Mapping the intellectual and conceptual structure of physical education research: Direct citation analysis

Keywords: physical education, bibliometrics, science mapping, direct citation analysis


Background and Study Aim. The aim of the study is to identify and explore the intellectual and conceptual structure of physical education research. It is focused around the following study questions: (1) What are the most influential publications within the research field? (2) What are the research fronts in physical education studies? Material and Methods. As a result of the research sampling process, the 10,334 publications indexed in the Scopus database were selected by the title search for the phrase ‘physical education’. Citation analysis, one of science mapping methods, was employed to conduct the analysis. The study process and the visualization of its findings were supported by the VOSviewer software. In the process of citation analysis, we used the following weight attributes: (1) custom weight attributes: the number of citations received by a document and the normalized of citations for a document, and (2) standard weight attributes: the number of citation links. Results. Firstly, the most prominent references have been pointed out and discussed. The study of the effects of the SPARK physical education program in regard to physical activity of elementary school pupils by Sallis et al. (1997) is found to be the most cited publication in the physical education research field. The systematic literature review and meta-analysis of research on application of self-determination theory in the physical education context by Vasconellos et al. (2020) is recognized as the publication of the highest value of the normalized number of citations. The application of self-determination theory of motivation in physical education is the topic attracting a lot of attention of the top cited publications in the field. The prominent and central position of these references is confirmed by the analysis of citation links. Secondly, the following research fronts in physical education studies have been identified: (1) motivation in physical education, (2) physical education programmes, (3) development of physical education, (4) self-determination in physical education, (5) physical education and students’ academic achievement, (6) support of physical activity autonomy, (7) gender and physical education, and (8) long-term effects of physical education. Combining the research fronts identified with co-word analysis and direct citation analysis, the two-dimensional matrix mapping the conceptual structure of the physical education research field has been developed. The matrix categorizes publications according to their themes and the age of students / the levels of education, which are the object of the analysed studies. Conclusions. The study contributes mainly to development of theory through mapping the scientific output within the physical education research field. Identification of core references provides valuable information for the scholars cultivating the field about the most recognized classical works receiving the highest number of citations and ‘emerging stars’ of the highest normalized number of citations. Such information is crucial for any theoretical reviews regarding the issues of physical education. Discovering research fronts points out the themes of the highest prominence and may be an indication for searching prospective research topics by authors. Developing the matrix to be used for mapping the conceptual structure of the research field is another contribution of the study.


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Author Biographies

Andrzej Lis, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun; Faculty of Economic Sciences and Management, Nicolaus Copernicus University; ul. Gagarina 13a, 87-100, Toruń, Poland.
Mateusz Tomanek, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun; Faculty of Economic Sciences and Management, Nicolaus Copernicus University; ul. Gagarina 13a, 87-100, Toruń, Poland.


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How to Cite
Lis A, Tomanek M. Mapping the intellectual and conceptual structure of physical education research: Direct citation analysis. Physical education of students. 2021;25(2):67-4.