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Change in Physical Education Motivation and Physical Activity Behavior


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In this artcicle the researchers looked at how motivation can make a student like physical education more or less.

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Change in Physical Education Motivation and Physical Activity Behavior

  1. 1. Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, 12: 167–183, 2008 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN 1091-367X print / 1532-7841 online DOI: 10.1080/10913670802216148 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE The Responsible Use of Youth Fitness Testing to Enhance Student Motivation, Enjoyment, and Performance Lenny D. Wiersma and Clay P. Sherman Center for the Advancement of Responsible Youth Sport California State University, Fullerton While physical fitness testing has the potential to invoke embarrassment and anxiety, strategies can be developed that can motivate students to exert maximal effort, provide positive feedback on skill improvement, and encourage students to set fitness goals that can be achieved through developmentally appropriate physical activities. The purpose of this article is to discuss relevant psychological theories that explain factors related to students’ performance on fitness testing, as well as to provide instructional strategies that minimize adverse reactions to fitness testing and that maximize effort, enjoyment, and motivation. Throughout the article, we address the relationship of physical fitness testing to several psychological factors such as perceptions of competence, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, enjoyment, goal orientation, and physical activity promotion. Key words: Children, fitness, motivation Highly publicized comparisons of fitness scores between U.S. and European children in the 1950s were a major impetus for the initial use of standardized fitness testing in schools. On the Kraus-Weber Test of Minimal Muscular Fitness, Correspondence should be sent to Lenny D. Wiersma, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, CA 92834-3599. E-mail:
  2. 2. 168 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN only 42% of American children met minimal fitness standards compared to 92% of European youth (Kraus & Hirschland, 1954). In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower initiated the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956, requiring regular fitness testing of children in American schools. President John F. Kennedy, in his 1960 article The Soft American published in Sports Illustrated, defended the use of fitness testing as a means toward defending our nation should the U.S. enter the Cold War. The President stated, The harsh fact of the matter is that there is an increasingly large number of young Americans who are getting soft. And such softness on the part of individual citizens can help to strip and destroy the vitality of a nation The stamina and strength which the defense of liberty requires are not the product of a few weeks’ basic training or a month’s conditioning. These only come from bodies which have been conditioned by a lifetime of participation in sports and interest in physical activity. Our struggles against aggressors throughout our history have been won on the playgrounds and corner lots and fields of America. Thus, in a very real and immediate sense, our growing softness, our increasing lack of physical fitness, is a menace to our security. (p. 16) Almost immediately, critics of fitness testing deemed it inappropriate as a central focus to Physical Education programs. Oberteuffer (1963) claimed, “Bludgeoned by a Presidential plea for physical fitness, we reluctantly test and exercise, pull up, and run-walk 600 yards, thus chasing a biological end which not only has no relation to the educative process, but which has a built-in factor which dooms the program to fail in our society” (p. 254). The focus of fitness scores as an extrinsic motive to be fit has, no doubt, contributed to the negative characterization of physical fitness testing in schools for the last half-century. With a modern emphasis on standardized testing for comparative purposes (normative or criterion-related), and the negative media attention that often accompanies low fitness scores of schoolchildren (e.g., Leal & Agopian, 2005), it is reasonable that critics have decried fitness testing as “demeaning, embarrassing, or uncomfortable” (Rowland, 1995) and questioned their continued usage (Cale, Harris, & Chen, 2007; Naughton, Carlson, & Greene, 2006). We believe that fitness testing can be a positive and enjoyable experience and a useful tool to motivate youth to be physically active if used in a developmen- tally appropriate manner as one aspect of a comprehensive physical education curriculum and if delivered in a positive and supportive environment. This article is divided into two major sections. In the first section, we outline the psycho- logical factors that impact students’ performance on fitness tests, tying them into relevant theories of motivation and competence. The second section will outline possible psychological reactions to, and outcomes of, fitness testing and
