In: Motivation of Exercise and Physical Activity ISBN: 978-1-60021-596-4
Editor: Liam A. Chiang, pp. 67-77 © 2007 Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
EDUCATION THROUGH THE PHYSICAL:
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TEACHING LIFE SKILLS
PROGRAM IN PHYSICAL EDUCATION
Vassilios Papacharisis1,*, Grigorios Theofanidis1
and Steven Danish2
1Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece
2Virginia Commonwealth University, USA
The purpose of the present study was to examine the effect of a life skills program
taught in the school setting through physical education classes. The participants were 97
students (59 boys, 38 girls), aged from 10 to 12 years (M = 11,16, SD = .64). Students
were evaluated regarding their: (a) performance in sport skills; (b) knowledge about life
skills; (c) self – assessment of their ability to use life skills; and (d) their sense of self –
efficiency about their sport skills performance before and after implementation of the
program. The results of the study support the effectiveness of a program that integrates
physical education curriculum and life- skills training. Students who participate in such
program can improve their sports skills, while at the same time the inclusion of life skills
training into practice may serve as an effective model for learning life – skills.
Keywords: physical education curriculum, life skills development
* Please address correspondence to: Dr. Vassilios Papacharisis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Division of
Intercollegiate Athletics, University Gymnasium, 54124 Thessaloniki, Greece. Email: email@example.com; +30
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Vassilios Papacharisis, Grigorios Theofanidis and Steven Danish 68
It is understood that active children are less likely to be obese and more likely to pursue
sporting activity as adults. More recently, educators have become aware that there are non-
athletic skills can improve athletic performance. These skills are called sport psychology
skills. What is less well understood is that these same skills can improve student
concentration, commitment and self-esteem in the classroom. When the skills improve
performance in non-sport domains, they are called life skills.
Life skills can be behavioral (e.g., communicating effectively) or cognitive (making
effective decisions); interpersonal (being assertive) or intrapersonal (setting goals) (Danish,
Petitpas, & Hale, 1995). The World Health Organization (1999) defines life skills as the
abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable individuals to deal effectively with the
demands and challenges of every day life. These skills can help individuals make informed
decisions, communicate effectively, and develop coping and self-management abilities that
may help them lead a healthy and productive life. Teaching life skills is essential for the
promotion of healthy child and adolescent development, and for preparing young people for
their changing social circumstances.
The belief that participating in sport may result in students’ personal and social
development, and as a result diminish the incidents of health-compromising behaviors, is
based on the tenets of the Olympic ideal-the integration of mind and body (Danish & Nellen,
1997). However, there is nothing about sport itself (the ball, the venue or the equipment) that
teaches children how to: concentrate; believe in themselves; believe to their future; and/or
become more responsible (Danish, 2001). These skills that integrate mind and body must be
taught in conjunction with and through sport. In other words, we must teach “education
through the physical” as opposed to “education of the physical”. As Siedentop (1980)
distinguished these two orientations, the latter has physical fitness as its primary goal; the
former has general education as the primary goal. When we adopt an “education through the
physical” we are committing ourselves to teaching both physical and mental fitness. We must
emphasize the valuable skills and attitudes learned during sport participation and how
students can apply these skills to daily life.
Laker (2000) suggests that physical education should no longer be about skill acquisition
and performance only. It is an opportunity for physical education to be linked more closely
with personal, social, health education and citizenship. The practicalities of such an enterprise
will need to be addressed in teacher education program and in teaching in schools. To use
physical education to promote personal growth, we first must recognize that physical activity
is a metaphor for enhancing competence, not an end in itself. In other words, the lasting value
of a sport experience lies in the application of the principles learned through participation and
then transferred to other areas.
Petitipas et al. (2005) suggest that positive development can happen when young people
are: (a) engaged in a desired activity within an appropriate environment (context); (b)
surrounded by caring adult mentors and a positive group or community (external assets); (c)
learning to acquire skills (internal assets) that are important for managing life situation; and
(d) benefiting from the findings of a comprehensive system of evaluation and research. The
question and the challenge for physical educators and coaches is how to test and build on
these positive developments in practice.
Education through the Physical… 69
Hellison (1995) developed a program for teachers and coaches to teach responsibility
through physical activity. The model consists of five levels of what it means for A student to
be responsible for: (a) respecting the rights and feelings of others; (b) understanding the role
of effort in improving oneself in physical activity and life; (c) being self-directed and
responsible for one’s own well-being; (d) being sensitive and responsible for the well-being
of others; and (e) applying what you have learned in different non-physical activity/sport
settings. Cummings (1997) examined the impact of the program on school attendance, grades
and dropout rates. She found that the control group had a 34% school dropout rate as
compared to none in the program group. No differences were found between the groups with
respect to school attendance or grades.
