Teaching Personal and Social Responsibility

The  term  social  responsibility  refers  to  an  ethical ideology  whereby  organizations  and  individuals have an obligation to act in manners that benefit society.  Models  of  social  responsibility  abound in  various  scientific  domains,  and  in  the  field of  sport  and  exercise  psychology  the  Teaching Personal  and  Social  Responsibility  (TPSR)  model has been developed to promote social responsibility in youth. In this entry, an overview of the TPSR model  and  examples  of  youth  programs  using TPSR are presented.

The  TPSR  model  was  initially  developed  in the  early  1970s  by  Don  Hellison  from  his  work teaching physical education to inner-city youth in Portland, Oregon. More than 40 years of instruction  and  evaluation  have  led  to  the  establishment  of  preferred  practices  that  form  the  basic components  of  the  model  today.  The  fundamental  purpose  of  the  model  is  to  provide  a  guiding framework  for  helping  youth  take  responsibility for  their  own  well-being  and  be  sensitive  to  the well-being of others. TPSR is composed of five levels of responsibility, with each level having its own set  of  goals.  The  responsibilities  are  depicted  as levels  in  order  for  instructors  to  implement  them progressively during physical activity lessons.

The  first  level  consists  of  introducing  respect, which  is  viewed  as  the  most  important  responsibility.  Displaying  respect,  by  minimizing  abusive actions,  solving  disagreements  calmly,  and  promoting inclusion, is considered necessary in order to protect the rights of all participants. As participants progress to other levels, respect is regularly revisited  for  participants  to  understand  that  it  is the  core  responsibility.  At  the  second  level,  the development  of  self-motivation  is  encouraged  to help  participants  demonstrate  sustained  effort and persistence, try new things, and redefine how they  view  success.  The  third  level  involves  self-direction,  which  is  an  advanced  level  of  responsibility  that  builds  on  respect  and  motivation. Participants  attain  this  level  when  they  become more independent, implement their own personal physical activity programs, and are able to set and attain personal goals. The fourth level consists of helping  others  and  exhibiting  leadership.  At  this level, participants act in manners that are responsive to the well-being of others and do so without extrinsic  reward,  simply  because  it  is  the  right thing to do. Achieving this level is difficult because participants  must  demonstrate  leadership  by  taking  away  time  from  their  own  personal  interests to help others have positive experiences. The final level of transference is achieved when participants apply  responsibilities  outside  of  the  program  and become role models for younger kids. The goal is to have participants test new approaches at school, work, and home using the competencies learned in the program.

To  foster  social  responsibility,  instructors  are trained to work toward five goals. First, instructors develop  solid  instructor–participant  relationships by  recognizing  participants’  individual  strengths, listening  to  their  opinions,  and  believing  in  their ability  to  make  good  decisions.  Second,  instructors integrate responsibilities into physical activity content for participants to learn through practice how to be socially responsible. The third, fourth, and  fifth  goals  are,  respectively,  to  empower  participants  (e.g.,  involvement  in  decision  making and negotiations), promote reflection (e.g., group problem solving), and facilitate transfer (e.g., giving reminders, providing personal examples).

Five   implementation   strategies   have   been designed to structure physical activity lessons and put  responsibilities  into  practice.  First,  relational time is allotted at the beginning of lessons, giving instructors opportunities to acknowledge the presence of participants, foster relationships, and thank participants for their contributions to the program. Second,  awareness  talks  are  performed  to  teach participants  the  five  levels  of  responsibility,  and activities are specifically planned to facilitate direct instruction. For example, to foster self-motivation, instructors ask volunteers to tell other participants what the program is about. Third, physical activity lessons  take  place,  during  which  instructors  integrate strategies to teach responsibility concepts to the participants in competitive and noncompetitive game options. For example, to promote inclusion, instructors  tell  participants  to  make  a  minimum number of passes to teammates during games like soccer and basketball before taking a shot on goal. Fourth,  group  meetings  are  organized,  allowing participants to voice their opinions, problem solve, and reach decisions. For instance, if a participant has  shown  disrespect  for  others  during  an  activity, that individual can negotiate the consequences of  this  action.  Finally,  participants  are  provided with  reflection  time  to  evaluate  their  attitudes and  behaviors  as  they  relate  to  the  five  responsibilities.  This  activity  helps  participants  develop self-direction  by  allowing  them  to  define  success for themselves, work toward their own goals, and decide if they want to volunteer for teaching roles.

Physical  activity  programs  based  on  TPSR  have been implemented in a wide range of contexts in the United States as well as internationally in countries such  as  New  Zealand,  Great  Britain,  and  Spain. Examples  of  programs  designed  for  elementary school children include Project Effort, the Coaching Club, and the Energizers Club and generally, these programs  were  developed  to  foster  resilience  and social  responsibility  in  underserved  populations. Programs based on TPSR have also been developed for underserved middle and high school-age participants to keep them involved in productive activities. The  Youth  Leader  Corps,  Cross-Age  Leadership Program, and Project Lead are examples of programs that have helped participants develop leadership, confidence, and problem-solving skills by teach younger children the responsibilities of the TPSR model.

Although  interests  in  alternative  activities  and commitments  to  “real  life”  responsibilities  have occasionally  proven  to  be  hindrances  in  having   participants   develop   social   responsibility, the  TPSR  model  has  generally  been  shown  to  be effective at facilitating the positive development of youth. The model serves as a useful framework to provide  participants  physical  activity  instruction that  teaches  them  to  take  responsibility  for  their well-being and that of others.


  1. Hellison, D. (2003). Teaching responsibility through physical activity. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
  2. Hellison, D., & Walsh, D. (2002). Responsibility-based youth programs evaluation: Investigating the investigations. Quest, 54, 292–307.
  3. Schilling, T., Martinek, T., & Carson, S. (2007). Youth leaders’ perceptions of commitment to a responsibilitybased physical activity program. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78, 48–60.

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