Physical Literacy and Sport

Physical Literacy and Sport  
Prepared by  Prepared by: Dr Ralph Richards, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Australian Sports Commission
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Professor Damian Farrow, Professor of Skill Acquisition; Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL) (January 2016)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: 31 July 2017
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In its broadest context ‘literacy’ means gaining knowledge and competency in a specific discipline or subject area. During childhood the learning process is facilitated by direct intervention from adult carers (primarily parents/guardians, teachers, and other role models), as well as interaction with peers and the environment. The learning process evolves and continues through adulthood. Both structured and informal learning situations contribute to the desired result – literacy. 

Physical literacy is a lifelong process for individuals with a focus on learning and improving competency of movement skills across a wide range of physical activity situations.

Key Messages 


Physical literacy is a process that begins in infancy and continues throughout life.


Early competency of movement skills appears to encourage greater participation in sport and lifelong physical activity.


All sports contribute to the acquisition of related fundamental movement skills. Some sports, when introduced to young children (such as athletics, gymnastics, and swimming) activate many skills and are generally accessible for early-age skill development.


Play opportunities, relevant physical education curriculum, and organised sport participation help young children to become ‘physically literate’.

Physical literacy is a process that begins in infancy and continues throughout life. Physical literacy describes an individual’s ability to understand and execute movement with confidence and competence. There is a large body of evidence to support the role of physical literacy in the overall qualitative development of a child. Physical activity contributes to the acquisition of physical literacy, and physical activity is also the outcome of being physically literate. The benefits of being physically active are well known – improved physical and emotional wellbeing, cognitive ability, and health status. Therefore, physical literacy underpins a lifelong relationship with being physically active and engaging in sports activities.

  • Active Healthy Kids Australia – Physical Literacy: Do our kids have all the tools? (PDF  – 3.2 MB), Schranz N, Olds T, Boyd R,, 2016 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People, University of South Australia and Heart Foundation Australia (2016). This Report highlights the importance of the concept of ‘Physical Literacy’; specifically, providing our children with the 'tools' they need to be physically active for life. The 2016 Report Card contributes to the expanding global matrix of information, allowing Australia to benchmark population data against 37 other countries. We know that Australian children (of all ages) still need to be more active, but why are we failing to achieve our physical activity goals? Just as being academically literate requires skills, being physically active also requires the acquisition of specific skills and attitudes. We need to make sure that from the very beginning of children’s lives they are provided daily opportunities to develop their Physical Literacy, so they grow up to become individuals who choose to engage in physical activity that challenges and benefits their bodies and minds. What can be done to ensure that our children and young people are equipped with all the ‘tools’ they need? Active Healthy Kids Australia advocates for a coordinated national response to the current physical inactivity pandemic. Although there is no single solution to this problem, in order to see real improvement in physical activity levels among our children we need a united effort across government and non-government organisations, communities, the sport sector, schools, teachers, parents, and children themselves. Physical activity needs to become a priority in our daily lives as something we all want and choose to do for fun, enjoyment, and better health and wellbeing.

There is substantial evidence that the current generation of Australian children (as well as children from other ‘developed’ countries) are becoming overweight and obese, adopting sedentary behaviours, and making poor lifestyle choices that have made them less physically fit. There is also evidence of a corresponding decline in motor skills and a decrease in the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity that children engage in. The reasons for these observed changes are complex and multi-dimensional in nature; they include social change, technological innovations, and changing lifestyle norms as contributing factors. However, it is no coincidence that declines in physical literacy and increases in sedentary behaviour have occurred concurrently.

  • Getting Australia Moving: Establishing a physically literate and active nation (game plan) (PDF  - 2.3 MB), Keegan R, Keegan S, Daley S, Ordway C, Edwards A, University of Canberra, National Institute of Sport Studies (2011). Estimates put the cost of physical inactivity to the Australian economy at $13.8 billion per year, as a result of healthcare costs, lost productivity, and premature mortality. Australia needs to ensure its citizens are willing and able to be more physically active, and this can start at pre-school and primary school. Early years physical education (PE) is, by necessity, often delivered by teachers with limited training in PE; limited access to trained PE professionals; and severe constraints on time and resources. As a solution to this problem, this report presents the case for increasing physical literacy amongst children in Australia, with a view to promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles. Physical literacy is distinct from sporting prowess, athleticism, cardiovascular fitness, or time spent being active, which are amongst a long list of positive outcomes produced by becoming physically literate from a young age. This report reviews the evidence for the above relationships and builds a physical literacy framework. Successful models from other countries are reviewed and evaluated and ten recommendations are made for any future Australian programs for promoting physical literacy.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse topics, Childhood ObesityPhysical Activity Guidelines, and Active Transport

There are many definitions of ‘physical literacy’, all contain these common themes: (1) that physical literacy is a lifelong process; (2) that acquisition (competence) of fundamental movement skills (FMS) is a core component; and (3) that physical literacy also embraces knowledge, attitudes, and motivations that facilitate confident movement.

  • An introduction to physical literacy, PE Scholar, published online (3 August 2013). Physical literacy is an underlying goal of all physical activity. By definition, individuals who are making progress on their physical literacy journey acquire the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take part in physical activity.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills: An important focus (PDF  - 320 KB), Barnett L, Stodden D, Miller A,, Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, Volume 35, Issue 3 (2016). This paper was written by a group of leading academics engaged in Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) research. They define what we mean by FMS; discuss the context of what skills can be considered fundamental; discuss how the development of these skills is related to broader developmental health contexts; and recommend the use of different pedagogical approaches when teaching FMS.
  • Fundamental Skills & Physical Literacy (PDF  - 200 KB), Quinn S, Coaching Ireland (2010). By learning the fundamentals of movement and developing a positive attitude to physical activity and sport, individuals can gain the skills, experience, and attitudes which will allow them to take part in physical activity and sport throughout their lives. The fundamentals of movement provide a pathway to development and continued participation in sports and physical activities.
  • What’s in a concept? A Leximancer text mining analysis of physical literacy across the international literature, Hyndman B and Pill S, European Physical Education Review, published online (6 February 2017). ‘Physical Literacy’ as a concept has many definitions across different contexts (e.g. physical or cognitive development, health, education, sport, etc.) and nations. The Leximancer text mining software was applied to the topic ‘physical literacy’ to scan for papers published from 2001–2016, sourced from academic repositories and scholarly search engines. The findings from this text mining analysis revealed the concept of physical literacy is used in a variety of contexts; specifically in connection with education, physical activity, fitness, health, competence, understanding, curriculum and assessment. The concept most closely connected to physical literacy is ‘education’, with the term ‘physical literacy’ often used interchangeably with ‘physical education’. The text mining exercise also revealed that physical literacy had the strongest conceptual relationship with the physical domain, and less association with the cognitive, social, or emotional domains. 