Danish et al. (1992a, 1992b) developed the Going for Goal (GOAL) program. GOAL is a
10 –hour, 10-session program taught by carefully selected and well- trained high-school
students to middle-school or junior high –school students. The program is designed to teach
adolescents a sense of personal control and confidence about their future so that they can
make better decisions and ultimately became better citizens. Danish (1997) reported an initial
evaluation of GOAL that combined different samples that had received the program at
different times. Among the major findings were: (a) participants learned the information the
GOAL program taught; (b) they were able to achieve the goals they set; (c) they found the
process easier than they expected; and (d) they thought they had learned quite a bit about how
to set goals. O’ Hearn and Gatz (1999, 2002) conducted two studies using GOAL with mostly
Hispanic students. In one study, participating students, compared to a wait – list control
group, gained knowledge about the skills being taught and were able to attain the goals they
set. In the second study, they also improved their problem solving skills.
Danish (2002) developed a sport–based program that takes advantage of the clearly
defined, contingency-dependent, closed environment of sport and uses it as a “training
ground” for life. The program is called SUPER (Sports United to Promote Education and
Recreation) is a sport – based adaptation of the GOAL and its goals are that each participant
leave the program with the understanding that: (1) there is a relationship between
performance excellence in sport and personal excellence in life; (2) mental skills can enhance
both sport performance and personal performance; (3) it is important to set and attain goals in
sport and life and (4) roadblocks to goals can be overcome.
SUPER is a peer-led series of 18 modules taught like sports clinics. Participants are
involved in three sets of activities: learning the physical skills related to a specific sport;
learning life skills related to sports and life in general; and playing the sport. For an extended
discussion of the conceptual framework for SUPER, readers are referred to Danish, Forneris,
Hodge & Heke (2004) and Danish,Taylor & Fazio (2003). The SUPER Program has been
implemented in conjunction with several sports including basketball, soccer, golf, rugby and
volleyball. Hodge, Heke, & McCarroll, (2000) applied the SUPER model in the development
of the Rugby Advantage Program (RAP) in New Zealand. Danish and his colleagues (Danish,
2001) applied the program to golf.
Papacharisis, Goudas, Danish & Theodorakis (2005) applied an abbreviated (eight
sessions) of the program to soccer and volleyball. The design for both studies was a pre-test,
post-test comparison group design with the intervention integrated into the teaching of the
sports skills and games. The first study involved 40 female volleyball players on two teams;
the second study involved 32 male soccer players on two different teams. In each study, one
team served as the “experimental” team, the other as the “control” team. In both studies,
Vassilios Papacharisis, Grigorios Theofanidis and Steven Danish 70
measures included assessments of physical skills; knowledge of the SUPER program; and
self-beliefs about their ability to set goals, to problem solve, and to think positively. The
results of both studies indicated that students on the experimental teams indicated higher self-
beliefs for personal goal setting, problem solving and positive thinking than did those on the
control teams. In addition, students in the intervention demonstrated an increase in program
knowledge and improvement in physical skills compared to students in the control condition.
In the current study we sought to extend the results of the above research (Papacharisis et.
all. 2005) to a physical education course. The purpose was to examine the effectiveness of the
same abbreviated version of SUPER in a physical education setting. We examined the impact
the program had on students’ knowledge and ability to use life skills, on their performance in
sport skill and their sense of self efficacy about their performance. Self-efficacy was defined
as the confidence individuals had in their ability to execute a course of action or attain
specific performance outcomes (Bandura, 1997).
The study was conducted with classes in elementary school. Participants were 97 (59
boys, 38 girls), all of them were Greek citizens aged 10 – 12 years old (M = 11.16 years old,
SD = .64). The participants were divided into two teams and randomly assigned into an
experimental (n = 48, 31 boys, 17 girls) and a control (n = 49, 28 boys, 21 girls) group.
Description of the Life Skills Program
The program was an abbreviated form of SUPER. The main differences were: (a) the
sessions were shorter (8 sessions of 15 minutes); (b) they took place during physical
education classes; and (c) the program began with a sport skill test (described below). Test
result of the sport skill served as stimuli for pupils to set goals. Learning objectives were
introduced in combination with sport practice. The intervention itself included discussion,
group learning, and written worksheets.
