Sports Pedagogy

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“What motivates me as a physical education (PE) teacher? That I’m able to say that my students have made progress, that they’ve learned how to move better,

and that they’ve learned about health and social functioning by the end of the school year. If my students’ self-confidence has increased and if they tell me that they’ve moved their boundaries, then I’m truly happy. That’s my reason for choosing this job!” (PJ, 35-year-old PE teacher)

One of the premises to reach these goals is for students to be optimally motivated for and engaged in PE. The same counts for athletes in a sport setting. However, PE teachers or coaches also have to deal with kids and youngsters lacking motivation or engagement for the subject.

The research group in ‘Sport Pedagogy’ of the Department of Movement and Sport Sciences (Ghent University) led by Prof. L. Haerens, Prof. G. Cardon and Prof. I. Tallir investigates how PE teachers can motivate youngsters toward adopting an lifelong active lifestyle. During the past years, the research group has examined a broad range of motivational processes in physical education and sport in different target groups (toddlers, primary school children, secondary school children, teachers, and coaches).

Self-determination Theory (SDT, Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2002) serves as the theoretical foundation for our research. SDT is a strongly validated motivational theory that has been developed in the past 40 years and that has been applied in a variety of different life domains, among which sport and movement. A central aspect of this research is the close cooperation with Prof. M. Vansteenkiste and Prof. B. Soenens of the Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology and with Prof. H. Van Keer of the Department of Educational Studies.

Current lines of research:
The student

  • Why are some students engaged and others disengaged in PE?
  • Which antecedents and consequences of student motivation can be identified?

The teacher

  • How is (de)motivating teaching behavior defined?
  • Which antecedents and consequences of motivating versus demotivating teaching behavior can be identified?
  • Which antecedents and consequences of burnout in PE teachers can be identified?

The learning climate

  • Evaluation: a time for stress or learning? Motivating assessment in PE.


  • Which youngsters are reached by after-school sport programs?
  • Does participating in after-school sport stimulate lifelong physical activity?

The key concept in this line of research is the connection between practitioners and researchers. To guarantee the relevance of this work for practice, a close cooperation with PE teachers is maintained. The teachers can share their experiences and the researchers also have practice-related teaching experience. Additionally, next to questionnaires, also observations of videotaped PE lessons are used to guarantee the ecological validity of the research. For this purpose, an observation tool was recently developed (Haerens et al, 2013, Van den Berghe et al, 2013). There is also an overall interest in the development of SDT-based interventions for behavioral change in specific target groups (see ‘Workshops and Lectures’)

Contact information

Prof. dr. Leen Haerens
Watersportlaan 2
9000 Gent
tel. 09 264 86 37