The acquisition and mastery of fundamental movement skills contribute to one’s physical literacy. However, defining exactly which human movements are ‘fundamental’ becomes problematic. Current Australian curriculum guidelines for Foundation to Year-10 categorise FMS in two domains (1) locomotor – rolling, balancing, sliding, jogging, running, leaping, jumping, hopping, dodging, galloping, skipping, floating and moving through the water; and (2) object-control – bouncing, throwing, catching, kicking, and striking. Other classification systems may include static positions (standing, sitting, kneeling, lying – prone and supine) or dynamic movement qualities (accelerate/decelerate, smooth/rough). Some classification systems may be customised to include skills that are relevant to the culture or environment; for example FMS in the Canadian system include movement skills performed on snow and ice. The Victorian Department of Education includes ‘vertical jump’ as a FMS for primary school children, probably because of the strong cultural connection with Australian Rules football. Classification systems identify the basic movement skills necessary to perform more complex movements or sequences of movements that affect body control and/or the manipulation of objects (kicking or catching a ball, striking a stationary or moving object, etc.). Individual movement skills, combined with sequences of movement become the foundations of all sports actions.

The concept of teaching FMS early in life, within the boundaries of maturational ‘readiness’, is well established within the principles of physical literacy, physical education, and long-term athlete development.

  • Early motor skill competence as a mediator of child and adult physical activity, Loprinzi P, Davis R and Fu Y, Preventive Medicine Reports, Volume 2 (2015). The authors provide an overview of current empirical research related to early motor skill development and its impact on child and adult physical activity. There is consistent evidence showing that adequate motor skill competence, particularly locomotor and gross motor skills, is associated with increased physical activity levels during the preschool, child, and adolescent years. Early motor skill development also influences enjoyment of physical activity and long-term motor skill performance. The physical education setting appears to be a well-suited environment for motor skill development and strategies that target motor skill development across the childhood years are recommended.
  • Growth and biologic maturation: Relevance to athletic performance, Beunen G and Malina R, Chapter One in ‘The Encyclopaedia of Sports Medicine: An IOC Medical Commission Publication, Hebestreit H and Bar-Or O (editors), John Wiley Publications (2008). Physical performance is commonly measured as the product of standardised motor tasks that require speed, agility, balance, flexibility, explosive strength, local muscular endurance, and static muscular strength. Correlations between various tasks and skills may vary, depending upon the influence of growth and maturation. Gender differences in performance on some variables exist because of the difference in maturational rates; early and late maturation will also influence performance results on some variables.
  • Long-term athlete development: trainability in childhood and adolescence - windows of opportunity and optimal trainability (abstract), Istvan Balyi, National Coaching Institute of Canada, British Columbia. A well-planned practice, training, competition and recovery regime will ensure optimum lifetime sport development. This article discusses trainability during childhood and adolescence in relation to growth and maturation. The author makes the case for optimal individual programs with regard to ‘critical’ or ‘sensitive’ periods of trainability during the maturation process.
  • Principles of motor development for elementary school physical education (abstract), Thomas K and Thomas J, Elementary School Journal, Volume 108, Number 3 (2008). The authors cite 100 years of research in motor development to support fundamental principles used in physical education programs designed for children. The result is a developmentally appropriate program based on the core characteristics of physical education: (1) young children (boys and girls) are more alike than different, progressing through the same stages of development in the same order; and (2) the rate of those developments varies among children.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse topic, Athlete Pathways and Development.

Because physical literacy is a long-term process, there are lifetime implications regarding the acquisition and mastery of all/some/or few fundamental movement skills. The importance of being ‘physically literate’ is just as profound as being ‘reading literate’, ‘language literate’, or ‘numerically literate’.

  • The importance of lifelong physical literacy (PDF  - 416 KB), Loitz C, Well Spring, Volume 24, Number 4 (June 2013). Developing and maintaining physical literacy is a lifelong journey. There have been different interpretations of physical literacy, but experts identify that each person’s level of physical literacy partly depends on their fundamental movement skills, confidence level, degree of motivation, and ABCs of movement (agility, balance, coordination and speed). When a person feels competent and skilled in fundamental movement skills and ABCs, it supports them in their work-related physical activity, their leisure-time physical activity, and in all kinds of daily living activities.
  • Skill themes, movement concepts, and the national standards (PDF - 2.4 MB), Sport Information Resource Centre of Canada (2013). This paper provides an overview of what ‘physical literacy’ means and how the concept can be applied. Examples are provided in terms of our understanding of ‘literacy’ in an academic context. If the primary goal of physical literacy is to provide children with a degree of competence leading to self-confidence that encourages them to become, and remain, physically active for a lifetime; then by focusing on learning and practicing skills rather than on the rules or structure of a game or sport, we can dramatically increase the amount of practice that children actually receive. The distinction between movement concepts and skill themes can be clarified by a comparison to grammar. Skill themes are always verbs – they’re movements that can be performed. Movement concepts are always modifiers (adverbs) – they describe how a skill is to be performed. This distinction also clarifies how movement concepts are employed to embellish, enhance, or expand the quality of a movement. A verb by itself, i.e. strike, travel, roll, is typically less interesting than one that is modified by an adverb, i.e. strike hard, travel jerkily, roll smoothly. Skills can stand by themselves – you can roll or gallop or jump, but you can’t low or high or under; therefore, concepts modify skills.
  • Sixty minutes of what? A developing brain perspective for activating children with an integrative exercise approach, Myer G, Faigenbaum A, Edwards N, Clark J Best T and Sallis R, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 49, Issue 23 (2015). Current recommendations for physical activity in children overlook the critical importance of motor skill acquisition early in life. The overall focus on exercise quantity in youth may limit considerations of qualitative aspects of program design which include (1) skill development, (2) socialisation, and (3) enjoyment of exercise. The timing of brain development and associated neuroplasticity for motor skill learning makes the preadolescence period a critical time to develop and reinforce fundamental movement skills in boys and girls. Children who do not participate regularly in structured motor skill-enriched activities during physical education classes or diverse youth sports programs may never reach their genetic potential for motor skill control which underlies sustainable physical fitness later in life. The goals of this review are twofold: (1) challenge current dogma that is currently focused on the quantitative rather than qualitative aspects of physical activity recommendations for youth; and (2) synthesise the latest evidence regarding the brain and motor control that will provide the foundation for integrative exercise programming that provides a framework for sustainable activity for life.

Not all of the literature confirms a direct link between the acquisition of fundamental movement skills and the implied lifelong propensity to be physically active. Gaps in the conceptual framework exist because there are multiple interpretations of which skills (or set of skills) are ‘fundamental’ and how these skills influence the frequency and intensity of physical activity. The long-term benefits of physical activity may be attributed to a number of factors having different origins; such as genetic profile, physiological development, and environmental considerations. There are also gaps in assessment methodology, an agreed set of standardized tests simply does not exist. Tests may also have a cultural bias. Advances in neuroscience are reshaping our understanding of how people learn or re-learn movements and movement patterns, and this information has not been fully incorporated into the various models for physical literacy.