  3. 3. 169 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING provide instructional strategies related to the delivery and protocol of physical fitness testing in a manner that may enhance physical education experiences. Throughout, our objective is to address psychological considerations related to (a) improving children’s performance and enhancing children’s experiences during fitness assessments, and (b) the positive implementation of fitness testing into school curricula. PSYCHOLOGICAL VARIABLES IMPACTING CHILDREN’S FITNESS PERFORMANCE AND TESTING EXPERIENCE Researchers using youth fitness scores attempt to make associations between fitness levels and various criterion variables, such as academic achievement (California Department of Education [CDE], 2005; Grissom, 2005; Singh & McMahan, 2006), delinquent tendencies (Sherman & Wiersma, 2005), or disease risk (Kim et al., 2005; Ruiz et al., 2007). Moreover, fitness scores are used as dependent variables to test physical activity intervention effectiveness (Bush, Pittman, McKay, Ortiz, Wong, & Klish, 2007; Eliakim, Nemet, Balakirski, & Epstein, 2007), to analyze physical education or physical activity programs (Annesi, Westcott, Faigenbaum, & Unruh, 2005; Carrel, Clark, Peterson, Eickhoff, & Allen, 2007), or to create a depiction of fitness levels in children compared to past generations (Morrow, 2005; Tomkinson, Leger, Olds, & Cazorla, 2003). Any inferences about scores, however, are limited to the extent to which they are reflective of children’s actual fitness levels. The validity of these inferences is contingent on psychological variables that impact children’s performance. Internal validity refers to the extent to which scores on an assessment are reflective of the actual performance of the participant rather than some other, outside explanation or factor. Potential threats to internal validity in fitness testing may include, among many other things, psychological or motivational factors that may impact on children’s performance, the two most important of which are motivation and effort. To put it simply, why would a student want to perform well on standardized fitness testing? What rewards—intrinsic or extrinsic—are generally present to bring out the student’s greatest effort? In the absence of positive motivation and concerted effort, is it likely that children’s scores are reflective of actual fitness levels? Delivering fitness testing in a manner that increases motivation and effort will increase the internal validity of fitness testing in youth and, more importantly, may contribute to students’ perceptions of efficacy, enjoyment, and interest in physical activity. This section will overview three psychological theories that relate to maximizing students’ performance on fitness testing and that provide an
  4. 4. 170 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN understanding of how testing can lead to positive affective outcomes such as competence and enjoyment. The theories include the psychological aspects of goal orientation (Nicholls, 1984, 1989), competence motivation (Harter, 1981), and cognitive evaluation theory (Deci & Ryan, 1985). Goal-Orientation Theory According to the goal-orientation theory, students can be motivated by a task (or mastery) orientation, focusing on personal improvement, learning, and effort, or by an ego (or performance) orientation through which a focus on comparisons with others is of primary importance (Ames & Archer, 1988; Duda & Nicholls, 1992; Nicholls, 1984, 1989). Research in physical activity and sport environ- ments has found that students with a task orientation perform well in settings in which personal improvement and skill mastery is reinforced, while students with an ego orientation who have high perceptions of competence perform well with social comparisons and challenges (Duda, 1989; Roberts & Treasure, 1995). Conversely, task-oriented individuals who perceive an overemphasis on public evaluation may perform poorly or anxiously, while ego-oriented individuals have a tendency to give up easily if they cannot perform as well as their peers “as a strategy to avoid embarrassment and maintain perceptions of competence” (Solomon, 1996, p. 737). Administrators of fitness tests should keep in mind that different strategies can be used to enhance motivation and effort for children of differing achievement goal orientations. In our field-based testing of elementary school children, we have found success in many of these strategies (offered throughout this article) and have observed high levels of effort from students as a result. It is important to note that fitness testing is only one part of physical education programs and is usually not a primary criterion for a student’s grade, and it can be integrated as an important aspect of a well-balanced program. Administering fitness tests as a one-time assessment to fulfill district or state requirements makes testing an isolated part of the curriculum and does not establish