A Negative P.E. Teacher Can Cause a Lifetime of Inactivity

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

Humiliation in physical education class as a child can turn people off fitness for good, according to a University of Alberta researcher.
Billy Strean, a professor in the U of A's Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, says a negative lifelong attitude towards physical activity can be determined by either a good or a bad experience, based on the personal characteristics of the coach or instructor. For example, negative experiences may come from a teacher who has low energy, is unfair or embarrasses students.

During his research, Strean heard from individuals who opened up about negative experiences with coaches and instructors, some from many years ago.

One study participant wrote, "I am a 51-year-old woman whose childhood experiences with sports, particularly as handled in school, were so negative that even as I write this, my hands are sweating and I feel on the verge of tears. I have never experienced the humiliation nor felt the antipathy toward any other aspect of life as I do toward sports."

Strean hopes to raise awareness of such experiences so those people who instruct children in sport will realize they have the ability to create either a fun and playful experience or an experience of humiliation.

The professor has tips for coaches and teachers:

  • Put the attention on having fun
  • Emphasize the activity's opportunity to connect with friends and learn
  • Minimize the attention on outcomes until kids enter their teens

Strean also found study participants had better experiences from minimally organized games, such as street hockey, compared to more organized activities. He suggests adults try not to overorganize sports and allow children to explore sporting activities on their own, with minimal rules and no scorekeeping.

Strean's research was recently published in Qualitative Research in Sport and Exercise.

Carmen Leibel

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 17, 2010