  • A holistic measurement model of movement competency in children, Rudd J, Butson M, Barnett L, Farrow D, Berry J, Borkoles E and Polman R, Journal of Sports Sciences, published online (29 June 2015). Different test batteries are used to assess movement competence and it is unclear whether different tests can measure the same aspects of movement competence. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the Test of Gross Motor Development (TGMD-2) and Körperkoordinations Test für Kinder (KTK) measure the same aspects of children’s movement competence in a sample of Australian children. The analysis suggests that both assessment strategies individually provide a useful assessment of movement competence, and that both strategies should be used concurrently to obtain a more holistic assessment of the movement competence of children. This study also confirms that movement competence is a multidimensional concept and may not be recorded adequately by only one test battery. The authors also comment on a proposed movement competence model; suggesting that for children to be truly competent, they should participate in a wide range of activities.
  • Implications of physical literacy for research and practice: A commentary (PDF  - 1.0 MB), Corbin C, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Volume 87, Issue 1 (2016). This article provides a historical view of the term physical literacy and how it has been interpreted. A variety of individuals and organisations have promoted the use of the term internationally, and defined it in terms of their own organisational aims. Three North American institutional approaches to physical literacy are discussed: (1) the Canadian multi-institutional model; (2) the SHARP America single-institutional model; and (3) the Aspen Institute promotional model. Other issues are also discussed, including assessment and other literacy types (i.e. physical health literacy, sport literacy, etc.).
  • Long-term athletic development- part 1: a pathway for all youth, Lloyd R, Oliver J, Faigenbaum A, Howard R, De Ste Croix M, Williams C, Best T Alvar  B, Micheli L, Thomas D, Hatfield D, Cronin J and Myer G, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 29, Number 5 (2015). A comprehensive examination and review of the most prominent athlete development models is presented in two-parts by the authors. Part 1 provides a critical review of existing models of practice for long-term athletic development and introduces a composite youth development model that includes the integration of talent, psychosocial and physical development characteristics during maturation. In assessing the  long-term athlete development (LTAD) model  that is popular with many sporting associations worldwide, the authors note that a core concept of LTAD is the acquisition of physical literacy early in life. However, basing youth training prescription on chronological age may restrict optimal programming for youth who may be at different maturational stages. Also, given the use of the term ‘athlete’ within the title and its specific goal to maximise physical development, the LTAD model may be more closely aligned with developing sports performance potential rather than general and lifelong participation in physical activity. Despite the general acceptance of the LTAD model within the coaching literature, recent criticisms from the academic fields have questioned its rigid view of athletic development and the fact that the model lacks supportive empirical evidence on a few key points.
  • Mission impossible? Reflecting upon the relationship between physical education, youth sport and lifelong participation, Green K, Sport, Education and Society, Volume 19, Issue 4 (2014). It is widely believed that school physical education is, or at least can be, a means of enhancing young people’s engagement in physically activity now and throughout the life-course. However, the precise nature of the relationship between physical education and lifelong participation is seldom explored. The author uses several European studies to frame the issue and reflect upon the causal relationship between physical education and lifelong participation in sport and physical activity. In doing this, the author highlights the inherent problems associated with attempts to identify and establish a ‘PE effect.’ 
  • Physical Literacy: Importance, assessment and future directions (PDF  - 173 KB), Giblin S, Collins D and Button C, Sports Medicine, published online (5 June 2014). Advocates for physical literacy programs claim a range of anticipated benefits; including expectations of significant future healthcare savings (due to improved fitness), improved physical and psychological wellbeing, productivity gains, and lifelong participation in physical activity. This article puts forward an alternative view that the scientific evidence underpinning the efficacy of physical literacy programs is not substantial. Notably, there is no robust empirical tool for assessing the skill component within the overall context of physical movement. The authors see this as a limitation in the design and assessment of interventions. The batteries of movement assessments used at present do not coherently link test outcomes (e.g. fitness and skill competence) to the long-term objectives of physical literacy (e.g. lifelong participation). The authors propose that future studies may combine our knowledge of the neuroscience underpinning physical skill acquisition and development with extra-gaming technology as an appropriate basis for both teaching and monitoring physical literacy.

Early-years development

Physical activity and motor development during the foundation years, ages 0-5, underpins much of a child’s acquired physical literacy at later stages of development. ‘Normal’ development capabilities for movement and body control, as well as establishing positive perceptions and attitudes about physical activity, are acquired early in life and contribute to other significant developmental milestones. Acquiring movement skills (e.g. the pathway to physical literacy) during the preschool years have a demonstrated effect on good health and wellbeing. Early development of motor skills also establishes a platform for future engagement in diverse forms of physical activity and ultimately, sports. When a child reaches school-age, additional opportunities to develop their physical literacy become available through modified sports activities, physical education instruction, and in-school physical activity time that may include informal play and active travel to/from school.

  • Association between sports participation, motor competence and weight status: A longitudinal study, Henrique R, Re A, Stodden D, Fransen J, Camos C, Queiroz D and Cattuzzo M, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online ahead of print (29 December 2015). In this study motor competence (object control and locomotor skills), weight status, and sports participation were assessed in 292 preschool children (158 boys and 134 girls) between the ages of 3 and 5 years; and again two years later (N=206). The aim of this study was to investigate if baseline motor competence, weight status, and sports participation in early childhood predicted sports participation two years later. Results indicated that preschoolers who initially participated in sports had acquired more advanced locomotor skills and were more likely to participate in sports two years later. The authors conclude that development of motor competency is cumulative during early childhood and the effects on sport participation and physical activity may be persistent across childhood. Locomotor skills were the first subset of motor competence associated with sport participation, as it involves independent upright locomotion. The next step in the developmental hierarchy is refinement of object control skills, which are generally associated with the maintenance of posture. Because more complex perceptual-motor adjustments are needed for controlled and precise object manipulation and projection, it is clear that prolonged exposure to motor experiences involving object control skills may be needed to achieve mastery in this area.
  • Do perceptions of competence mediate the relationship between fundamental motor skill proficiency and physical activity levels of children in kindergarten?, Crane J, Naylor P, Cook R and Temple V, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Volume 12 (2015). It is known that perceptions of competence mediate the relationship between motor skill proficiency and physical activity among older children. This study examined kindergarten children’s perceptions of physical competence as a mediator of the relationship between motor skill proficiency as a predictor variable and physical activity levels as the outcome variable. Participants were 116 children, mean age 5 years and 7 months, from ten schools in British Columbia, Canada. This study found that, on average, perceptions of physical competence were generally positive and physical activity levels were quite high. Motor skills levels were in the mid-range, with locomotor skill proficiency scores higher than object control skill scores. Object control predicted perceived physical competence. The bidirectional relationship between object control skills and physical activity suggests that motor skill development is both an outcome of, and a precursor for, physical activity.
  • Efficacy of gross motor skill interventions in young children: an updated systematic review, Veldman S, Jones R and Okely A, BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, published online (4 January 2016). The objective of this study was to provide an update of the evidence published during the period 2007 to 2015 on the efficacy of gross motor development interventions in young children, 0 to 5 years of age. The research contribution during this period has highlighted: (1) The qualitative aspects of intervention studies have improved, although the number of studies has remained about the same. (2) Professional development of educators in the area of gross motor skills development has come to the fore; demonstrating quality of practice in early childcare settings. (3) Parental involvement in interventions is recommended, given the important role that parents have in helping their children develop gross motor skills through role modeling, providing opportunities, encouragement and support for physical activity.
  • Interventions to promote Fundamental Movement Skills in childcare and kindergarten: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Wick K, Leeger-Aschmann C, Monn N,, Sports Medicine, published online (6 April 2017). Evidence suggests that early proficiency in fundamental movement skills (FMS) lays the foundation for being physically active and developing more complex motor skills. Therefore, improving motor skills may provide enhanced opportunities for the development of a variety of perceptual, social, and cognitive skills. This systematic review and meta-analysis assessed the effects of FMS interventions on actual FMS performance, targeting typically developing young children, age 2 to 6 years. This review found there is relevant effectiveness of programs to improve FMS proficiency in healthy young children; however, these results need to be interpreted with care as they are based on low-quality evidence and immediate post-intervention effects (generally) without long-term follow-up. Three key point from this review: (1) proficiency in FMS can and should be trained and enhanced at an early age; (2) interventions tackling FMS improvement in typically developing young children (aged 2–6 years) show clear beneficial effects on overall FMS, locomotion, and object control skills; and (3) as there is very little confidence in the effect estimates, the true effect of interventions may be stronger or weaker than the effect estimate; therefore, more high-quality research with reduced bias is needed.