sufficient buy-in from students about its importance. Teachers or administrators who adopt a tone that “testing is mandated and we need to get it out of the way so we can get back to our curriculum” send that message to the students, who in turn will likely perform in the same nondescript manner. Teaching students the skills to be tested, such as the appropriate form for push-ups or pacing techniques for aerobic capacity measures, and providing time in class throughout the year to practice the skills, will allow for a focus on mastery and improvement. Providing opportunities to perform the skills without being tested may build students’ competence and allow them to practice without the pressure to perform. Administering fitness tests by rotating students in small groups based on similar skill or fitness levels reduces the possibility of
  5. 5. 171 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING embarrassment from lower-skilled students performing in front of other students and allows for more favorable comparisons with peers. While others have argued that fitness testing may demotivate lower skilled children or discourage them to be physically fit (Corbin, Pangrazi, & Welk, 1995; Rowland, 1995), we believe that a testing environment can be created that encourages even the least-skilled or least-fit children to try their best in testing situations. Students to whom social comparison is important also may be motivated to perform well on fitness testing. These students tend to have higher perceptions of competence, are often well-skilled, and regularly participate in physical activities. Challenges tend to work well for this group, and they function as an important and relevant form of incentive to try hard. For instance, students who are ego oriented can be motivated by knowing performance-based percentile ranks, class high scores, or performance on previous tests. If a small group of such students is tested together, they can encourage each other and support each other to reach high standards. While this form of motivation does not work for all children, it can be used responsibly for some children who would benefit from these motives. Competence Motivation The development of competence is considered a primary motivation for young people to engage in a task (Harter, 1981). Engaging in a task does not mean just doing it, but investing one’s attention and effort into it and challenging oneself to improve. According to the Competence Motivation theory, individuals engage in an activity for the purpose of mastery, which serves as a reward in and of itself; information reinforcing perceptions of competence increases enjoyment of the task which, in turn, leads to continued challenge and improvement (Harter, 1981). Competence can be derived through one’s own assessment of performance (which is difficult for young performers but becomes more refined as a child matures) or through the feedback provided by others, most notably teachers, parents, coaches, or peers. The role of fitness testing in the development of competence is thus dependent on the extent to which performance on early mastery attempts leads to a desire to get better at the task and to be excited for future mastery attempts. Undoubtedly, students who do not perform well on such tests can internalize that information and can be less motivated to display their (lack of) fitness to other students. The converse holds true for those who perform well on the tests and who internalize that success such that they are motivated to continue doing the task in the future. The key is how the teacher or administrator of the tests uses test results in a manner that can motivate all students regardless of perceived ability. Using performance indicators on physical fitness tests can be a motivational tool for students of all abilities. If similar tests are used year to year, and teachers focus on and reinforce improvement, students could be provided with feedback
  6. 6. 172 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN that they are, in fact, becoming more skilled at certain tasks, more fit, and healthier compared to previous years. While improvement over time (year to year) is related to natural growth and biological maturity, healthy fitness zones are established relative to age and can be used to monitor progress controlling for maturation throughout childhood and adolescence. During an academic year, students can be guided to plot their scores over testing occasions and use previous scores to develop reasonable, challenging, and specific goals related to specific fitness areas. Prior to subsequent testing, teachers can ask a student, “Look at the number of push-ups you completed in the November test. Compare that to the healthy fitness range chart. What can you do in the next 6 weeks to improve?” This dialogue, with goal development, can be used to guide all children to be successful, not just those whose perceptions of ability are already high. Cognitive Evaluation Theory Another theory of motivation relevant to the psychology of fitness testing is Deci and Ryan’s (1985) conceptualization of cognitive evaluation