Debbie Rhea, Ed.D. is Professor and Director LiiNK Project at Texas Christian University. She has been an educator for the past 39 years, starting her career in K-12 physical education and for the past 27 years has been training physical education teachers at the university level and consulting children and adults in sport and physical activity mental performance.
Rhea has published more than 50 peer-reviewed articles and 14 books on physical activity, eating disorders and adolescents, with a primary emphasis on diversity, behavior change and motivation; presented at more than 250 different local, regional, national and international conferences on various topics; been an invited speaker on behavior change, motivation and eating disorders on numerous occasions; and developed and trained physical education teachers at in-service trainings on developmentally appropriate curriculum at all levels across the country.
The mission of Rhea’s newest research project, LiiNK, is to bridge the gap between academics and the social, emotional and healthy well-being of children through increased recess and character development. She launched this research project successfully in two Fort Worth private schools almost six years ago and has now expanded to 28 public schools in eight different school districts from Texas and Oklahoma.
Rhea is motivating school administrators to think differently about creating a learning environment that promotes rigor through the combination of four 15-minute recesses throughout the day and character development curriculum taught daily. She emphasizes the need for a more active school environment through outdoor, unstructured play, and structured physical education in order to stimulate the brain for learning. Her newest book, “Wrong turns, Right moves in Education,” reflects why the policies and procedures representing LiiNK are needed in schools today.
Areas of Expertise (7)
Children and Physical Activity
Body image issues
Social Emotional Learning
Ella C. McFadden Service to Youth Award (professional)
2019 Camp Fire First Texas
Distinguished Achievement as a Creative Teacher and Scholar (professional)
2018 TCU Chancellor’s Award Recipient
University of Houston: Ed.D., Physical Education (emphases Sport Psychology & Pedagogy)
University of Houston: M.Ed., Physical Education (emphases Sport Psychology & Pedagogy)
University of Texas - Arlington: B.A., Exercise & Sport Studies
- Southern District Scholar Committee Chair, Shape America, 2015-2020
- Chair, Shape America Steering Committee: Write a position statement about recess for the country. 2014-2015.
- President, Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance (TAHPERD), 2013- 2016
- Social Psychology Committee – Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) 2012-2014
- National Association of Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) Steering Committee: College/university physical activity representative, 2011-2015
- Vice President of the College Division –TAHPERD. 2004-2007
- Finance Committee – TAHPERD, 2004-2007
- Chair - United States American Volleyball Psychosocial Resource Advisory Team. 2002-2015
- Continuing Education Committee – Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), 2002-2010
- Chair, NASPE Sport Psychology Academy, 2002-2004
- Measurement and Evaluation Chair, TAHPERD, 2002-2004
Media Appearances (5)
6 Things to Know About School Recess
Education Week online
Recent U.S. education reform has focused on defining and raising the subject-matter standards students are expected to meet. In order to get their students up to snuff, schools are extending the school day and putting more and more emphasis on academic learning, which can squeeze out a beloved part of the traditional school day–recess.
Recess 4 times a day? Little Elm ISD says it helps in the classroom
If your child's favorite subject is recess, they might be on to something. A growing number of school districts are adopting a program that expands recess, with surprising results. The program is called LiiNK, or Let's Inspire Innovation 'N Kids, developed by TCU Assistant Dean Dr. Debbie Rhea.
What Do Monkey Bars and Test Scores Have In Common? More Than You Might Think
On the playground at Chattanooga Elementary School some kids are pretending to be pirates, a few boys are climbing on a baseball dugout, and another group is belting out the words to various pop songs as they wriggle across the monkey bars.
Turns Out Monkey Bars And Kickball Might Be Good For The Brain
NPR Ed online
Recess at Eagle Mountain Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, looks much like recess anyplace else. Some kids run and squeal, others swing, while a half-dozen of their peers are bunched up on the slide.
Why young kids need less class time — and more play time — at school
Washington Post online
It was written by Debbie Rhea, an associate dean of the Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences and director of the LiiNk Project ...
