Research Projects

Physical Education

Physical Education teachers as motivating coach: The development of an evidence-based online tool for Physical Education teachers.

Organization: Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sport Sciences)
Researcher: Nele Van Doren
Supervisor: Prof. L. Haerens
Students who are more autonomously motivated, are also more physically active in their leisure time (Haerens et al., 2010). Physical Education teachers who rely on a motivational style will stimulate students’ autonomous motivation (Haerens et al., 2015, Haerens et al., 2018). Previous research showed that Physical Education teachers can optimize their motivation style as a result of a 1-day workshop (Aelterman et al., 2013 & 2014). Effects were however limited in size. Therefore, we want to investigate with this project whether we can train teachers in a more motivating style through the development of an evidence-based online learning environment ( in which teachers

(a) complete a validated questionnaire to determine their own motivation style,
(b) reflect on their motivation style based on video images of their own lessons and
(c) use concrete motivational strategies to improve their motivation style.

Relevant publications:

  • Aelterman N., Vansteenkiste M., Van Keer H., De Meye, J., Van den Berghe L., & Haerens L. (2013). Development and evaluation of a training on need-supportive teaching in physical education: Qualitative and quantitative findings. Teaching and Teacher Education, 29(1), 64–75.
  • Aelterman N., Vansteenkiste M., van den Berghe L., de Meyer J., & Haerens L. (2014). Fostering a need-supportive teaching style: Intervention effects on physical education teachers’ beliefs and teaching behaviors. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 36(6), 595–609.
  • Aelterman N., Vansteenkiste M., Van Keer H., & Haerens L. (2016). Changing teachers’ beliefs regarding autonomy support and structure: The role of experienced psychological need satisfaction in teacher training. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 23, 64–72.
  • Haerens L., Vansteenkiste M., Aelterman N., Van den Berghe L., Cardon G., & Tallir I. (2013). Physical Education Teachers inspiring young People towards a physically active Lifestyle?!: Motivational Dynamics in Physical Education. Journal of Sport Science and Physical Education, 65, 155–166.

The development of effective professional support for novice teachers PE: the importance of effective class management

Organization: Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sports Sciences; Department of Development, Personality and Social Psychology and Department of Educational Sciences)
Researcher: Kris Hoebeke
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Leen Haerens
Co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Maarten Vansteenkiste - Prof. Dr. Ruben Vanderlinde

Classroom management is a major challenge for novice secondary school physical education (PE) teachers. During the PE lessons, students move through large spaces using large and small materials. In this context, establishing clear rules is therefore crucial for

  • good course progress,
  • maximizing the learning effect, and
  • ensuring the safety of the students.

Many novice PE teachers experience work-related stress because students do not follow up on the rules. This work-related stress is accompanied by high drop-out rates of novice teachers in the first years of their careers. Hence, there is an increasing need for professional development initiatives on how PE teachers can effectively establish rules in the classroom. Recent (not yet published) research shows that students internalize rules more when the teacher uses an autonomy-supporting teaching style (e.g. offering participation, giving meaningful explanations), while the opposite appears to be the case when the teacher uses a controlling style (e.g. threatening to punish). Whether these findings are also expressed in the PE lessons is so far unclear.

Project goals:

  • Investigate whether novice, when compared to more experienced, PE teachers adopt a less autonomy-supporting and more controlling style when establishing rules in the classroom;
  • Determining the extent to which the style used has an impact on the extent to which pupils internalize and comply with the rules, or are resisting these rules;
  • Examine to what extent students’ compliance with the rules and agreements affect the wellbeing, job satisfaction and the experienced work-related stress of PE teachers;
  • By means of an intervention study, optimizing the style by which (novice) PE teachers establish rules in the classroom and examining the impact on students’ rule compliance and teachers’ well-being, higher job satisfaction and work-related stress.

Personal and social goals in primary school physical education in The Netherlands.

Organization: Utrecht University (Department Education) and Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sports Sciences)
Researcher: Katrijn Opstoel
Supervisor: Prof. dr. Jan van Tartwijk and Prof. dr. Kristine De Martelaer
Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Leen Haerens and dr. Frans Prins

In the Netherlands, the main objective of physical education (PE) in primary school is to help
children get acquainted with the movement culture so that they will remain intrinsically motivated to participate in sports now and later on in life (Kerndoelen Primair Onderwijs, 2006). To do so, the subject of PE is shaped by two categories of goals:

  • First, children learn the basic forms of movement (also referred to as fundamental movement skills) and games in order to be able to participate in the movement culture in a safe and liable way.
  • Second, children learn how to cooperate in a respectful way, how to arrange their learning process and how to assess and consider their individual possibilities (referred to as personal and social goals).