theory, which posits that perceptions of competence, effort, and enjoyment are influ- enced by perceptions of control and choice. To the extent that young people receive feedback about ability and attribute that performance to intrinsic versus extrinsic factors, they become more or less motivated to engage in that task. Extrinsic factors in a performer’s environment can have a negative impact on one’s intrinsic motivation, and positive information about an individual’s performance may enhance motivation while negative information may reduce it. In this regard, the use of normative feedback (percentile ranks or physical fitness awards, for example) versus criterion-referenced feedback (i.e., healthy fitness zones) may have differential effects on motivation. Whitehead and Corbin (1991), for example, presented bogus feedback to students based on whether they performed at a higher or a lower percentile rank (when no such data were actually collected) and found that students who were told that they were in a low ranking (“Compared to other junior high school boys/girls your score is in the bottom 20% range”) had subsequent decreases in intrinsic motivation. The researchers concluded that “interpreting fitness results through percentile-based categorization may reduce the intrinsic motivation of those who need it the most—those relatively low in fitness” (p. 229). Practitioners can deliver fitness testing with these theories in mind. We agree with a number of researchers (Cale & Harris, 2005; Freedson & Rowland, 1992; Goudas, Biddle, & Fox, 1994; Morrow, 2005) that children should receive infor- mation relative to a healthy fitness standard (criterion) rather than a normative rank and that grading students based on fitness scores is inappropriate and does not promote students to increase physical activity levels (Corbin, 2002; Corbin et al., 1995). Focusing on controllable factors such as effort (“I know some of
  7. 7. 173 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING you are not really excited about running today, but let’s try to get your heart rate to the upper end of your range”) or attention (“It’s really important that you focus on your pacing when you run back and forth—try to get about 2 seconds rest between laps”) downplays the role of environmental or genetic factors that may influence fitness levels. Putting fitness testing into a proper motivational context will vary based on the personality and achievement orientation of students in a testing cohort. The first author has used different strategies to introduce the FITNESSGRAM® (Meredith & Welk, 2005) to children in an after-school physical activity program in which testing was used to measure intervention effectiveness. Children were tested in small groups and rotated through stations, some of which were other tests and some of which were small group games; the testing was spread out over several days to allow for smaller group assessment. The small groups were put together based on similar skill level and motivation of the students once these aspects became clear. For a group of 11-year-old boys who were physically fit and who also had competitive sport experience (in this case, soccer), the FITNESSGRAM® was introduced as a battery of tests similar to those used by professional scouts in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and Major League Soccer. The boys were told that fitness was an important part of playing sports and that teams needed to see how fit potential players were to decide if they should be drafted. The boys linked what they were about to do with an activity performed by their role models and were noticeably interested in performing the tests with excitement and effort. Another benefit of this approach is that it potentially bridges the gap between performing a fitness task with something relevant and meaningful to their lives, something that is commonly lacking in youth fitness testing situations (Hopple & Graham, 1995). A small group of girls, in contrast, were introduced to the tests and were told that it would be interesting to see how they could perform compared to the boys. As this group of girls was developmentally more advanced at age 11 than their male classmates, this was not only a reasonable comparison to make, but it made the girls excited about the prospect of comparing favorably and getting excited to rise to the challenge. We understand that these approaches would likely not be approved of by those who differentiate sports performance from physical activity testing (in the case of the boys) or who discourage comparison to others (as in the case of the girls), especially in light of what was discussed in the previous paragraphs. The point is that different motivational strategies can be used depending on the situation, and, as stated earlier, while an approach may not work with everybody, it can be used when it may be appropriate. Maximizing student motivation and effort is necessary to make proper inferences about fitness test results, and creating a motivating and positive environment in which all students strive for high performance is challenging but possible.
