Motivation vs. Discipline in Sports Education

Students participating in a physical education class, showcasing the balance of motivation and discipline.

The world of sports and physical education often revolves around the dynamics of “motivation versus discipline.” While motivation propels one to achieve and perform, discipline keeps one consistent and determined. But which of these plays a more pivotal role in the context of sports education, and how do they influence academic performance? A recent study by Claver F, Martínez-Aranda LM, Conejero M, and Gil-Arias A delves deep into this intriguing subject.

Read more: Motivation vs. Discipline in Sports Education

Physical Education: A Crucial Ground for Analyzing Student Behavior

Physical education, more than just a school subject, represents a microcosm of life’s challenges and rewards. It’s not just about physical prowess; it is also about the mental and emotional journey of students. Therefore, understanding the motivational processes that predict positive outcomes in this field can be immensely beneficial for both educators and learners.

Theoretical Framework: Achievement Goal Theory and Self-Determination Theory

The study leans on two significant theories: the Achievement Goal Theory and the Self-Determination Theory. The former emphasizes the importance of competence and defines how individuals interpret and act on their competence in achievement contexts. On the other hand, the Self-Determination Theory centers on the motivation behind choices people make without external influence.

The Study: Exploring the Correlation Between Motivation, Discipline, and Performance

Drawing data from 919 Spanish secondary school students, the study examined various elements: task-oriented motivational climate, basic psychological needs, autonomous motivation, disciplined behavior, and academic performance in Physical Education.

Using Spanish validated questionnaires and employing the Mplus statistical program, a predictive model was established. This model encompassed antecedents like the task-oriented climate and consequences such as disciplined behavior and academic performance.

Revelations: Unraveling the Relationship Between Motivation and Discipline

The findings of the study were enlightening:

  1. Positive Outcomes Driven by Autonomous Motivation: Both discipline and academic performance in Physical Education were significantly and positively influenced by autonomous motivation.
  2. Role of Basic Psychological Needs: Autonomous motivation, in turn, was positively influenced by basic psychological needs. These needs were further influenced by a task-oriented climate.
  3. Importance of Task-Oriented Motivational Climate: The study underscored the significance of a task-oriented motivational climate, highlighting its role in initiating the chain of positive outcomes in students.

Implications: What This Means for Physical Education and Beyond

The study provides a fresh perspective on the age-old debate of “motivation versus discipline.” The results suggest that a conducive environment, represented by a task-oriented climate, can nurture basic psychological needs. When these needs are met, they foster autonomous motivation, which ultimately leads to disciplined behavior and better academic performance.

For educators, especially those in Physical Education, understanding this sequence can be invaluable. By creating a task-oriented environment and addressing students’ basic psychological needs, they can bolster autonomous motivation. This, in turn, can manifest in disciplined behaviors and enhanced academic outcomes.


The interplay between motivation and discipline, especially in the realm of sports education, is intricate. While discipline is vital, it appears that the root of positive student outcomes lies in the right kind of motivation. Claver F, Martínez-Aranda LM, Conejero M, and Gil-Arias A’s study sets a precedent, emphasizing the need to cultivate a conducive environment that breeds motivation. Such an environment can be the key to unlocking a world of disciplined behaviors and commendable academic performance in sports education.


Claver F, Martínez-Aranda LM, Conejero M and Gil-Arias A (2020) Motivation, Discipline, and Academic Performance in Physical Education: A Holistic Approach From Achievement Goal and Self-Determination Theories. Front. Psychol. 11:1808. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01808

Photo by Rachel on Unsplash

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