PE Insights Episode 13: Liz Durden-Myers – Physical literacy and the ‘combination lock’


In this enlightening conversation, Dr Liz Durden-Myers, CEO of PE Scholar and passionate advocate for physical literacy, we explore the profound impact physical literacy can have on shaping positive experiences in physical education (PE). With a focus on promoting motivation through autonomy, competence, and relatedness, Liz shares valuable insights into fostering meaningful connections with movement.

Transition from the Military to Education

Liz began her career in the military before finding her true calling in physical education. The realisation of a missed vocation led her to the University of Bedfordshire, where she embarked on a journey to become a Physical Education (PE) teacher. Through teaching students of all ages, Liz developed a passion for creating positive and meaningful physical activity experiences for every individual.

Educational Pursuits and the Birth of PE Scholar

Driven by a love for learning, Liz pursued two master’s degrees while teaching, aiming to enhance her educational practices. Alongside teaching, she founded PE Scholar, a platform to share resources and support fellow educators, demonstrating a commitment to collaborative learning within the teaching community. She then embarked upon a PhD in Physical Literacy which she completed in 2020.

The Evolution of Physical Literacy

Liz traces the roots of the contemporary understanding of physical literacy to Dr Margaret Whitehead, highlighting three key pillars of holistic development (Monism), positive and meaningful experiences (Existentialism), and recognition of each individual’s unique journey (Phenomenology). She also emphasises the life-course nature of physical literacy and its potential to shape future engagement in physical activities.

The ‘combination lock’

Liz uses the analogy of a combination lock to describe the different elements of physical literacy. She states you’re not going to unlock physical activity engagement for students unless you’ve “got the combination just right”. The combination refers to motivation, confidence, physical competence, and knowledge/understanding. For some students it may be their confidence that needs boosting, for others it could be their motivation, competence, or knowledge and understanding. As teachers we need to try different approaches to “turn the dials” and help unlock physical activity for each individual student.

Assessment in Physical Education

The interview delves into the role of assessment in PE, highlighting the need for motivational and purposeful assessment. Liz advocates for moving away from demotivating practices and stresses the importance of assessing effort over attainment. Recognising and rewarding individual effort contributes to maintaining a positive perception of physical competence, especially crucial during the formative years.

Motivation and the Self-Determination Theory

Liz draws connections between motivation and the principles of the Self-Determination Theory. Highlighting autonomy, competence, and relatedness as key tenets, the interview delves into the role these factors play in creating engaging and empowering PE experiences.

Autonomy: A Crucial Element in Physical Literacy

Liz acknowledges the need for educators to gradually relinquish control. The interview discusses the importance of allowing students to take ownership and responsibility for their engagement in physical activities. Liz underscores the value of providing students with choices, enabling them to co-design their learning experiences and fostering a sense of autonomy. She encourages PE teachers to explore small adjustments that contribute to meaningful experiences. Whether through co-constructed objectives or alternative activities, the interview suggests that these marginal gains of promoting student autonomy can accumulate over time.

Reflective Practices Through the Physical Literacy Lens

The importance of reflective practice takes centre stage. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on their interactions with selected students, considering how they supported motivation, confidence, competence, and knowledge during the lesson.

Key Takeaway

The opportunity to make a difference in students exists every day, so teachers should continuously look for ways to positively impact their student’s relationship with movement and physical activity.


Liz leaves us with a profound realisation of the transformative power of physical literacy in PE. This involves prioritising effort, fostering positive experiences, and understanding the individual journey. By also embracing autonomy, motivation, and reflective practices, educators can create an environment that nurtures a lifelong love for movement and positive well-being.

About the Guest

Dr Liz Durden-Myers is the founder of PE Scholar, and is PGCE PE Programme Lead at the University of Gloucestershire and Bath Spa University. Liz was supervised and inspired by Dr Margaret Whitehead – her PhD and academic journey to date has explored physical literacy and she continues to be an ambassador for the importance of positive relationships with movement.

You can connect with Liz directly via X at @LizDurdenMyers

Listen, Watch and Connect

To listen to the full episode please follow these links to Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

To watch the full episode please follow this YouTube link

If you would like to be a guest on the PE Insights Podcast please reach out by contacting us here or reach out to Nathan Walker via X at @NWalkerPE

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