In the beginning of the program, participants were evaluated on two different sports skills
related to the contents of the physical education class. In the first two sessions of the program,
in addition to practice, pupils discussed their performance on the test with the physical
education teacher, discussed the importance of setting goals, and were asked to set reachable
goals to achieve over the two months of practice. In session three, athletes were taught the
characteristics of reachable goals (positively stated, specific, important to the goal setter, and
under to the goal setter’s control). In session four and five, they were taught and practiced
setting goals for themselves that were stated positively, specifically, important to them and
under their control.. In sessions six and seven, a problem solving technique (STAR) was
taught. STAR stands for Stop and take a deep breath, Think of all the alternatives, anticipate
the consequences of each choice and Respond with the best choice. They then identified
possible roadblocks to reaching their goals and practiced the STAR problem -solving strategy
Education through the Physical… 71
to help them overcome the roadblocks. Finally in session eight, they were taught how to make
a plan (or goal ladder) to reach their goal. Participants learned the importance of developing
plans to reach goals and made plans to reach the goals they have set.
During the eight sessions, participants had as a reference point their own personal goal
that they had to achieve in the particular sport skill. Having this goal in mind, they learned
how to think positive, solve problem and make plans to achieve the goal.
Prior to the intervention, all participants were asked to complete the questionnaires and
performance test. SUPER was then taught to the experimental groups at the beginning of each
physical education class for a period of eight weeks. The program was taught by the physical
education teacher (one of the experimenters). Concurrently, the same physical education
course without the SUPER intervention was taught to the control group. At the end of the
eight-week program, all participants completed the questionnaires and performance test for a
second time. Data form both teams (Experimental and Control) were collected by the same
Participants’ performance on physical education was evaluated with a test on basketball
chest passes. Participants score was made up by the number of repetitions executed during 30
seconds against a wall two meters away (Barrow, McGee, 1979).
Self-efficacy was assessed by asking each participant how confident they were regarding
their score in basketball test. Participants were asked to rate the strength and magnitude of
their self-efficacy expectations for five performance levels: 10, 20, 30, 40, and 50. The format
used is comparable to that of Bandura and Jourden (1991) and Theodorakis (1996) studies
(e.g. “ I can do 20 pass in a row against the wall in 30 seconds” Yes – No) and “ How certain
you are?” answered in a 10 point scale anchored by “certain” (10) and “uncertain” (1). The
strength of self-efficacy was the sum of the certainty scores for the five levels of performance.
Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was .79.
A 10-item multiple – choice test was used to evaluate knowledge of how to set goals,
solve problems, and think positively. For example, “In order to make a dream come true: (a) I
should dream more and more, (b) I must turn the dream into a goal, (c) I must sit and wait for
something to happen, (d) I don’t have to do anything. If I want it, it will happen.” The
instrument was developed and validated for the same ages in our previous studies
(Papacharisis et. all, 2005, Papacharisis, 2002).
Vassilios Papacharisis, Grigorios Theofanidis and Steven Danish 72
Self-Beliefs for the Ability of Goal Setting, Problem Solving, and Positive Thinking
A 15-item scale measuring self – beliefs for goal setting, problem solving and positive
thinking, based on the work of Papacharisis, Goudas, Danish, and Theodorakis (2005) was
administrated. Five items were developed to assess students’ perceptions of goal setting (e.g.,
“I am very good at setting goals for my self”); five items were developed to assess students’
perceptions of problem solving ability (e.g., “I am very good at solving problems that I
have”); and five items were developed to assess students’ perceptions of positive thinking
(e.g. “I am very good at thinking positively for myself”). A 7-point scale was used (1=
strongly disagree to 7 = strongly agree). Cronbach’s alpha coefficients were: .81 for Goal
Setting, .77 for Problem Solving, and .80 for Positive Thinking.
A social desirability scale, the M-C Form A (Reynolds, 1982), was also completed to
examine relationships of the questionnaire items with social desirability. The results revealed
that the correlations with social desirability were low.
Descriptive statistics were computed for each of the variables for pre-test and post- test
and are displayed in Table 1.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics of the study
Experimental group Control group
Pre Post Pre Post
M SD M SD M SD M SD
Knowledge test 5.02 1.12 7.43 1.90 5.14 1.33 5.22 1.18
Self-beliefs - Goal setting 5.17 .83 5.73 .78 5.20 1.00 5.14 1.02
Self-beliefs - Problem solving 5.04 .74 5.80 .83 5.05 .81 4.93 1.00
Self-beliefs - Positive thinking 4.89 .95 5.67 .87 4.96 .79 4.81 .90
Basketball skill tests - Chest pass 16.87 6.40 23.83 6.20 10.53 5.40 11.37 5.70
Self-efficacy 7.33 1.80 8.78 1.20 6.78 1.80 7.20 1.60
A repeated – measure ANOVA with knowledge scores as the dependent variable, time of
measurement as the within- subjects factor, and group as the between –subjects factor,
revealed a significant Group x Time interaction, F (1, 94) = 16.78, p< .001, η2 = .32. Post hoc
analysis revealed that the two groups were not significantly different in their knowledge about
life skills before the program, t (94) = .12, p > .01. By contrast, after the program, the
knowledge score of the Experimental group was significantly higher than that of the Control
group, t (94) = 8.07, p < .001.