  8. 8. 174 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN Knowing one’s students—their levels of efficacy and motivational orientation, for example—is critical in this regard and is reflective of the student-centered approach that is embraced by effective educators. STRATEGIES FOR EDUCATIONALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY SOUND FITNESS TESTING Unlike standardized testing in the classroom (such as in math or reading), physical fitness tests can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Tests to fatigue (such as in running to exhaustion [i.e., the PACER (Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run)] or the flexed-arm hang), as well as maximal tests of strength (such as push-ups or curl-ups), generally lead to some degree of discomfort. These feelings may be especially uncomfortable (and even foreign) to children who are not regularly active and are not used to exerting themselves physically. Moreover, when students are tested in a public setting in which others observe, or when they perform alongside their peers, they may be more likely to invoke peer comparison and feel embarrassed if they do not appear to perform favorably. Results that provide potentially embarrassing feedback to students on variables, such as skinfold measurements or height and weight measures, also have the potential to affect students emotionally. While this may, to some extent, exist with classroom-based achievement tests, we believe it is more likely to exist in physical education settings. Teachers have a responsibility, therefore, to conduct the testing in a caring and sensitive manner and to be aware of the potential negative implications that could accompany fitness testing. The previous section outlined the importance of accounting for motivation and effort in making valid inferences about scores from physical fitness test results. The primary purpose of this section is to examine physical fitness testing from the psychological perspective in terms of how testing is described, developed, and evaluated in the schools and its potential impact on students. It is noted that fitness testing should not exist apart from a well-designed and developmen- tally appropriate PE program. Furthermore, the application of fitness testing is inappropriate without sufficient attention to developing and communicating: (a) clear and measurable objectives consistent with national and/or state physical education standards, (b) educational content that sets up the need and protocol for fitness testing, and (c) essential steps in an educationally and psychologically sound testing protocol. As others have written, physical activity (i.e., develop- mentally appropriate PE) is the process, and fitness is the outcome (e.g., Corbin & Pangrazi, 1993; Morrow, 2007); students need to understand and benefit from the process if they are to fully understand and achieve the outcome.
  9. 9. 175 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING Objectives Consistent with Physical Education Standards As stated throughout this article, fitness testing that is not an integral part of the larger curriculum can lead to unmotivated performance by students and adverse reactions to testing. More than a decade ago, Hopple and Graham (1995) interviewed children on what they “think, feel, and know” about school-based fitness testing (specifically the mile run), and concluded that their perceptions were “not entirely flattering” (p. 415). The majority of participants could not articulate the objective of being tested, identified clever ways in which they could get out of the test, and viewed the test as uncomfortable and lacking in meaning. In essence, these findings are consistent with past (and current) criticism that fitness testing fails to meet educational objectives (Cale et al., 2007; Keating & Silverman, 2004; Rowland, 1995). The foundation for fitness testing should be the promotion of enjoyable and regular physical activity participation leading toward the eventual development of life-long physical activity behaviors. Physical activity and fitness tracking and assessment should be executed with this foundational philosophy in mind. National and state education bodies (e.g., U.S. Department of Education, National Association for Sport and Physical Education [NASPE], state Departments of Education) have articulated the need for increasing student understanding of the role and application of fitness assessment and the appropriate focus on psychological principles that apply to participation in and receiving benefits of physical activity. For example, national physical education standards (NASPE, 2004a) include Standard 4 (“Achieves and maintains a health-enhancing level of physical fitness”) and Standard 6 (“Values physical activity for health, enjoyment, challenge, self-expression, and social interaction”). Three California physical education standards (CDE, 2006) relate to assessing and maintaining physical fitness, demonstrating knowledge of physical fitness, and utilizing knowledge of psychological concepts, principles, and strategies that apply to learning and performing physical activity. These standards provide additional merit for the responsible use of fitness testing in the public schools. The next section will identify and discuss fitness testing practices that have children’s and adolescents’ best interests at heart, emanating primarily from a psychologically sound perspective. Educational Content: Setting up the Need and Protocol for Fitness Testing From the international comparisons and presidential propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s, to the years leading to the academic and assessment emphases of the No Child Left Behind era (Public Law 107-110, 2002), to the current concern of childhood inactivity, the place and importance of physical education in schools
