Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Aaron Beighle


Providing students with experiences to increase their confidence (self-efficacy) to be physically active is important because of the many health benefits associated with physical activity (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2020). Several studies have shown that physical activity (PA) tends to decline as students age (Cooper et al., 2015; Metcalf et al., 2015; Troiano et al., 2008) and the largest declines usually occur in adolescence (Sallis, 2000). It is recommended that physical education (PE) serve as an intervention to promote PA and provide students with experiences to increase motor competence and PA knowledge (Weiss, 2013). Interventions within PE have also been found to increase PA self-efficacy (Annesi et al., 2007), which is a person’s beliefs about their capability to be physically active despite barriers (Voskuil & Robbins, 2015). Several studies have found PA self-efficacy to be significantly associated to PA (Annesi, 2006; Annesi et al., 2007; Van der Horst et al., 2007), which supports an examination of experiences to support PA self-efficacy in PE.

Most research provides a general description of how to increase PA self-efficacy by providing students with experiences that align with the four sources of self-efficacy (mastery experience, vicarious experiences, social persuasions, physiological/emotional states). Outside of these studies, it is unclear from the research how high school PE teachers try to support students’ PA self-efficacy beliefs with in-person and online instruction (Pittman, 2020; Voskuil & Robbins, 2015). Asking current high school PE teachers about the practices that they used to support students’ PA self-efficacy while teaching in-person/online provided examples of how PE teachers are trying to support students’ beliefs in their capabilities to be physically active.

The study participants were 14 (8 female/6 male) current high school PE teachers with three years teaching experience who have taught both in-person and online high school PE in the United States. The PE teachers participated in individual semi-structured interviews online that lasted around an hour each. Interview questions asked teachers to describe what their normal class routines were based on the sources of self-efficacy and their rationale for those decisions. Participants were also asked about their perceptions of students’ PA self-efficacy beliefs and how PE could support students’ PA self-efficacy. Interviews were analyzed using a deductive thematic analysis based on the sources of self-efficacy. Second-level coding examined themes/patterns within each source of self-efficacy (Boyatzis, 1998). This produced a more complete understanding of how a few current PE teachers are supporting students’ PA self-efficacy through in-person/online practices, what were the similarities and differences of in-person/online instruction, and how the described PE practices aligned with recommended practices to increase PA self-efficacy.

The findings indicted that according to teachers, having high PA self-efficacy meant that students have had successful experiences that have resulted in an increase of PA knowledge which allowed students to design their own PA while not being distracted by social comparison. Teachers described having varying levels of control over students’ PA experiences, students’ observations, and the social persuasion that students were provided in PE. Overall, teachers in the study designed and implemented (environmental factor) the PA experiences (behaviors) that students participated in which some teachers believed could influence students’ interpretation of their mastery experiences with PA (theme 1). Teachers decided which PA students would participate in, what a successful PA experience entailed, how PA experiences were designed, and what PA content knowledge instruction and PA management skills were put into practice. Teachers also had some control over the observations that students had in PE (theme 2). The teachers chose who modeled PA to the whole class, when whole group modeling occurred, what different types of modeling experiences students participated in, and how activities like competition and fitness testing were designed. The teachers also provided social persuasion in different ways which they said influenced students’ perceptions of PA and students’ PA self-efficacy (theme 3).

The sudden move from in-person to online instruction resulted in many changes to the PA experiences that students were provided in PE. Teachers had to change which physical activities students would participate in, how students would demonstrate participation with PA, and how PA experiences were designed. The observations that students were provided also changed when instruction moved online. Students no longer modeled PA to their classmates and most teachers primarily relied on online videos to model PA to the students. There was limited peer social comparison due to students not seeing each other participate in PA that often and the absence of competition. The social persuasion that teachers provided to students also changed when instruction moved from in-person to online. Teachers struggled to connect with students online and thought it was difficult to provide students with encouragement to be physically active.

For the teachers in this study, external factors had some varying degree of influence on teachers’ decisions; however, decisions were mostly based on teachers’ interpretations of the overall PE experience. This resulted in a wide range of experiences that could potentially increase/decrease students’ PA self-efficacy. It is recommended that teachers’ decisions be based more on research than just teacher interpretations of PE to assist in ensuring that PE practices are more aligned to recommended practices in the literature to support student PA self-efficacy.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)