Education through the Physical… 73
Figure 1. Change in Knowledge Test from pre-test to post test for experimental and control groups.
Self – Beliefs
A repeated – measure MANOVA with Goal Setting, Problem Solving, and Positive
thinking as the dependent variables, time of measurement as the within-subject factor and
groups as the between subjects factor revealed a significant multivariate group by time
interaction, F (3, 88) = 6.17, p < .001, η2 = .44. Univariate tests showed significant interaction
effects for Goal Setting, F (1, 93) = 6.78, p < .05, η2 = .33, Problem Solving, F (1, 93) =
15.43, p < .001, η2 = .31, and Positive Thinking, F (1, 93) = 10.16, p< .01, η2 = .27. To further
investigate the interaction, repeated measures ANOVA’S were performed for each group
separately. The analysis revealed that there was a significant improvement for Goal Setting”,
F (1, 47) = 15.16, p < .001, η2 = .34, Problem solving F (1, 47) = 33.82, p < .001, η2 = .63 and
Positive Thinking, F (1, 47) = 20.42, p < .01, η2 = 42. In contrast, there were no significant
differences for the control group.
Goal Setting Problem Solving
Figure 2. (Continued)
Vassilios Papacharisis, Grigorios Theofanidis and Steven Danish 74
Figure 2. Change in Self-Beliefs for the Ability of Goal Setting, Problem Solving, and Positive
Thinking from pre-test to post test for experimental and control groups.
A repeated measures ANOVA showed a significant group by time interaction for the
basketball skill test, F (1, 94) = 52.95, p < .001, η2 = .73. To further investigate the
interaction, paired samples t-tests were performed for each group separately. The analyses
revealed significant improvement for the experimental group, t (47) = 11.32, p < .001,
whereas no differences were detected for the control group.
Figure 3. Change in basketball chest passes from pre-test to post test for experimental and control
Results of the repeated measures ANOVA showed a significant group by time interaction
for self-efficacy score, F (1, 94) = 15.95, p < .001, η2 = .38. The results indicated that scores
of self-efficacy increased significantly for the experimental group t (47) = 7.62, p < .001.
There were no significant differences for the control group.
Education through the Physical… 75
Figure 4. Change in Self- efficacy, from pre-test to post test for experimental and control groups
The purpose of the present study was to examine the effectiveness of a life skills program
for students through their physical education classes. The program teaches intrapersonal skills
including Goal Setting, Problem Solving and Positive Thinking. The aim was to promote, the
knowledge of the use of life skills among the students s as well as the acquisition of sports
skill and the feelings of self –efficacy.
The results of the program are promising. Students who received the program showed
greater improvement regarding their knowledge and their self – beliefs for personal Goal
Setting, Problem Solving and Positive Thinking than did students in the control group. In
addition, they reported higher score in sport skill test and higher scores in self – efficacy than
did students in the control group. Prior research on the application of life skills program in
sport setting reported significant changes on participants’ knowledge about life skills and
perceptions of their ability to achieve the goal they have set (O’Hearn & Gatz 1999; 2002;
Papacharisis, et.al., 2005). Brunelle, Danish, and Fazio (2002), have also reported significant
changes on social responsibility, emotional intelligence, goal knowledge and social interest,
as a result of implementing an abbreviated version of SUPER.
The results denote that when life skills training is appropriately embedded in physical
education curriculum, the life skills learned are not at the expense of learning sport skills
training. One explanation for these findings may be related to the participatory learning
methods used in the program including: hearing an explanation of the skill in question;
observing f the skill (modelling); practicing the skill in selected situations in a supportive
learning environment; and receiving feedback about individual performance of skills. Practice
and the learning of these life skills were facilitated by the practice and performance demands
of the sports skills.
The present study had at least two limitations that should be considered when interpreting
the results. The first limitation is the lack of follow-up to see whether the intervention had any
lasting effects. The second limitation is that much of the outcome data is based on the
students’ self-reports. Future studies should employ behavioural measures of students use life
skills and a longer follow-up period (at least a year). Additional factors may be measured to
Vassilios Papacharisis, Grigorios Theofanidis and Steven Danish 76
assess the impact of a life skills programme, such us the effect of life skills education on
school performance and school attendance.
A conscious emphasis on using life skills in the context of physical education classes may
make programs more effective in achieving their stated goals. Focusing on personal goal
setting, problem solving and positive thinking and encouraging students to use these skills
can result in improved skill and fitness, in addition to greater knowledge. By designing
activities that truly promote elements and knowledge that are necessary for successfully
coping with the complex realities of life, we can hopefully influence our students’ lives
“beyond the physical”.
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