The Australian Early Development Index is a population measure of children’s development as they reach school-age. It tells us how children are progressing compared to developmental norms, on a range of characteristics. A child’s physical readiness for school is measured by several key factors, including physical independence and appropriate gross and fine motor skill development. Children scoring above the 25th percentile (i.e. in the top 75% of the population) are considered to be ‘developmentally on track’; those in the 10th to 25th percentile are considered to be ‘developmentally at risk’ and those below the 10th percentile are ‘developmentally vulnerable’. Key results from the 2012 government survey indicate that 77.3% of Australian children are developmentally on track in their physical competence when they enter school; 13.4% are at risk, and 9.3% are vulnerable. However, these overall figures are skewed for Indigenous children (17% at risk and 20.4% vulnerable), non-English speaking populations (21.9% at risk and 29.5% vulnerable), and the most socio-economic disadvantaged children (15.6% at risk and 14% vulnerable).

  • Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) 2015 ResultsAustralian Government; Department of Education and Training, (2016). With the release of the 2015 AEDC data, a number of resources were released, including the 2015 National Report, fact sheet, infographic and videos. These provide information on AEDC ​results from the 2009, 2012 and 2015 collections and are available to download from the AEDC website. 
  • Predicting academic achievement in fourth grade from Kindergarten cognitive, behavioural and motor skills (PDF  - 1.1 MB), Pagani L, Fitzpatrick C, Belleau L and Janosz M, Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development, briefing paper (2010). Data from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development (QLSCD) in Canada is used to gain a better understanding of the trajectory of developmental characteristics into later life. The importance of motor skills at school entry is part of the National Educational Goals and evidence supports the notion that school readiness impacts upon later school achievement. The QLSCD data shows that fine motor skills were significantly associated with success in reading, writing, and overall achievement as well as classroom engagement, even after controlling for other factors. In addition, locomotion scores were positively associated with writing achievement and classroom engagement. Children who had better coordination (at age 5 years) seemed to have a higher school engagement in grade four, as assessed by their teachers.

A long-term study being conducted in Australia has looked at a range of developmental benefits to toddlers who receive FMS through aquatic instruction. The implication that early motor skill development may complement (or accelerate) the development of cognitive and social skills is intriguing. Additional research may help to identify and confirm these relationships.

  • Early-years swimming: adding capital to young Australians, final report (PDF  - 5.3 MB), Jorgensen R, Griffith University (2013). The Early-Years Swimming Research Project has been conducted over four years. It has centred on an examination of the possible benefits that may accrue for under-5s who participate in swimming lessons. Participating in swimming has rewards too for health and fitness, but unlike other physical or intellectual pursuits undertaken by children in the years prior to schooling, formal swimming lessons can commence at a much earlier age. Water familiarisation activities can start soon after birth with baby’s first bath and formal lessons start in many swim centres for babies as young as four months. No other baby-centred leisure activity commences at such a young age. The survey has shown considerable differences between normal developmental milestones and when swimming children are reported to achieve them. The child testing has shown that swimming children are often months or years ahead of their same age peers in the normal populations of the tests that were used. One would anticipate that children who engage in activities that develop their physical skills would perform better on measures of this type so it is unsurprising to report that the children do well in areas that require them to use their bodies for movement (such as hopping, walking, running, or climbing stairs). What is surprising, and of interest to parents, educators, and policy makers, is that the children also score significantly better on measures that related to their visual motor skills (which includes skills such as cutting paper, colouring-in and drawing lines); gross motor stationery skills (e.g. standing on tiptoes, standing on one foot, imitating movement, performing sit-ups); oral expression (being able to speak and explain things, etc.); and achieving in general areas of literacy and numeracy and mathematical reasoning. It was also found that the children scored better on measures of understanding and complying with directions. Swimming children performed at levels of very high significance in relation to normal populations (p>0.001). Many of these skills are needed in formal education contexts so it would appear that swimming children may be better prepared for their transitions to school. This is a considerable advantage that is well beyond the swimming skills and water safety skills advocated by the swim industry.The findings may be a reflection of the socio-economic strata of participant’s families, as middle and upper socio-economic families are more likely to enrol their children in swim lessons. However, further analysis has indicated that differences between a swimming group and a similar population cohort do exist.

Parents can contribute to young children's physical literacy by engaging them in various forms of play. Fundamental movement skills are acquired early in life and by the time a child enters school, many of the underpinning movement patterns have emerged, although they may not yet be fully developed.

  • Developing Physical Literacy: a guide for parents of children ages 0 to 12 (PDF  - 4.0 MB) Canadian Sport for Life (2011). Developing physical literacy in our children will take the combined efforts of parents/guardians, day-care providers, schools personnel, community recreation leaders, and everyone involved in the sport system; each has a role to play. Ultimately the responsibility for developing a physically literate child rests with parents and guardians. Just as parents and guardians ensure their children are exposed to learning situations that result in them having the ability to read, write, and do mathematics, they must also ensure their children develop physical literacy.

Lifelong impact

Many studies have shown that children who are more ‘physically literate’ tend to engage in more frequent and higher levels (e.g. moderate-to-vigorous intensity) of physical activity, both in the present environment and into the future. The association between frequent physical activity and cardio-vascular fitness is well established. Children who acquire fundamental motor skills are more likely to engage in activities using those skills; concomitantly, children who engage in frequent physical activity are more likely to progress down a pathway toward physical literacy. Part of becoming physically literate is also developing the confidence to apply a skill in novel settings; providing opportunity to engage in a wide range of new physical activities (including sampling a number of sports). Basic learning principles suggest that if skills are presented in a fun (enjoyable), safe, and supportive environment, they are more likely to be applied in multiple settings.

  • Childhood motor skill proficiency as a predictor of adolescent physical activity (abstract), Barnett L, Beurden E, Morgan P, Brooks L and Beard J, Journal of Adolescent Health, Volume 44, Issue 3 (2009). In 2000, children's proficiency in object control (kick, catch, throw) and locomotor skills (hop, side gallop, vertical jump) were assessed in a school intervention. In 2006-07 the physical activity of former participants (now in secondary school) was assessed using the Australian Physical Activity Recall Questionnaire. The results indicated that object control proficient children were more likely to become active adolescents. Therefore, motor skill development should be a key strategy in childhood interventions (such as physical education and sport participation) to promote long-term physical activity.
  • Does childhood motor skill proficiency predict adolescent fitness? (PDF  - 225 KB), Barnett L, Van Beurden E, Morgan P, Brooks L and Beard J, Medicine and Science in Sport & Exercise, Volume 40, Number 12 (2008). This study gathered data from New South Wales school children in 2000 and again during 2006-07. The children were assessed for proficiency on a battery of skills tests , as well as a fitness test. The study found that children with good object control skills are more likely to become fit adolescents. The authors concluded that fundamental motor skill development in childhood may be an important component of long-term physical fitness.
  • Fundamental movement skills and physical fitness as predictors of physical activity: A 6-year follow-up study, Jaakkola T, Yli-Piipari S, Huotari P, Watt A and Liukkonen J, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, published online ahead of print (2 February 2015). This study examined the extent to which fundamental movement skills (FMS) and physical fitness, assessed in early adolescence, can predict self-reported physical activity 6 years later. Results showed that fundamental movement skills predicted future activity for light, moderate, and vigorous intensity physical activity levels. Further analyses also showed that after controlling for previous levels of physical activity, gender, and body mass index, the size of the effect of fundamental movement skill was strongest for high intensity physical activity.