  10. 10. 176 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN has been ambiguous. Even today, in an era when the increasing prevalence of obesity is common knowledge, educational administrators struggle to embrace, fund, and support regularly scheduled and developmentally appropriate physical education in the schools. We believe that education of children and adolescents should include the importance of physical activity participation and the physical and psychological benefits of becoming physically fit, and that physical fitness testing can be used to help children and adolescents understand where they are, relative to receiving the greatest benefits of being fit. Teachers should emphasize that fitness test results are a combination of students’ current fitness level (how active you are, how much you move and exercise), their genetics (from your parents, whether you are short or tall, or your body type), maturation (stage of development of your body as you get older), motivation (do you really want to do this test?), and effort (how hard do you try?). In essence, teachers can tell students, “You may really want to do the test (motivated) and really try hard (effort), but your body is not as ready (developed) as the bodies of some of your classmates.” Teachers should emphasize that it is sometimes not logical to compare scores to other classmates (“Hey, this apple doesn’t taste like an orange”), but that students SHOULD want to compare their test results to (a) their previous test results, and (b) a health standard, such as the Healthy Fitness Zone. Children can be told that if they score in the Healthy Fitness Zone, “many researchers feel your body is protected from many of the diseases that can occur from being unfit.” One major factor that is under the control of the students is the amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) in which they regularly engage. Although quantity of regular MVPA is a primary topic of another article in this issue (Welk, this issue), it is worth discussion at this point because of the connection between participation in regular MVPA and the psychological antecedents and consequences of an educationally sound physical education program with fitness education as one of several important cornerstones. The study and application of physical activity antecedents are important from the perspective of adoption, adherence, and noncompliance. Most physical activity promotion models (i.e., Social-Cognitive Theory [Bandura, 1977, 1986], Youth Physical Activity Promotion Model [Welk, 1999], Value-Expectancy Theory [Eccles & Harold, 1991]) include correlates or precursors of physical activity that include those that can be influenced by physical fitness testing. Welk’s (1999) Youth Physical Activity Promotion model, in particular, outlines enabling (physical fitness and skills), predisposing (perceptions of competence, enjoyment, attitudes), and reinforcing (parents, teachers, peers) factors that increase or decrease the likelihood that youth voluntarily engage in physical activities. When teachers use fitness testing appropriately, make it fun and enjoyable, and allow students opportunities to improve, they engage in behavior that encourages young people to try different physical activities (e.g., riding
  11. 11. 177 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING bikes, playing tag games, joining a soccer team, shooting baskets) and perform them regularly. Many of these teaching behaviors are congruent with a mastery motivational climate, in which children are given the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of physical activities (e.g., running, dodging, galloping, dribbling, throwing/catching, kicking, striking) in a manner that affords them many opportunities to practice (e.g., one ball for every child maximizes the opportunities to play). In so doing, games and activities should minimize wait time (inactivity) and spotlighting (a couple of students participating while other watch), and allow children to play, improve, and focus on their own skill development. Importantly, this is generally how students define “fun”: participating/playing and improving/getting better. Students who regularly engage in developmentally appropriate physical activity will likely perform favorably on physical fitness tests. Desirable psychological consequences of physical activity behaviors can be discussed broadly as the reduction of negative, or the promotion of positive, acute or chronic psychological states. Teachers, coaches, and parents who understand some of these consequences are in a good position to educate students as to the psychological benefits of regular MVPA and encourage students to increase their awareness of such benefits, which include positive mood (Calfas & Taylor, 1994), self-concept and self-esteem (Fox, 2000; Spence, McGannon, & Poon, 2005), stress reduction (Crews & Landers, 1987; Spalding, Lyon, Steel, & Hatfield, 2004), anxiety reduction (Goodwin, 2003; Petruzello, Landers, Hatfield, Kubitz, & Salazar, 1991), and depression reduction (Motl, Birnbaum, Kubik, & Dishman, 