A motivational perspective of stress and coping in physical education for children at risk for developmental coordination disorder


Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) affects 1 to 2 children in every elementary classroom and results in significant difficulties learning and performing motor skills. Many children with DCD seem to experience stress in physical education due to emphasis on their motor skills and their motor difficulties being visible to others. According to Skinner and Wellborn (1994), children may perceive physical education as stressful because it challenges or threatens their basic psychological needs for relatedness, competence, and autonomy. No researchers to date, however, have examined these experiences from the perspectives of children through a stress and coping lens. The purpose of this study was to explore how children who demonstrated characteristics associated with a diagnosis of DCD, and were referred to as at risk for DCD, experienced and coped with stress in physical education. Method: Six children in Grades 4 to 6 were interviewed two times to learn about their experiences, with Skinner and Wellborn's theory informing the interpretation of the findings. Results: Three themes were identified: (1) They hurt me – psychological and physical harm sustained from peers, (2) It's hard for me – difficulties encountered in activities, and (3) I have to – pressure to meet the teacher's demands. Children coped in more adaptive ways in response to the first two stressors compared to the third stressor. Conclusion: These findings indicate that children at risk for DCD are confronted with stressors in physical education that impinge on all three of their basic psychological needs, but largely cope well when social support is provided.