A longitudinal study of Australian primary school children aims to collect data from childhood into adolescences and then into adulthood, the LOOK (Lifestyle of our Kids) project commenced in 2005. The project initially collected data on a cohort of 8 year-old primary school students, covering a wide range of factors. Data has been used to assess the relationships between physical, physiological, cognitive, and social development and the impact that physical activity (including the acquisition of movement skills and physical fitness) has on health, wellbeing and school achievement. A number of publications have been forthcoming from the LOOK project. The evidence (to date) supports many positive outcomes that early development of fundamental movement skills (as part of physical literacy) has on child development.

  • Benefits of early development of eye-hand coordination: Evidence from the LOOK longitudinal study (abstract) Telford RD, Cunningham R, Telford RM, Olive L, Byrne D, and Abhayaratna W, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, Volume 5 (2013). Data from the LOOK Study was used to investigate the longitudinal and cross-sectional relationships between eye-hand coordination (EHC) and cardiorespiratory fitness, physical activity, percent body fat, body image, and organised sport participation in 406 boys and 384 girls at both 8 and 10 years of age. Cross-sectional analyses showed that boys and girls with better EHC were significantly fitter; and a longitudinal relationship showed that girls who improved their EHC over the two years became fitter. There was also evidence that children with better EHC possessed a more positive body image. At age 8 years, boys and girls participating in organised sport possessed better EHC than non-participants. These data provide evidence for the premise that early acquisition of this single motor skill promotes the development of a child's fitness, body image, and participation in sport.
  • Longitudinal patterns of change in eye-hand coordination in children aged 8-16 years, Wicks L, Telford RM, Cunningham R, Semple S and Telford RD, Human Movement Science, Volume 43 (October 2015, published online ahead of print). Enhanced eye–hand coordination (EHC) is associated with greater participation in physical activity. This study investigated the development of EHC, using an object control test, from childhood to mid-adolescence. Subjects were initially 355 boys and 373 girls, age 8 years from 29 Australian primary schools as part of the LOOK (Lifestyle of our Kids) project. Subjects were evaluated at age 8, 10, 12, and 16 years. EHC improved significantly with age from childhood to mid-adolescence, although boys were more adept at each age. The patterns of change in EHC with increasing age varied according to the degree of difficulty of the task; throw and two-handed catch proficiency developing earlier than throw and one-handed catch in both sexes. The proficiency of throw and two-handed catch rates developed faster than throw and one-handed catch rates for both sexes.
  • Physical Education can improve insulin resistance: The LOOK randomized cluster trial (abstract) Telford RD, Cunningham R, Telford RM, Daly R, Olive L, and Abhayaratna W, Medicine and Science in Sport & Exercise, Volume 45, Number 10 (2013). This investigation sought to determine whether the introduction of a specialist-taught school physical education (PE) program based on sound educational principles (including the acquisition of fundamental movement skills) could improve insulin resistance (IR) in elementary school children. The results showed that, on average, the intervention PE classes included more fitness work than the control PE classes and more moderate intensity physical activity; by grade 6 the intervention had lowered IR by 14% in the boys and by 9% in the girls. The conclusion was made that specialist-taught primary school PE improved IR in children, thereby offering a primordial preventative strategy that could be coordinated widely through a school-based approach.

Research has also explored the relationship between ‘poor’ proficiency in fundamental movement skills (e.g. not being physically literate) and low levels of physical activity.

  • Prevalence and correlates of low Fundamental Movement Skill competency in children (PDF  - 676 KB), Hardy L, Reinten-Reynolds T, Espinel P, Zack A and Okely A, Pediatrics, published online (23 July 2012). This study examined the demographic and health-related characteristics of Australian school-aged children assessed as having low competency in fundamental movement skills (FMS). Overall, the prevalence of students with low motor skill competency was high. Girls with low socioeconomic status (SES) were twice as likely to be less competent in locomotor skills compared with high SES peers. Among boys, there was a strong association between low competency in FMS and the likelihood of being from non–English-speaking cultural backgrounds. There was a clear and consistent association between low competency in FMS and inadequate cardiorespiratory fitness. It was concluded that primary school-based interventions focusing on skill acquisition, as well as fitness education, could significantly improve health-related fitness and physical activity levels in older children.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse topics, Sport Participation in Australia and Sport in Education.

Contribution to health outcomes

Health outcomes are closely related to physical activity and cardio-vascular fitness, but in a much broader context the ‘health’ influence of being physically literate extends to other health measures. Perhaps the greatest long-term preventive health benefit of being physically literate is the propensity for physically literate children to maintain a ‘normal’ body weight range and body mass index (BMI). The evidence is clear, overweight and obesity are factors that increase the risk of acquiring several non-communicable diseases, both in childhood and later in life.

  • Fundamental Movement Skills in children and adolescents: Review of associated health benefits (PDF  - 166 KB), Lubans D, Morgan P, Cliff D, Barnett L and Okely A, Sports Medicine, Volume 40, Number 12 (2010). The objective of this systematic review was to examine the relationship between fundamental movement skills (FMS) competency and potential health benefits in children and adolescents. This review found strong evidence for a positive association between FMS competency and physical activity in children and adolescents.
  • Motor competence and health related physical fitness in youth: A systematic review, Cattuzzo M, Henrique R, Re A, de Oliveira I, Melo B, Moura M, Araujo R and Stodden D, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online 11 December 2014. There is strong scientific evidence supporting an inverse association between motor competence (MC) and body weight status (27 out of 33 studies) and a positive association between MC and cardiorespiratory fitness (12 out of 12 studies) and musculoskeletal fitness (7 out of 11 studies). Considering the noted associations between various assessments of MC and multiple aspects of health related outcomes, the development of MC in childhood may both directly and indirectly augment long-term health.    Pre-publication Alert
  • Physical literacy for reducing injury risk, Play Safe Initiative, Canada, published online (3 August 2013). Developing physical literacy has emerged as a key strategy in promoting physical activity among children and youth, and thereafter through their adult lifespan. There is another practical benefit to physical literacy, the reduction and/or prevention of injury. A 2009 report found that sports equipment related injury cost the Canadian health care system approximately $188 million. Physical literacy helps to reduce injuries because it improves body mechanics and increases awareness of the activity environment. The Play Safe Initiative is led by Canadian Sport for Life, to promote injury prevention through physical literacy.
  • Prediction of habitual physical activity level and weight status from fundamental movement skill level, Bryant E, James R, Birch S and Duncan M, Journal of Sports Sciences, published online 19 May 2014. This research looked at whether previous or current fundamental movement skill (FMS) level is a good predictor of physical activity (PA) levels and weight status in children. The results from this study showed that prior mastery in FMS was a good predictor of current PA. In addition, current FMS was a good predictor of current weight status. Overall, FMS mastery is needed in childhood to be able to participate in PA and maintain a healthy weight status.
  • Temporal trends in weight and current weight-related behaviour of Australian Aboriginal school-aged children, Hardy L, O’Hara B, Hector D, Engelen L and Eades S, The Medical Journal of Australia, Volume 200, Number 11 (2014). This report looks at the 13-year trends in weight status of Australian Aboriginal children and describes a number of weight-related behaviours; such as body mass index, screen time, and physical activity. The study concluded that overweight and obesity increased more rapidly with age among Aboriginal children than non-Aboriginal children. Because the level of competency in fundamental movement skills for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups was low (compared to international data), one-third of all children were deemed physically unfit. Parental modelling and support are important influences in physical activity, and schools are a key setting for developing movement skills through the physical education curriculum and school sport programs. While NSW primary schools have programs that promote healthy eating (e.g. Live Life Well @ School), a significant policy gap exists in Australia because there is a lack of specialised teachers to deliver physical education programs in primary schools, disadvantaging many children.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse topic, Preventive Health, Sport and Physical Activity.


