A cluster randomized controlled trial of strategies to increase adolescents' physical activity and motivation in physical education: results of the Motivating Active Learning in Physical Education (MALP) trial

OBJECTIVE. Physical education (PE) programs aim to promote physical activity (PA) and reach most school-aged youth. However, PA levels within PE lessons are often low. In this cluster-randomized controlled trial, we examined the effects of three self-determination theory-based motivational strategies on PA and sedentary behavior, as well as their hypothesized antecedents during PE lessons. METHODS. Data were collected in Sydney, Australia (October-December 2011). After baseline testing, teachers (n = 16) and their classes (n = 288 students; M = 13.6. years, 50.4% male) were randomly assigned to one of four teaching strategy conditions: (1) explaining relevance; (2) providing choice; (3) complete free choice; or (4) usual practice. Teachers then delivered the assigned strategy. Primary outcomes were accelerometer-assessed PA and student motivation during lessons. Secondary outcomes included sedentary behavior, perceptions of teachers' support and psychological needs satisfaction. RESULTS. The 'free choice' intervention increased PA (p< .05). 'Providing choice' and 'free choice' interventions decreased sedentary behavior (p< .05). The interventions did not influence motivation, but students' autonomy increased during both choice-based interventions (p< .05). CONCLUSIONS. Promoting choice can produce short-term increases in PA and decreases in sedentary behavior, as well as increased perceived autonomy during PE lessons.