Grad explores the secrets of motivation through rock climbing


- Julie Remy

Boudreau. Photo: Julie Gauvin.

What motivates rock climbers to keep reaching for new heights? Is it the adrenaline rush?

Not really, says Patrick Boudreau, who for his master’s degree in physical education explored the impact of a high school rock climbing program and “self-efficacy”—an individual’s belief in their own ability to organize and manage risks to achieve a goal.

“Self-efficacy is a very important element of success,” says Boudreau, who has been a rock climber for 10 years. “Being naturally strong and flexible only counts for about four per cent of performance in rock climbers. The psychological state, your belief in yourself, plays a big role.”

Exploring what motivates others to pursue adventure activities brought Boudreau west to UVic from Montreal.

For his thesis, he identified four ways that self-efficacy leads to success: take part in an activity that you’re good at; feed off the encouragement of others; look at successful people who are similar to you in ability and age; and determine the way you interpret your feelings.

“People attracted to rock climbing and other outdoor adventure activities want to be progressively challenged without being in danger,” he explains. “To do this, they have to be well-prepared and aware. They have buddies who they trust with their lives, and with whom they have to communicate effectively. These are critical skills that can be translated into other parts of their lives.”

[UVic is] a small environment with a lot of resources and I got to work alongside some amazing researchers.

Boudreau is now contemplating doing his PhD in New Zealand on skydiving and what’s called the “flow state”—the mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity, bringing focus and contentment.

While seeking an adrenaline rush can be the first trigger for some skydivers and rock climbers, what keeps most of them in the activity in the long-run is seeking that flow state once they’ve acquired enough confidence.

“Feeling confident in an activity that you thought you would never be able to do but became competent and successful at, can potentially translate to a higher level of self-worth and transcend to the rest of your life,” he says.

Physical education teachers in Canada can use this motivational information to encourage students to pursue healthy physical activities, adds Boudreau. “Beyond that, what if we managed to motivate students in a classroom simply by using self-efficacy and the flow state principles? They could get self-motivated to pursue learning for their own sake.”

No matter where Boudreau goes next, he says UVic will stay in his heart. “It’s a wonderful place. It’s a small environment with a lot of resources and I got to work alongside some amazing researchers.”

Having almost year-round access to outdoor experiences like skydiving, scuba diving and rock climbing didn’t hurt either. “I even got to learn sailing with the UVic sailing club, which led me to buy a sailboat and live on it for some months,” he says.

And, as a bonus, his research turned him into a certified rock climbing instructor.


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Keywords: convocation, graduation, student life, education, athletics, sports, graduate research

People: Patrick Boudreau

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