2004; North, McCullagh, & Tran, 1990). Fitness testing performed outside the context of regular and developmentally appropriate physical education may result in negative psychological states, which, in turn, may lead to disengagement from, nonparticipation in, and/or distaste for regular physical activity. Essential Steps in an Educationally and Psychologically Sound Testing Protocol Execution of the physical fitness assessment process includes following devel- opmentally appropriate and educationally sound practices (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance [AAHPERD], 1999a, 1999b; Corbin et al., 1995). Although these practices are not original, they will be discussed with a primary focus on psychological concepts related to fitness assessment in youth. First, educators must engage students regularly (i.e., daily) in developmentally appropriate physical education practices that engage them in a minimum of 50% MVPA time for the scheduled physical education period (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2000). For many PE programs, this would result in approximately 20 to 30 min of MVPA a day. Regularly
  12. 12. 178 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN delivered physical education will foster broad skill competencies as students are engaged in and learn a variety of movement forms, physical skills, and specialized sport skills. As students gain broad skill competencies, several psychological constructs are likely to be affected, including self-concept (“I am a mover”), enjoyment or liking of games and sport (“I like learning and playing games in PE and at recess”), and competence (“I am good at lots of different games and sports”). In addition, students are engaging in regular MVPA, which is at least moderately related to health-related physical fitness and will develop a good fitness foundation in initial level preparation for fitness testing. Second, opportunities can also be provided to engage in additional MVPA during the school day and immediately after school (e.g., structured and semi-structured activity choices provided during recess and lunch periods and after-school intramural sport opportunities). In addition to structured physical education, these opportunities will help students meet the recommended 60 min or more of daily MVPA (NASPE, 2004b; Strong et al., 2005; USDHHS, 2000). Combined with regular PE, these additional opportunities to be physically active will help many students achieve a minimum level of fitness that will allow them to safely participate in fitness testing protocols and likely achieve minimum health standards (e.g., score in the Healthy Fitness Zone for the FITNESSGRAM® ). Third, fitness test items include assessments for body composition, cardio- vascular endurance, and musculoskeletal fitness. The latter two categories of assessment include specific assessments that are performed to exhaustion (e.g., PACER, push-ups, curl-ups). Other assessments have technical components that require knowledge of test protocol for valid measurement (e.g., back-saver sit and reach, trunk lift). For these reasons and others (e.g., test anxiety, stress from the unknown, safe test execution), instruction, training, and practice with each fitness test is required. The second author recalls participating in the Presidential Fitness Test as a fifth grader in the mid 1970s. One of the test items was the bench push-up. After performing approximately 70 bench push-ups on a Friday, he had to sit out from participation in two Little League baseball games (Saturday and Sunday), as he was not able to lift his arms above his waist. Adequate exposure to test protocol likely would have prevented this situation. Some of the exceptional physical education programs in the Orange County (CA) area include 5 min of test-specific fitness training every day after the daily warm-up activity (e.g., PACER practice, sets of curl-ups or push-ups with varying, student-selected, number of repetitions). Sometimes the warm-up itself is the fitness training (e.g., squats, lunges, curl-ups, or push-ups). Fitness activities can be performed as a game. For example, two partner activities that both authors use in working with children, adolescents, and adults are: (a) Quick Hands (hand tag in push-up position) and (b) Ball Pass (in curl-up position). In the first game, two students face each other in correct push-up position
  13. 13. 179 PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE ON FITNESS TESTING (students maintain position on toes for as long as they can and then may move to knees). The object is to tag your partner’s hand (left or right) with your finger tips (finger tips discourages slapping and smashing behaviors) without getting tagged yourself. No points are kept, and no rewards are offered (except for participating and laughing). In the second game, students sit in a curl-up position, toes to toes, with shoulders flexed and elbows extended, passing a ball back and forth. In both games, after 15–30 sec of participation, students are requested to quickly find and play with a new partner. Each game is repeated with a new partner 5 to 10 times. Obviously, with these games, the focus is on fun (e.g., enjoyment of physical activity, playing with others, getting better/stronger, building confidence). In addition, students can be encouraged to participate in strengthening or flexibility exercises while doing homework (e.g., stretching while reading, 