International and Australian evidence supports the position that physical literacy, physical activity, and physical education all make a valuable contribute to one’s development. Physical literacy encourages greater physical activity and physical education, primarily through the school system, provides a delivery system. However, there are many challenges facing the physical education curriculum such as: a ‘low priority’ in a crowded curriculum; inconsistent standards for delivery and assessment; and the decline in the number of specialist physical education teachers in schools (particularly in primary schools). However, schools offer the best opportunity of reaching all children, regardless of socio-economic status, ethnic background, or ability/disability.

  • Operationalizing physical literacy through sport education, Hastie P and Wallhead T, Journal of Sport and Health Science, published online (15 April 2015). Physical literacy, as embodied within physical education, has been associated with the disposition of students of all abilities to engage in lifelong physical activity. This paper discusses how the pedagogical features of Sport Education, may be used to operationalise both physical literacy and physical education. The authors conclude that substantial evidence exists to validate the link between physical literacy and physical education. Some researchers also suggest that students who are developing their physical literacy within a school physical education program must also be provided with an external outlet to activate their skills in the form of community sport participation.
  • Physical Education and sport in schools: A review of benefits and outcomes (abstract), Bailey R, Journal of School Health, Volume 76, Issue 8 (2006). This paper explores the scientific evidence that has been gathered regarding the contributions and benefits of physical education (PE) and sport in schools for both children and for educational systems. The review suggests that PE and sport participation have the potential to make significant and distinctive contributions to development in several domains. The literature also suggests that the development of fundamental movement skills and physical competences are necessary precursors of participation in sport and physical activity later in life.
  • Sport education in European schools: Compulsory but less important than other subjects (PDF  - 5.0 MB), European Commission, Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (March 2013). Physical education is a compulsory subject at school but is commonly perceived as being less important than other subjects, according to a European Commission report. This report covers primary and lower secondary education and provides an insight into the following topics: national strategies and initiatives, the status of physical education in national curricula, recommended annual classroom time, pupil assessment methods, teacher education, extracurricular activities, and planned reforms.

The physical education curriculum can make a significant contribution toward population-wide physical literacy. However, other pathways toward physical literacy can also be used to acquire skills or support and consolidate skills learnt in a school setting.

A measure of ‘uncertainty’ about the application of the physical education curriculum in Australian schools has been linked to declining standards in fundamental movement skills among primary school students.

  • NSW Auditor-General’s Report: Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools (PDF  - 1.5 MB), New South Wales Government, Department of Education and Communities (2012). This report evaluates the status of physical activity programs in NSW schools. The report contains eight recommendations, which include: (1) enhancing existing arrangements to effectively monitor and report on programs and outcomes, including whether planned physical activity requirements are met; (2) using information to identify and monitor schools in need of assistance, and providing that assistance; (3) consider additional options to further assist teachers and students, such as engaging local sporting organisations; and (4) increasing the skill levels of primary school teachers or recruiting more specialist physical education teachers.

The national curriculum for Health and Physical Education is developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). Revisions in the National Curriculum for Foundation through Year-10 have been published by ACARA.

  • Tracked changes to F-10 Australian Curriculum (PDF  - 3.0 MB), Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (September 2015). In September 2015 the Education Council endorsed the Australian Curriculum for Foundation through Year-10 in eight learning areas: (1) English; (2) Mathematics; (3) Science; (4) Humanities; (5) Social Sciences; (6) The Arts; (7) Technologies; and (8) Health and Physical Education. This document tracks the changes that have been made in each curriculum area. 

At the state level, the NSW Department of Education has embedded physical literacy as a key aspect of both the primary and secondary school Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus.

  • The NSW Physical Literacy Continuum K-10 was developed in consultation with academics from across NSW and is comprised of four interrelated aspects: movement competencies; tactical movement; motivation and behavioural skills; and personal and social attributes. The Physical Literacy Continuum aims to develop teachers' skills, confidence, and knowledge in delivering engaging and relevant physical activity to all students. It outlines the skills and attributes students develop as they progress from Kindergarten to Year 10 and provides a framework to guide teachers in evaluating students' physical literacy throughout their school years. This allows the identification of where adjustments can be made to help students progress. More information—and resources to support teachers and schools to implement the Continuum, including documents, case study and programming examples, posters, and videos—is available on the NSW Department of Education Physical Literacy webpages

Early-years child care and learning centres engage children in regular physical activity as part of their normal routine. However, teachers/staff (in general) are not specifically trained to teach fundamental movement skills or champion the principles of physical literacy.

  • Pre-school based motor skill development program: Needs analysis (abstract), Schranz N and Fellar K, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 20, Supplement 1 (2017). This study intended to identify the needs of a movement-based skills program designed to improve the fundamental movement skills (FMS) of pre-school aged children. Participants in this study were volunteers from six Early Childhood Centres located across the metropolitan Adelaide area, reflecting different socio-economic quartiles. Semi-structured interviews and questionnaires were used to acquire information on current views, needs, and levels of knowledge and skills of the early childhood centre staff and teachers. Audits of equipment and space were conducted to identify common equipment used. The results indicate that participants had a relatively low level of knowledge regarding FMS and very little experience with the delivery and assessment of FMS programs for pre-school aged children. Time constraints to implement a FMS program and staff training were the most commonly identified program delivery and assessment concerns/needs.
  • Motor competence and characteristics within the preschool environment, True L, Pfeiffer K, Dowda M, Williams H, Brown W, O’Neill J and Pate R, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, abstract published online ahead of print (24 January 2017). This study examined the contribution of various preschool environmental characteristics to preschool children’s locomotor, object control, and total gross motor ability. Data were collected from 229 children, age 3 to 5 years from 22 preschools in South Carolina (USA). This study found a significant relationship between classroom size, child/teacher ratio, teacher education, playground size, and frequency of trips outside the preschool setting, as predictors of locomotor score and total gross motor score. The study concluded that preschools may be able to promote motor competence by: (1) expanding outdoor play spaces, activities and opportunities; (2) better training and education of teachers/staff, and; (3) lower teacher-student ratio and larger classrooms. 

