Monday, October 18, 2010

Personal Improvement to Fulfill Ego

What:  As we can probably all recall from middle-school and high-school, having all the students fully participate in physical activity is quite rare.  This appears to be a growing problem for physical educators as childhood obesity is dominating the news.  Growing up we may have viewed these children as, un-athletic, nerds, weird, or just plain lazy.  In order to truly understand why some children are fully involved in sports and exercise and why others are not it’s important to look at the motives behind effort and participation. 

So What:  Creating an achievement motivation profile for both Kate and Robin will help us quickly recognize the apparent differences between the two girls.  According to the case study, Kate is always eager to participate and chooses personally challenging tasks.  Kate tries hard, even when losing, and seems to enjoy physical activity even though she may not be as skilled as her peers.  Robin on the other hand does not seem to enjoy physical activity and tends to choose the easiest task possible.  Robin expects to fail and although she could “win” more (objective success) she does not apply herself. 

Right away it’s clear that Kate is task-oriented as she demonstrates an ability to learn and improve her individual skills, regardless of how well her peers are doing. Kate finds success not in if she is winning, but instead from her ability to learn, improve, and put forth effort. Because of Kate’s focus on individual progress and not objective success, she appears to have a relatively low level of ego-orientation.  Robin’s behavior is almost a polar opposite of Kate’s.  Robin’s task-orientation is undoubtedly low as she makes little to no effort to improve her individual skills.  On the other hand it appears that Robin may be ego-oriented and does not fully involve herself in competition for fear of losing.  Gill and Williams (2008) mention that people who are ego involved only perceive themselves as able when they perform better than others.  Robin appears to not enjoy any physical activities anymore which may be a result of a variety of things.  One possibility is that Robin may have been skilled and enjoyed objective success in the past, but over time she did not keep up with her peers increasing skill level because she had low task-orientation and never worked on improving individual skills.  Although not necessarily the case, this could explain why Robin no longer finds pleasure in competition or physical activity in general.  When constantly subjected to a negative stimuli, humans ten to adopt avoidance behaviors (Elliot, 2006).  This explains why children bullied skip school, or possibly why ego-oriented people who consistently lose in competition quit putting forth effort.  Over time Robin may have become more and more incompetent in her skills which affected the teams she was on negatively, possibly resulting in Robin developing performance avoidance behaviors to the point that she no longer applies herself in PE class.

Now What:  If the above scenario was accurate, I would attempt to increase Robin’s task orientation so her skills can develop to the point where she can fulfill her ego-interest.  I think in order for Robin to become involved in physical activity it would be vital for the PE teacher to remove objective evaluation (winning or losing) from the classroom altogether (at least for some time).  This is something that seems almost impossible because physical activity for most of us is centered around getting better in order to win in the future.  The belief behind this follows Veroff’s (1969) stages of achievement motivation (autonomous competence, social comparison, integrated achievement motivation.  In team games Robin does not apply herself like other students do.  The first thing to do would be to remove winning and losing from team games and create something for the students to do that will create autonomous competence.  Instead of just “playing basketball,” each student can create their own individual goal for the basketball game.  Robin’s goal could be something along the lines of making three shots from between 5 and 15 feet on offense, and forcing at least one turnover while on defense. If done for a reasonable amount of time, this goal, if nothing else, may motivate Robin to do more than half court shots and lay-ups, and hopefully improve her skill level enough so that she is competent enough to compete.  The next stage of the model is the social comparison stage, and it is here where Robin will be able to put her ego-oriented personality on display and compete with a peer.  This example may be a little too general and idealistic, but the point is that if Robin is indeed ego-oriented and not participating in physical activity, there is a good chance it is because she is afraid to lose.  One way to make her more competent in having her team win would be to increase her own individual competence.

Conclusion:  From the behaviors mentioned in the case study Kate is task-oriented while Robin may be ego-oriented. The reason Robin no longer finds physical activity fun is because she finds losing un-pleasurable and does not have the individual skill competence to change anything.  In order to increase Robin’s skill competence and decrease participation avoidance behaviors I suggested that Robin creates individual goals for each competition that focus on building individual skill and not objective success (winning).  Hopefully over time Robin will be more competent in her ability to play well resulting in more participation and enjoyment in physical activity.

Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd Ed.).Champaign,   IL: Human Kinetics.
Elliot, A. (2006). The hierarchical model of approach-avoidance motivation. Motivation and Emotion,30(2), 111.

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