With regard to the second goal, 9 sub goals were formulated (see ‘het Basisdocument’; Mooij et al., 2011). However, neither research nor practice has provided the evidence-based knowledge necessary for guiding children effectively in their personal and social development.

The aims of this project:

  • Provide an overview of the existing literature on school-aged children’s and youth’s (i.e. 6- to 18-year-olds) personal and social development within the context of physical education and sports.
  • Investigate how expert PE teachers perceive, interpret and implement personal and social goals in their current practice.
  • Develop and evaluate a professional development initiative aimed at supporting novice and experienced PE teachers to include personal and social goals more efficiently in their lessons.  

Relevant publications:

  • Opstoel K., Chapelle L., Prins F., De Meester A., Haerens L., van Tartwijk J., De Martelaer K. (2019). Personal and social development in physical education: a review study. European Physical Education Review. Early online access.

Also read:

  • Haerens L., Permentier V., Tallir I., Verstraete S., Vonderlync, V. (2017). Inspireren en bewegen. Aan de slag met ondersteunende rollen in de les Lichamelijke Opvoeding. Acco.

Motivating assessment in physical education: The effects of goal clarification and process feedback on students’ motivation

Organization: Utrecht University (Department of Education) and Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sport Sciences)
Researcher: Christa Krijgsman
Supervisor: Prof. dr. Jan van Tartwijk en Prof. dr. Leen Haerens
Co-supervisors: Dr. Tim Mainhard en Dr. Lars Borghouts

Performance grading in Physical Education (PE) often negatively affects students’ feelings of competence and interest and love of learning (i.e., autonomous motivation; Ryan & Weinstein, 2009). Therefore, these types of assessments might not contribute to autonomous motivation in PE. This project examines whether two other aspects of assessment, that is goal clarification and process feedback, may positively impact students’ autonomous motivation in PE. Goal clarification and process feedback are known as two key teaching strategies of ‘Assessment for Learning’(AfL; provides students with insight into their learning process so they can build towards higher standards; Wiliam, 2011). As such, two bodies of literature will be linked throughout this project: AfL and Self-Determination Theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000).
The overarching objective of the PhD is to investigate the effects of different forms and quality aspects of assessment on students’ motivational functioning in PE.

  • A first more specific goal of the PhD is to gain more insight in students’ perceived need satisfaction and frustration, quality of motivation and fear during different types of assessment.  
  • A second more specific goal of the PhD is to (experimentally) test, based on the gained insights, the impact of goal clarification and process feedback on students’ need-based experiences.  

Relevant scientific publications:

  • Krijgsman C., Vansteenkiste M., van Tartwijk J., Maes J., Borghouts L., Cardon G., ... Haerens L. (2017). Performance grading and motivational functioning and fear in physical education: A self-determination theory perspective. Learning and Individual Differences, 55(C), 202–211.
  • Haerens L., Krijgsman C, Mouratidis A., Borghouts L., Cardon G. & Aelterman N. (2019). How does knowledge about the criteria for an upcoming test relate to adolescents’ situational motivation in physical education? A self- determination theory approach. European Physical Education Review, 25(4), 983-1001.
  • Krijgsman C., Mainhard T., van Tartwijk J., Borghouts L., Vansteenkiste M., Aelterman N. & Haerens L. (2019). Where to go and how to get there: Goal clarification, process feedback and students’ need satisfaction and frustration from lesson to lesson. Learning and Instruction, 61, 1-11.
  • Krijgsman C., Mainhard T., Borghouts L., van Tartwijk J., & Haerens L. (under review). The motivating impact of goal clarification and process feedback in an experimentally designed physical education lesson. Manuscript under review at Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy with manuscript-ID CPES-2019-0278.

Relevant professional publications:

  • Krijgsman C. (2018). Mo(e)tivatie voor de gymles. The Netherlands. Retrieved from onderzoek/a1247_Moetivatie-voor-de-gymles
  • Krijgsman C., Borghouts L., van Tartwijk J., Mainhard T. & Haerens L. (2017). Cijfers en motivatie van leerlingen in de gymles. Examens, 4, 24–28.
  • Krijgsman C., Borghouts L., Van Tartwijk J., Mainhard T. & Haerens L. (2018). Cijfers en motivatie van leerlingen in de les LO. KVLO, 106(4), 13–15.
  • Krijgsman C., Aelterman N., Borghouts L., Cardon G. & Haerens L. (2019). Speelt inzicht geven in de evaluatiecriteria een rol voor de motivatie van leerlingen in de les Lichamelijke Opvoeding? BVLO, 1(114), 10–16.