A Qualitative Study of Teachers’ Perceptions of Increased Recess Time on Teaching, Learning, and BehaviorJournal of Research in Childhood Education
2020 Recess in the United States is decidedly limited in elementary schools, despite numerous research findings that support unstructured play as a vehicle for development across multiple domains. It is widely understood that recess breaks promote prosocial behaviors, physical activity, and attentiveness in class. However, few researchers in the United States have explored effects of multiple daily recess periods on teaching, learning, and behavior. In this investigation, we report findings from interviews with 17 teachers who provide four recess periods daily.
An Innovative Whole Child Approach to Learning: The LiiNK Project®Childhood Education
2018 Others' success can be a powerful motivation to innovate, which sometimes means finding new ways to return to beneficial activities. Finland's academic success has prompted many to explore that country's policies and practices, particularly regarding providing opportunities for children to enjoy more unstructured play.
The LiiNK Project®: Effects of Multiple Recesses and Character Curriculum on Classroom Behaviors and Listening Skills in Grades K–2 ChildrenFrontiers in Education
Deborah J. Rhea and Alexander P. Rivchun
2018 Unstructured, outdoor play combined with character development instruction has shown preliminary associations with improved cognitive functioning and classroom behaviors. The purpose of this study was to further evaluate these components of the LiiNK Project (Let’s inspire innovation ’N Kids) when including intervention and comparison school children. The intervention consists of four 15-min recesses, scheduled throughout the day in combination with four 15-min character development lessons taught weekly to improve the elementary classroom learning environment. The second year of this longitudinal study included grades kindergarten through second grade students (N = 405) from two demographically comparable private schools in the southwest region of the United States. One school implemented the intervention, while the other school maintained current protocols. The intervention teachers adhered to the four play breaks at a rate of 92% over the course of the intervention. Transitions from classroom to playground and back dropped from 4 min each way to less than 1 min each way. The results of comparing the two schools showed classroom off-task behaviors such as fidgeting and moving around the room decreased significantly, while attentional focus improved significantly as a result of the intervention. LiiNK Project results from grades kindergarten and 1 in the same schools last year are congruent with the results of this study. Next steps will include public school expansion to explore student diversity among rural, urban, and suburban environments with the play and character intervention.
Weight Stereotypes and Behavioral Intentions toward Thin and Fat Peers among White and Hispanic AdolescentsJournal of Adolescent Health
Christy Greenleaf, Heather Chambliss, Deborah J. Rhea, Scott B. Martin, James R. Morrow Jr.
2006 This study examined weight stereotypes among White and Hispanic youth. Specific objectives were to: (a) document stereotyped beliefs about fat vs. thin peers; (b) examine the extent to which stereotyped beliefs contribute to behavioral intentions toward fat vs. thin peers; and (c) explore potential differences in weight stereotypes and behavioral intentions in White and Hispanic youth.
Muscle dysmorphia in elite-level power lifters and bodybuilders: a test of differences within a conceptual model.Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Lantz CD, Rhea DJ, Cornelius AE
2002 The purpose of this study was to determine if associated characteristics of muscle dysmorphia (MD) were different between elite-level competitive bodybuilders and power lifters. Elite-level competitive bodybuilders (n = 100) and power lifters (n = 68) completed the muscle dysmorphia inventory (MDI) at the time of or immediately before competition. A 2 x 6 (group x MDI subscales) multivariate analysis of variance indicated that bodybuilders were significantly more likely to report body size-symmetry concerns (F(1, 167) = 10.31, p < 0.001), physique protection (F(1, 167) = 10.27, p < 0.001), dietary behavior (F(1, 167) = 28.38, p < 0.001), and pharmacological use (F(1, 167) = 19.64, p < 0.001) than were power lifters. These results suggest that elite-level bodybuilders are significantly more likely to engage in characteristics associated with MD than are elite-level power lifters.