Disconcertment in Physical Education - Studies on Psychosocial Health Risks of Students in Physical Education and Development of Preventive Measures to Protect and Promote their Health and Safety.

Funded by: Federal state insurances of North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Berlin and Brandenburg
Duration: 12.2020 – 12.2023
Project Management: Prof. Dr. Ina Hunger, Dr. Benjamin Zander
Research Team: Dr. Babette Kirchner, Martin Röttger, Darren Meineke, Sarah Metz
E-Mail: projekt-verunsicherung@sport.uni-goettingen.de

Starting Point of the Study

Physical education, as an area of education supported by the state, is a compulsory subject for children and young people in all types of school in Germany and at all school levels. In the context of the school canon of subjects, it’s contribution to education is formally equal to that of other subjects; nevertheless, physical education, with its focus on movement activities and the associated high importance of physicality, holds a special position, insofar as it - like no other school subject - is assumed to have notable potential with regard to well-being, health and the promotion of development. "The pedagogical concern," it is stated, "is to teach students the joy of exercise as well as the importance of sports activities for one's own health" (KMK, 2017, S. 3)

However, empirical insights into the everyday life of physical education (cf. Hunger & Böhlke, 2018; Wiesche & Klinge, 2017) show that participation in the subject is by no means solely associated with positive effects by the individual students.

Many students regularly experience situations of fear, social exclusion, shame, helplessness, excessive demands, etc. in physical education classes. Be it that students develop fear and panic because they are repeatedly exposed to derogatory comments due to their (lack of) athletic skills, their physicality, etc. or because they see their religious-cultural background as contradicting selected physical education requirements (e.g. in regards to body-related interactions with the opposite sex, clothing rules in the swimming pool, etc.). Be it that they lose body control and sovereignty because they feel physically and psychologically unable to cope with the movement-related challenges and accordingly fail at the task. In such and similar situations, there is always a risk physical and psychological disconcertment, as well as health impairments.

Aims, Methodological Design and Significance of the Study

The research project focuses on these insecurities that are triggered in physical education. Based on the fundamental assumption that psychosocial insecurities in school sports lead to health-impairing effects for those affected, the project aims to describe in a differentiated way precisely these phenomena of insecurities, their causal and facilitating conditions, as well as their (long-term) health consequences. In doing so, school form and grade specific statements can be made, and vulnerable groups or those particularly at risk with regard to age, gender, physical condition, disability, etc., can be identified. In addition to this informative concern, the project also aims to develop preventive measures for schools.

The project approaches its objectives in the context of three interlinked qualitative sub-studies. In sub-study 1, data are collected in the form of freely written short narratives. With an untypically high number of cases for qualitative research, situations in physical education that are personally very unsettling and (in the long run) restrictive to health, as well as the social and didactic setting are explored in this context. Sub-study 2 starts with relevant internet forums and provides insight into ways of dealing with and psycho-somatic consequences of insecurities in physical education through a discourse-analytical evaluation. Sub-study 3 focusses on individual cases with the help of guideline-oriented interviews. It examines the subjective processing of the experienced disconcertments and investigates their impact on the everyday lives of those affected.

By showing in a differentiated way which situations in physical education are associated with which psychosocial stresses for which groups of students and by illustrating which health-impairing consequences result from this, the study offers a differentiated basis for the reassessment of health impairments and thus also a new, namely psychosocial starting point for the recognition and prevention of health risks.

On the basis of the findings, a catalog of preventive measures will be developed for practical use, which will provide information about psychosocial health hazards and risks in physical education. In addition, concrete approaches and structural measures for school sports are to be developed that show how psychosocially unsettling situations for students can be reduced or avoided in the future. In this context, the creation of information material is planned, which can be used for training and further education of teachers and the development of school sports concepts and curricula.

The project is funded with 345,000 EUR by the federal state insurances of North Rhine-Westphalia, Brandenburg, Hesse and Berlin and has been included in the nationwide school sports initiative "Safety and Health in and through School Sports" initiated by the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and the DGUV (for more information on the nationwide school sports initiative, see DGUV, 2018). In addition to Dr. Babette Kirchner, Martin Röttger and Darren Meineke as research assistants, Sarah Metz as a PhD student and Naila Thomsen as a student assistant are also part of the project team.


  • DGUV (2018). Sicherheit und Gesundheit im und durch Schulsport – SuGiS. Gemeinsame Schulsportinitiative von Kultusministerkonferenz (KMK) und Deutscher Gesetzlicher Unfallversicherung (DGUV): https://www.dguv.de/fb-bildungseinrichtungen/schulen/bewegung/schulsport/index.jsp

  • Hunger, I. & Böhlke, N. (2017). Über die Grenzen von Scham. Eine qualitative Studie zu (scham-) grenzüberschreitenden Situationen im Sportunterricht aus der Perspektive von Schüler/innen. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung, 18(2): https://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/2623

  • KMK (Kultusministerkonferenz) (2017). Gemeinsame Handlungsempfehlungen der Kultusministerkonferenz und des Deutschen Olympischen Sportbundes zur Weiterentwicklung des Schulsports 2017 bis 2022. Schulsport nachhaltig fördern und systematisch weiterentwickeln – gemeinsame und gleichberechtigte Teilhabe für alle Schülerinnen und Schüler: https://www.kmk.org/fileadmin/Dateien/veroeffentlichungen_beschluesse/2017/2017_02_16-Schulsport.pdf

  • Wiesche, D. & Klinge, A. (Hrsg.) (2017). Scham und Beschämung im Schulsport. Facetten eines unbeachteten Phänomens. Aachen: Meyer & Meyer.