Regular physical activity has long been regarded as an important component of a healthy lifestyle. Recently, this importance has been reinforced with the increase in emphasis on combating obesity levels, along with new scientific evidence reinforcing the effects of regular physical activity in association with a wide array of physiological and psychological health benefits. Despite this evidence and the public’s apparent acceptance of the importance of physical activity, millions of adults and children remain essentially sedentary.
Regular and sustained physical activity has numerous physiological and psychological health benefits that will not only impact the quality of life and wellbeing of that individual but will also contribute to society as a whole. It is this overall increase in physical activity within society that will have far reaching affects such as reducing NHS costs, increasing the average life expectancy and the reduction of hypokinetic diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and back pain.By understanding the psychological processes that underpin sustained physical activity we may be able to implement this knowledge within physical education and school sport in order to promote lifelong physical activity, providing pupils with the competence and resources to seek out physical activity within and beyond compulsory education.
A key psychological process that is fundamental to sustained participation in physical activity is that of motivation. Motivation can be defined as the direction and intensity of one’s effort. The direction of effort refers to whether an individual seeks out, approaches or is attracted to certain situations. Intensity of effort refers to how much effort a person puts into a particular situation. Motivation is having the desire and willingness to do a given task or a series of tasks. Someone who is motivated may be striving for a long term goal such as becoming a professional athlete or a more short term goal such as participating in a sports event.
There are three fundamental types of motivation these are amotivation, extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Amotivation is the apparent lack of motivation all together. Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards. Extrinsic motives could take the external form of trophies, prizes, praise and status. Intrinsic motivation comes from within oneself. Intrinsic motives for taking part in sport may include excitement, fun, and the desire to improve our own skills and abilities.
Recent research has suggested that in order to raise physical activity levels and sustain these levels in the long term it is paramount that main sources of motivation are intrinsic in nature and this intrinsic motivation should be encouraged and nurtured. This is true for both mass participation and the elite. Taking this into consideration it is important to encourage the promotion of intrinsic motives or indeed initialise the shift from amotivation through extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation. The target strategy developed by Ames (1992) is just one strategy that could be implemented in order to achieve a task and mastery approach.
Physical education and school sport can play an important role in the development of an active life-style. This role can be both positive and negative in influence and it is for this reason that it is vital that young people have a positive experience of physical education and school sport. The values and attitudes forged during this time frame in association with physical activity are likely to stay unchanged for their entire lifetime. Therefore, physical educators need to utilise this window of opportunity and aim to facilitate a task and mastery approach within physical education and school sport, with an emphasis on developing intrinsic motives as the main source of motivation. An environment supportive of self efficacy where success is facilitated, vicarious experiences are appropriate, verbal persuasion is used with sensitivity, and physiological states are managed, are vital in developing high levels of self efficacy and persistence, a key element associated with sustained physical activity. Most importantly however, physical education and school sport should be enjoyable for all, regardless of ability and competency level.