative feeling caused by an increase in arousal levels when a performer is faced with a situation in which they feel threatened,” (James, Thompson & Wiggins, 2000. pg. 19) One way to in which motivational climate can reduce this, is by giving feedback on which weaknesses that children have. Also a teacher, who works in a democratic leadership style, can often make a child feel more relaxed and comfortable in a situation.

The enjoyment of a child can also be altered in a motivational climate. Some children may only participate, simply because they enjoy beating their peers. By using the correct climate students can develop a personal understanding for their improvements and achievements they have made.

Perceived competence involves the notion of self-efficacy. Children frequently doubt their physical abilities in sporting situations; this is often due to pressure placed upon them. Harter (1978) developed a theory stating “to satisfy the urge to be competent in an achievement area such as sport, the person attempts mastery” (1978, as citied in Cox, 1998. pg. 245). Mastery attempts include focusing on skills, and setting goals for one’s self. Successful mastery attempts within a motivational climate can promote confidence and feelings of personal competence. (Cox, 1998). Therefore children who can correctly asses their own ability feel more in control which enhances motivation in other challenging activities. Anxiety, enjoyment, and competence, are all dependant on a child’s personality.

Within the situational demands or physical activity settings, Nicholls suggested that individuals vary in their dispositional task and ego orientations (1989, as citied in Weinberg & Gould, 1999. pg. 61). Task orientation can be “where a person can be primarily interested in demonstrating ability in sense of improving one’s knowledge” (Ford, 1992, pg. 114) and to reach the goals they are trying to achieve, by setting standards against themselves instead of others. Ego orientation however, “in which a person is primarily interested in demonstrating ability in the sense of doing better that other people” (Ford, 1992, pg. 114) for example it concentrates on personal achievement to be more superior to others, and show instinctive drives to win. Researchers have used many questionnaires to identify the individual differences of ego or task personalities (Duda, 1998) within a classroom setting.

One of which is the Task and Ego Orientation in Sport Questionnaire (TEOSQ) created by Nicholls and Duda. It generates two impacts of teaching climates, relating to goals, tasks, and reward orientations suited to the two personalities, these being mastery climate and the performance climate. If the individuals are likely to be ego orientated, physical activity environment is characterised by interpersonal competition, social comparison, and the teacher will emphasise outcomes and winning, therefore performance climate will exist. However if the individual is task orientated, learning is characterised by mastering skills, trying hard; doing your best, and feedback is given privately by the teacher, consequently a mastery performance exists.

As a teacher, an ultimate goal is to mould skills and talent into a winning combination. When children walk into the classroom, or playing field they are entering a situation, atmosphere or tone. This has an effect on their consciousness – it can manipulate a number of motivational structures (Epstein, 1989 as citied in Roberts, Spink, Pemberton 1999. pg 164). The structures consist of task, authority, reward and evaluation. Each of these structures have to be carefully considered in both mastery and performance climate.

Authority is very much dependent on the teacher. Children have very little control over authority. “Capel, Kelly and Whitehead have argues that physical education teachers need to be confident, authoritative and clearly in control of the situation” (1997, as citied in Bailey, 2001, pg. 43). this would seem acceptable in a performance learning climate, as the teacher dictates what the children to do, and when to do it. However, this could be strongly unacceptable for a mastery climate. The environment is of a more democratic nature. A teacher will encourage the group to discuss ideas and become involved in the decision making process. Generally the teacher can be more relaxed and create a relationship with students in order to give qualitative feedback.

Interpersonal relationships between teacher and student can play a huge part in the mastery climate process. This can only be characterised by reciprocated respect. Bailey (2001) suggest that teachers need to plan and monitor development of their student in order to gain admiration (Bailey, 2001). A straight-forward motive can be learning people’s names. This can reveal that a teacher can see their students as individuals; this denotes the idea that they have noted their unique techniques, thus enhancing their motivation.

Rewards and evaluation are typically offered if children can meet the standards of showing superior ability and winning in a mastery climate. Teachers can use tangible rewards such as sweets or presents to motivate children to succeed. In a mastery climate a teacher can adopt a more intrinsic style when giving rewards. Praise and approval can show that a child is improving, mastering the skills, or even collaborating with team.