Evidence of declining movement skill proficiency

Schools are universally recognised as important institutions for the promotion of physical education programs that include physical literacy as part of the curriculum. School sport programs offer children a means of demonstrating their physical literacy, movement skill, and physical fitness. However, a number of studies have documented the decline in movement skill competency among Australian children.

  • A 30-year journey of monitoring fitness and skill outcomes in physical education: Lessons learned and a focus on the future, Tester G, Ackland T and Houghton L, Advances in Physical Education, Volume 4, Number 3 (2014). This paper provides normative data for primary school-age children from various regions in Australia. The data were used to identify secular trends over three decades and to focus on results for selected schools that have adopted varied levels of commitment to the physical education curriculum. Of great concern was the evidence of a decline in movement skills over the past 20 years for the cohort of children age 6 years. While fitness levels appear to have been maintained, and there were no identifiable trends for rural versus metropolitan students, the poor skill level impacted negatively on children’s overall score of physical ability.
  • Australian children lack the basic movement skills to be active and healthy (PDF  - 50 KB), Barnett L, Hardy L, Lubans D, Cliff D, Okely A, Hills A and Morgan P, Health Promotion Journal of Australia, published online (18 July 2013). This commentary puts forth the position that primary schools must increase children’s opportunities to learn and develop fundamental movement skills through multiple sources and settings – unstructured active play, quality physical education, school sport and community-based programs.
  • Cross-cultural comparison of motor competence in children from Australia and Belgium, Bardid F, Rudd J, Lenoir M, Polman R and Barnett L, Frontiers in Psychology, published online (13 July 2015). Due to the many different motor skill instruments in use, children's motor competence across countries is rarely compared. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the motor competence of children from Australia and Belgium. Statistical analysis showed that 21% of Belgian children and 39% Australian children scored ‘below average’. The very low levels reported by Australian children may be the result of cultural differences influencing physical activity, such as the physical education framework in schools and the use of active transport (walking or cycling) to/from school. When compared to normed scores, both samples scored significantly worse than children 40 years ago. The decline in children's motor competence is a global issue, largely influenced by increasing sedentary behaviour and a decline in physical activity.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills – How do primary school children perform? The ‘Move it Groove it’ program in rural Australia (PDF  - 370 KB), van Beurden E, Zask A, Barnett L and Dietrich U, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 5, Number 3 (2002). The Move it Groove it project rated proficiency of primary school children (n=1045 children from 18 schools) in skills of balance, throwing, catching, sprint, hop, kick, gallop and jump. Three skill ratings were assigned - 'mastery', 'near mastery' or 'poor'. Only 21.3% of all children tested were rated at mastery level and 25.7% were rated near mastery. The low prevalence of skill mastery found in this survey suggests that there may be great potential to improve fundamental movement skills of primary aged children in many parts of rural Australia through tailored physical education programs and modification of social and physical environments.
  • Thirteen-year trends in child and adolescent Fundamental Movement Skills: 1997–2010, Hardy L, Barnett L, Espinel P and Okely A, Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 45, Number 10 (2013). This study examined changes in the competency on five common Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) – sprint run, vertical jump, catch, overarm throw, and kick in a population sample of New South Wales schoolchildren. Serial surveys spanning 13 years were used to collect data. At each survey children's competency was low, rarely above 50 per cent. Major improvements were noted following the survey in 1997, which could be explained by resources issued to government schools which supported the teaching of FMS and the use of physical education (PE) specialists to focus on FMS. Inconsistencies appear in the mean performance level of individual skills; between 2004 and 2010 boys were approximately twice as likely to have improved their ability to catch but competency declined for the vertical jump. Girls increased their ability to catch and kick while competency decreased by 47 per cent for the vertical jump. Overall, students' FMS competency was low. The data suggests that the current delivery of FMS programs requires stronger positioning within the school curriculum. Strategies to improve children's physical activity should consider ensuring children are taught skills and acquire competency so they can enjoy being physically active.
  • NSW School Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey (SPANS) 2015 (PDF  - 477 KB), Hardy L, Mihrshahi S, Drayton B and Bauman A, NSW Department of Health (2017). SPANS is a cross-sectional, school based population survey of NSW children age 5 to 16 years. This report captures data from the 2015 survey and makes comparisons with previous surveys and best practice guidelines for children and adolescents. The 2015 survey included more than 7,500 students from kindergarten and years 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. SPANS measures a range of health behaviours including: dietary patterns and eating behaviours; physical activity and measures of fitness and fundamental movement skills (FMS); and identified factors related to healthy growth and development. Overall, the 2015 survey found that NSW children were generally considered to be low in FMS, but significant increases in all FMS had been made (among both primary school aged boys and girls) between 2010 and 2015.

A number of possible solutions to the observed low levels of Australian children on FMS tests have been suggested. Some of the suggestions involve strengthening the physical education curriculum; increasing the number of specialist physical education teachers; or providing more professional training to classroom teachers assigned to physical education instruction. Other strategies, such as service agreements between schools and community sporting organisations to provide expertise and closer ties between school and extracurricular sports programs have been suggested or implemented.

  • Characteristics of teacher training in school-based physical education interventions to improve fundamental movement skills and/or physical activity: A systematic review, Lander N, Eather N, Morgan P, Salmon J and Barnett L, Sports Medicine, published online (13 June 2016). Fundamental movement skill (FMS) competence is positively associated with physical activity (PA). Many school-based interventions to improve FMS and PA have been shown to be effective. It is also evident that teachers play a central role in the success and longevity of school-based interventions. The aim of this systematic review was to investigate the type and quantity of teacher training that underpins school-based FMS and PA interventions and the impact on intervention outcome. This review identified 30 studies that included teacher training, and 25 of these reported statistically significant intervention results for FMS and/or PA. It appears that teacher training programs that provide comprehensive subject and pedagogy content; are framed by a theory or model; provide follow-up or ongoing support to teachers; and measure teacher satisfaction of the training, are more effective at improving student outcomes in FMS and/or PA. However, detailed information regarding the characteristics and extent of teacher training protocols was difficult to ascertain from the published studies. Therefore, which teacher training characteristics were most important in relation to intervention effectiveness could not be determined.
  • Contributions of after school programs to the development of fundamental movement skills in children, Burrows E, Keats M and Kolen A, International Journal of Exercise Science, Volume 7, Number 3 (2014). Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) proficiency amongst children has declined in the previous 15 years in many countries. Declines in FMS may explain why participation levels in health promoting physical activity and sports participation have also declined. This study looked at 40 participants, ages 6-10 years, in either low-organised games programs or sports-based after-school programs. No significant differences were found in FMS scores between the two groups after 11 weeks. The researchers concluded that better training of program leaders and sports coaches on how to teach FMS may be necessary to assist children in acquiring sufficient proficiency in FMS.
  • Fundamental Movement Skill interventions in youth: A systematic review and meta-analysis (PDF  - 1.3 MB), Morgan P, Barnett L, Cliff D, Okely A, Scott H, Cohen K, and Lubans D, Pediatrics, Volume 132, Number 5 (2013). Fundamental movement skill (FMS) proficiency is positively associated with physical activity and fitness levels. The objective of this study was to systematically review evidence for the benefits of FMS interventions targeting youth. All studies reported significant intervention effects for fundamental movement skill. Meta-analyses of the data revealed large effect sizes for overall gross motor proficiency, and locomotor skill competency; and a medium effect size for object control skill competency.