‘Help, my teacher and parents are pressuring me!’ Antecedents and consequences of children and adolescents’ coping responses to controlling behavior

Organization: Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sport Sciences and Department of Development, Personality and Social Psychology)
Researcher: Nele Flamant
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Bart Soenens
Co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. Leen Haerens

The study of adaptive functioning of adolescents - both in general and at school - often focuses on the quality of the parenting style and the teacher’s teaching style. Research based on self-determination theory shows that a controlling style leads to frustration of the basic psychological needs, which in turn undermines adolescents’ well-being, motivation and engagement.
Current research, however, aims to get insight into the active role of adolescents in interacting with their parents and teachers. This project focuses on how adolescents deal with a controlling parenting or teaching style. First, we want to investigate why adolescents react differently when confronted with a controlling parent or teacher. Herein, we examine the role of temperament and the extent to which the adolescent is raised in an autonomy-supportive environment. Secondly, this project aims to investigate whether coping plays a moderating role in the relationship between a controlling style and adaptive functioning in adolescents. In particular, we aim to explore whether the effects of a controlling style on maladaptive functioning decrease when an adaptive coping strategy is used or, on the contrary, is magnified when adolescents rely on a maladaptive coping strategy.


Everybody is a winner: overestimation of one’s competence as a predictor of dropout from sports?

Organization: Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sport Sciences)
Researcher: Julie Galle
Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Leen Haerens
Co-supervisor: Prof. Dr. An De Meester

Physical inactivity is one of the major health risks associated with the global epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The increasing number of young people and children who are not active is discouraging. It is therefore essential to gain a better understanding in the underlying factors that cause dropout from sports. Research shows that children's perceptions of their motor skills play an important role in function of their physical activity. The current project therefore investigates

  • the role of overestimation of one’s personal motor competence in the prediction of persistence in, versus dropout from sports and
  • the psychological and contextual precursors of this overestimation.

When youth sport coaches’ self-esteem depends upon the achievements of their athletes: an examination of the relation with a controlling coaching style.  

Organization: Ghent University (Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology and Department of Movement and Sport Sciences)
Researcher: Sofie Morbée
Supervisor: Prof. dr. Maarten Vansteenkiste
Co-supervisor: Prof. dr. Leen Haerens

A controlling or pressuring coaching style can best be avoided, as it comes with a number of costs, including athlete ill-being, reduced sport enjoyment and higher drop-out rates. To reduce youth coaches’ reliance on a controlling style, it is important to understand its underlying sources. In this project, it will be investigated whether the extent to which coaches adopt a controlling coaching style depends on their tendency to let their self-esteem depend on the successes and failures of their athletes, in other words, on their athlete-invested contingent self-esteem. In a cumulative series experimental and longitudinal studies, the role of

  • a pressure-exerting sports climate and
  • poor athlete performances in the prediction of such fragile self-esteem and a controlling coaching style is examined.

Organizational effectiveness in sports clubs: identifying and strengthening quintessential management processes and motivating styles board members rely on

Organization: Ghent University (Department of Movement and Sports Sciences)
Researcher: Tom De Clerck
Promotor: Prof. dr. Leen Haerens
Co-promotor: Prof. dr. Annick Willem

Many sports clubs are confronted with a decrease in the number of coaches, volunteers, members and  in finances, which may threaten the existence of the organization. These evolutions are partly due to environmental changes such as decreasing governmental subsidies, demographic change and increasing competition of commercial sport providers (Wicker & Breuer, 2013). This project focuses specifically on management processes and the motivating style board members adopt while implementing important management processes, hereby relying on the Competing Values Framework (Quin & Rohrbaugh, 1981) and Self-Determination Theory (SDT; Deci & Ryan, 2000) respectively.  

The project has three aims.

  • The first aim is to identify effective management processes and motivating styles board members of sports clubs can rely on.
  • The second aim is to develop and evaluate an intervention to strengthen effective management processes and board members' motivating styles.
  • The third aim is to investigate the effect of this intervention on the sport club's management, the behaviour and attitudes of important internal stakeholders such as coaches, volunteers and members, and the sports club's human and financial resources.

Relevant publication:

  • De Clerck T., Willem A., Aelterman N., & Haerens L. (2019). Volunteers Managing Volunteers: The Role of Volunteer Board Members’ Motivating and Demotivating Style in Relation to Volunteers’ Motives to Stay Volunteer. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 1-14.