How Fear Impacts Skill Learning in Physical Education

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You want to know what keeps kids from learning? Fear. Fear of getting hurt and fear of getting embarrassed. Let me tell you a little more.

When you’re teaching skills to kids, you want to make sure they avoid failure in front of you and in front of their peers. That fear of failure keeps them from learning and oftentimes we start right out with competition, put them into a competitive situation. They don’t perform well, they’re embarrassed. Their peers blame them for losing when we should have really put them in a cooperative setting.

Fear of getting hurt is another thing that keeps them from learning skills. For example, if you take a regular soccer ball and somebody kicks it hard, there’s always more gifted kids and they kick it so hard that another youngster can’t protect themselves and gets hit in the face or in the chest, that’s painful. That fear will cause them to dodge the ball, and not perform well in the future because they think they’re going to get hurt.

One of the best ways to get around that is to pick projectiles that certainly won’t inflict pain on them if they get hit with them and one of my favorites is beach balls. I love beach balls because they move so slowly. And that’s exactly what I want with young children who are just learning their skills. One of the things we know about skill development is if you’re going to learn a skill well you have to do it as hard as possible with as much velocity as possible. So if you’re going to kick something, you got to strike it all out. If you’re gonna throw something, you gotta throw it as hard and as far as you can and of course that doesn’t make sense in PE a lot of times, but if you’ll take the right object can take a beach ball, it can be kicked hard, particularly if you let a little air out of it. It won’t move quite as fast and it won’t hurt and it won’t travel as fast and youngsters won’t be afraid of it and it makes the game much more enjoyable.

The same with throwing. If you want somebody to learn to catch, you’ve got to make sure you start with an object and when they throw that ball to them, it’s one that won’t hurt them because as you all know, some youngsters are much more gifted, some have much more ability while others have a lesser amount and so one of the things that always try to do with my students is to make sure that fear doesn’t come in and cloud the issue of learning because very few youngsters will learn if they’re fearful of getting embarrassed psychologically or fearful of getting embarrassed because they failed in front of their peers. Change your projectiles, change the distances, change the rules, do anything you need to create a nice environment where learning is upper most in all your outcomes.

Dr. Pangrazi is an Educational Specialist with Gopher Sport and is a Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. He was the First Executive Director of the Arizona Governor's Council for Health and Fitness,

Dr. Pangrazi is an Educational Specialist with Gopher Sport and is a Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona. He was the First Executive Director of the Arizona Governor's Council for Health and Fitness,

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