Why developing Physical Literacy is a skill for life.
There is compelling evidence that increased levels of physical activity can bring wide-ranging health benefits that impact upon the population. These benefits can extend beyond physical health to include other benefits, such as mental health, personal wellbeing, and social cohesion. Sport can make an important contribution to the amount of regular physical activity an individual engages in.
Physical activities in combination with good nutrition are known to be critical components in maintaining our bodies within a healthy weight range. Despite this undisputed knowledge, levels of obesity are continuously rising. Obesity is now the leading cause of premature death and illness in Australia. It is predicted that close to 80% of all Australian adults and a third of all children will be overweight or obese by 2025. Shocking and scary statistics!
In line with this is a concern that although we need to be increasing physical activity, our lifestyles are leading us in the opposite direction. Children are spending increasing amounts of time indoors undertaking sedentary activities. Access to computer games and mobile devices are supporting this trend. Lack of movement in childhood further impacts generic physical skill development, leading to a decline in physical literacy.
Physical literacy is achieved by mastering fundamental movement and sport skills. These skills permit an individual to move confidently within a wide range of physical activity situations. Essentially it is a level achieved whereby the individual can be expected to can play a wide variety of sports to level that enables lifelong participation.
In the education sector, literacy and numeracy skills are compared across the nation and against international standards. Significant funding allocations and interventions are made to address the levels of students who are not meeting the standards. In this context however, literacy focuses solely on language skills. It does not refer to any level of physical competency requirement.
Much talk occurs around ‘closing the gap’ between areas of poor literacy and numeracy skills and those of a higher standard. We as a community understand that by putting great teachers into areas of disadvantage or need, that it will hopefully increase the outcomes for the children in that school or area. A failure to engage these children and provide them with the opportunity to achieve equitable outcomes will mean that they are more likely to have attendance issues and ultimately be ‘left behind’. Unfortunately over recent years the importance of physical literacy has been left behind in National Curriculums.
Despite a lack of attention at a National level, that’s not to say that a physical literacy standard doesn’t exist. The Long Term Athlete Development model or LTAD. refers to a progression of development that takes into consideration the growth stages of children and provides critical and sensitive windows for development of sport specific skills. These skills may include running, throwing, catching, hitting, kicking, in addition to levels of strength, speed and flexibility. It provides a curriculum of skills to ensure children are competent at relevant times of their physiological development, before progressing onto the next stage. There are many advocates and opponents for the LTAD approach, but it provides a basis for conversation.
Without building this level of fundamental skills, then physical literacy will not be achieved. Without physical literacy then the child is likely to become a sport dropout and not be engaged in their physical wellbeing.
We need to start with our club coaches, school teachers and anyone else who is involved in the formative years of movement development to provide them with the skills to teach physical literacy. They are educators and should be skilled to teach, inspire and lead children through their formative years of movement competency. They need to be able to teach physical literacy and understand LTAD principles. You ensure your children are sent to schools where the teachers can teach maths and English, so you need to equally ensure that those responsible for teaching movement and sport can teach physical literacy.
But isn’t this too much to demand of our volunteer coaches, many of whom are already time-poor?
Potentially. But if a whole of club approach is implemented, then coaches can be supported in their roles. Further, the LTAD progresses children through their development. It is not something that just one coach does in one year and it solves the issue for eternity. It requires planning and dedication across all aspects of those involved in coaching and sport administration.
By developing children who are physically literate, then they will be able to progress, over time, to the more advanced skills that being a high achiever in sport requires. Through the LTAD, coaches will be able to adapt their training to suit the varying needs of the athletes in front of them. A child who is nervous about not being able to perform a skill will be encouraged when the coach adapts it to something they can complete and it is seen as just a part of the training process. That child with the right support, will one day develop as an athlete and likely have a lifelong involvement in sport and active recreation – rather than becoming a sport dropout statistic.
We have some fantastic coaches out there, we just need to be working together to ensure that our children end up on the right side of those statistics in 2025 and beyond.
If you’d like to know more about developing yourself as a coach, or developing coaches within your club, please contact me. I work with coaches to develop their confidence in coaching and to learn the skills to teach a curriculum that leads to physical literacy. My aim is to create robust athletes who reach their potential in sport and life.
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