30-sec breaks every 15 min to do squats, lunges, curl-ups, or push-ups). Some physical education programs require students to keep physical activity logs for after-school and weekend hours. Students are not necessarily graded on whether they choose to be physically active, but are required to submit activity logs and discuss motives, activity choices, and likely outcomes or consequences (short- and long-term) of those choices. Finally, after students have learned about and practiced the fitness tests and participated in regular MVPA, it is appropriate to engage them in the assessment of their personal fitness levels. Students should engage in fitness testing regularly, as often as every 4 to 8 weeks. Fitness testing in this capacity is formative; that is, information is used from the fitness testing as feedback to guide students in adopting or adhering to new behaviors or maintaining previously established behaviors. Fitness testing also results in regular feedback regarding fitness goals. Although we have seen schools spend an entire week (or more) completing state-mandated fitness tests, the testing protocol could easily be completed in one 40-min period with a class size of up to 40 students. In this scenario, for upper elementary to high school students (most 10-year olds and up), six fitness stations are set up. Students select a trusted partner to complete the tests with and move about the stations at their preference (Corbin, 2007). Some stations require assistance from a teacher or cadence CD (e.g., PACER), while others do not (height, weight, trunk lift, back-saver sit and reach). Most student pairs become trusting partners; infrequently, teacher intervention is required and reassignment necessary. Students are constantly reminded to focus on their own fitness status and ignore others. Our experience has demonstrated that when students know that their grade or some status award is not related to their fitness scores, but that their scores are for their knowledge, they are truthful and conscientious. Students learn that the PE teacher is also interested in their fitness scores because he or she is in a good position to help, guide, and encourage them as they develop healthy behaviors related to physical activity participation and fitness outcomes.
  14. 14. 180 WIERSMA AND SHERMAN SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS The purpose of this article was to provide insight into the psychological issues surrounding children’s performance on fitness tests, strategies to enhance students’ experiences during testing, and ways in which testing protocols can be appropriately implemented in schools. Table 1 provides a summary of the most relevant psychological aspects of fitness testing and implementation, all of which increase the likelihood that positive outcomes may result from gathering information on youth health and fitness. Many challenges still exist, and we believe that researchers still need to determine the connection between youth fitness, physical activity involvement, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles in young people. We also know that past generations of students have less- than-fond memories of fitness testing as a result of inappropriate practices that have likely turned them off to physical activity, and that it can be difficult to convince school administrators, physical activity researchers, and parents who are the product of these generations that testing can be positive and enjoyable. If physical fitness testing practices are done thoughtlessly, and if conditions lead to negative reactions in youth, then testing should not be done. However, with the recent resurgence of arguments for and against the value of fitness testing, amid vast public awareness of the crisis surrounding the sedentary nature of many youth, we are once again faced with the challenge of not only doing it, but doing it right. And like anything else, doing it right means doing it in the best interests of youth, with a focus on youth, in a way that can truly benefit TABLE 1 Review of Psychological Implications and Practices of Physical Fitness Testing 1. The foundation of fitness testing should be on the promotion of enjoyable and regular physical activity participation. 2. Testing should take place as an integrated aspect of a physical education curriculum with opportunities to practice skills and fitness activities in fun, game-like conditions. 3. Students should be provided with the opportunity to regularly assess their own fitness (with a trusted partner) in informal testing sessions. The emphases of these sessions should be on self-responsibility, trust, and self-improvement. 4. Fitness test “data” should be used to help students draw conclusions about their activity choices and plan for health-related physical fitness maintenance or improvement. 5. Task-oriented students perform best when improvement and skill mastery is reinforced, while ego-oriented students with high perceptions of competence perform well with social or normative challenges. 6. Teachers should use criterion-referenced standards to provide feedback on student performance and focus on controllable factors such as motivation, effort, and developing a passion for movement. 7. Physical education programs that promote competence and enjoyment set students up for a positive physical fitness testing experience and for the achievement of healthy fitness scores.
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