The structures of the climate can only be lucrative when the teachers can have a strong sense of purpose in their lessons. Teachers need to give the impression that they are in control of the climate, that time must not be squandered, and nothing ought to hinder with the learning process of the students. Bailey believes that it should be structured in a “businesslike style presentation” (Bailey, 2001), which will allow the students to enter the P.E lessons as thoroughly planned and well thought-out accordingly.

Research has been carried out to prove that a mastery climate is the best learning environment for children to participate in. Treasure and Roberts (1995) carried out research on children in the middle school of a large city in Britain. Two groups were placed in, and taught into the two different climate types. A robust pattern of results came into view. The task orientation had a higher enjoyment in learning, had a more perceived competence, and a lower anxiety. This teaching environment related with social and adaptive attitudes about sport partaking. In contrast, an ego orientation it was noted that the group had decreased enjoyment, had lower perceived competence, and higher anxiety. The teaching environment correlated with negative social views and achievement beliefs about sport involvement. The results suggested that a mastery orientation is more likely to encourage positive cognitive and affective patterns of beliefs in competitive sport during youth in physical education (Roberts, Spink and Pemberton, 1999)

Treasure and Roberts clearly demonstrate not only that it is possible to construct a mastery involving climate, but also that children can blossom in such environment. As a result of the research, it suggests teachers need to accentuate a mastery climate to enhance positive attitudes in physical education. Epstein (1989) motivational structures to mastery climate need to be carefully considered.

Tasks, authority and reward ought to be focused on personal improvement of mastering a skill. Here children will make judgements or their own ability. For example research by Nicholls (1989) has shown that tasks with variety and range of activities are more likely to create positive motivation, in its place of those that involve all children undertaking the same skill (1989 as citied in Roberts, Spink, Pemberton, 1999. pg. 164). With this in mind children can adopt an idea of their own capability that is not reliant on social evaluation.

Motivational climate, and its two climates, mastery and performance could be put into dispute. It could be argued that not all children have dominant task or ego attributes, which could make the teaching and choosing of the climates difficult to distinguish. This disagreement could be related to Nicholls theory of achievement goal orientations which plays an important part in his motivation theory. Research on goal orientation has exposed, that individuals who are highly task orientated may also be highly ego orientated, or have varying characteristics of one or the other (Cox, 1998). A paramount combination of the two orientations would be most suitable for that of an active child taking part in physical education. Surely then a child with both can show signs of prominent motivation and perceived ability.

Another argument towards motivational climate could be its use of performance climate. At a young age in sport, having social comparison within learning could be particularly harmful to children, thus de-motivating the child. A child would need to prove its superiority at all times, if this isn’t achieved it could have serious side affects to an individuals ability. Therefore it can be recommended to use mastery climate in order to reverse the effects on which a performance environment could create (Cox, 1998)

Extensive research on mastery climate has been carried out to believe that it is the most lucrative teaching environment to use. Researches such as Papaioannow (1995) DeKnop & Weiss (1995) released a statement which states “A mastery motivational climate should be created. Under such favourable conditions, sport can enhance the child’s initiative and independence, as well as self esteem and identity” (1995, as citied in Cox, 1998, pg. 252).

However could manipulation of both mastery and performance climates work together? Some children maybe highly egos orientated, and not get a thrill out of simply improving skills and achieving goals. Perchance, could it be suggested that teachers should adopt a trivial part of performance climate in order to give children a slight boost to their ego, which won’t create negative affects on perceived ability. For example a teacher could aim to improve technique and skill at the beginning of a physical education session and incorporate a slight element of a game or race at the closing stages, which in turn could be optional for children to partake in the activity or not. This suggestion can be clarified by Ford(1992). He believed that a position that allows individuals’ apprehensions is expected to be looked at in a more satisfactory manner than a situation that rejects apprehensions at the expense of others (Ford, 1992).

To conclude, as a broad imperative, a mastery climate goal orientation is preferred to a performance climate goal orientation. Children who are both high in ego and task orientated are not pessimistically affected by the existence of social comparison. Additional to that however are the child’s goal orientation and which learning environment that he or she is placed in. Hence this notion the mastery climate environment is a propitious for the improvement of a child’s independence and motivational self-esteem. Therefore motivational climate research can be used by teachers to positively influence children’s experiences in sport.

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