It is well documented that patterns of physical activity are affected by gender, culture, social and economic considerations; and these factors affect opportunity for engagement in physical activity and the development of physical literacy. Population statistics show that females, persons from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) groups, persons living in economic disadvantage, persons facing physical/intellectual/emotional challenges, and Indigenous Australians are generally under-represented and possibly underserved in terms of participation in sport and recreation.

Some, but not all, of the differences in participation rates and skill acquisition among boys and girls, are due to maturation differences. Where differences exist, they are easily understood and can be accommodated by variations in programs being offered to boys and girls. Gender is not generally seen as a barrier to becoming physically literate. However, cultural factors and socioeconomic influences present greater challenges to developing physically literate children.

Cultural, social and economic influences generally impact upon a child’s opportunity to be exposed to the necessary experiences and environments that will help them develop FMS and guide them on the pathway to physical literacy. Typically, children from low socio-economic backgrounds are not exposed to pre-school play groups, and economic disadvantage often means that participation in organised sports is restricted because of cost (e.g. financial cost of membership fees, plus time investment by parents). Many children experience disadvantage in acquiring FMS because they are not guided into physical activities by parents (poor role models), or they have limited opportunities at school and do not have the financial resources to access sport/exercise opportunities outside of school programs.

  • Child, family and environmental correlates of children's motor skill proficiency, Barnett L, Hinkley T, Okely A and Salmon J (abstract), Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 16, Number 4 (2013). This study looked at what factors were correlated with motor skill proficiency among 76 Australian preschool children, 34 boys and 42 girls (mean age 4.1 years). The researchers found that age, prior swimming lessons, and access to home exercise/sports equipment were positively associated with motor skill proficiency. These factors explained 20% of the variance in motor skill. In addition, gender, parental involvement in play activity, and the amount of unstructured physical activity that was classified as moderate-to-vigorous in intensity, accounted for 32% of the variance in object control skill.
  • Fundamental movement skills and physical activity among children living in low-income communities: a cross-sectional study, Cohen K, Morgan P, Plotnikoff R, Callister R and Lubans D, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 11, Number 49 (2014). This study examined the associations between fundamental movement skill competency and objectively measured moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) throughout the school day, among children attending primary schools in low-income communities. After adjusting for age, gender, and body mass index, it was found that locomotor skill competency was positively associated with total daily activity and after-school MVPA. Object-control skill competency was positively associated with total lunchtime, recess, and after-school MVPA.
  • Gender and age affect balance performance in primary school-aged children (abstract), Mickle K Munro B and Steele J, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 14, Issue 3 (2011). Compromised ability to balance (stability control) may hinder a child's ability to master fundamental movement skills and, in turn, the capacity to participate in sporting activities. This study looked at the postural stability of primary school-aged children to determine if gender had an effect. The ability to maintain postural stability is an essential pre-requisite to competently perform many activities of daily living as well as sports skills. Stability (balance) is an important component of fundamental movement skills and a significant transition occurs between the ages of 7 to 10 years. It was hypothesised that gender differences may exist due to earlier maturation of the neurological, visual, vestibular and proprioceptive systems in girls. It was also postulated that postural stability would improve with age among both boys and girls. This study concluded that static postural stability in children was affected by age and gender, young boys displayed greater postural sway than girls. Proficiency in dual limb balance tasks are usually obtained by 9 years of age, although the more difficult single limb balance is more competently performed by children age 10.
  • Global self-esteem, perceived athletic competence, and physical activity in children: A longitudinal cohort study, Noordstar J, van der Net J, Kak S, Helders P and Jongmans M, Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 22 (January 2016), published online ahead of print. Two groups of Dutch children were followed; one group from kindergarten to grade 2 and the other group from grades 2 to 4. This study found that an increase in global self-esteem was significantly associated with perceived athletic competence and the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) for girls, but not for boys. Perceived athletic competence declined slightly over time in boys, but remained stable in girls. The authors speculate that the decline in boys was due to their greater participation in vigorous activity. Because boys participated more in MVPA than girls, they were also more exposed to situations in which they could compare their athletic performance with their peers, resulting in a decline in perceived athletic competence. Other studies have shown similar responses among boys and girls and the authors offer no clear explanation for the results in this study.
  • Participation in sport and recreation by culturally and linguistically diverse women (PDF  - 839 KB), Cortis N, Sawrikar P, and Muir K, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales (2008). This research used focus groups representing thirty-five different countries of origin. The focus groups were asked if they agreed with the idea that sport in Australia is a level playing field; that is, an area of life that everyone can participate in equally and that everyone can access. The women identify a number of barriers that they believed shaped their experiences and attitudes toward sport and recreation activities. One of the recurring themes for those with low participation in sport and physical activity was a lack of confidence in their movement skills.
  • Profiling sport role models to enhance initiatives for adolescent girls in physical education and sport, Vescio J, Wilde K, and Crosswhite J, School of Leisure, Sport and Tourism, University of Technology, Sydney (2005). This research is framed within social learning and gender theory and is aimed at identifying the characteristics of a sports role model for female adolescents. This study found that only a small percentage (8.4% of the sample) of girls chose a sports person as their role model, instead nominating a celebrity or a family member. This may be due to the relevance of sport in their lives, or to the great difference between the girls' sport performance and that of elite athletes. Another suggested reason for this finding could be gendered heroism, due to the lack of media coverage of female athletes. This may mean that adolescent girls are unaware of female elite athletes in sports (generally) and in the sports the girls participate in.
  • Schools with fitter children achieve better literacy and numeracy results: evidence of a school cultural effect (PDF  - 483 KB), Telford RD, Cunningham R, Telford RM and Abhayaratna W, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 24, Number 4 (2012). Relationships between academic achievement, physical fitness, physical activity, and percent body fat were examined at both school level and individual child level. Data was collected from children (N=757) in 29 Australian elementary schools as part of the LOOK (Lifestyle of our Kids) project. Between-school relationships of academic scores with fitness and physical activity were strong and positive. The between-child relationships were weaker. Stronger between-school than between-child relationships favour the argument that variation in school cultures might play a more dominant role in explaining these relationships.  
  • Skeletal maturation, fundamental motor skills and motor coordination in children 7–10 years (abstract), Freitas D, Lausen B, Maia J, Lefevre J, Gouveia E, Thomis M, Antunes A, Claessens A, Beunen G and Malina R, Journal of Sport Sciences, Volume 33, Number 9 (2015). This study looked at the relationship between skeletal age and fundamental motor skills (FMS) and gross motor coordination (GMC) in a large sample (N=429 children, 213 boys and 216 girls). Skeletal maturity is influenced by gender. However, this study found that skeletal age alone, or interacting with body size, had a negligible influence on FMS and GMC, accounting for only 9% of the variance.
  • Sport motor competencies and the experience of social recognition among peers in physical education – a video-based study, Grimminger E, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, Volume 18, Issue 5 (2013). Being recognised as a competent and accepted member in the peer group is one of the most important basic human needs for children and adolescents. However, it is the peer group itself that decides which competencies are valued and which are not. Through this process a social order, as well as peer power constellations, is created. This study aimed to determine if, and how, sport motor competencies are used as a criterion for recognition or non-recognition among peers. The results of this study show that sport motor competencies and the social position in a peer group are significantly related. However, the findings were only significant for boys’ peer group and not for girls. The authors concluded that sport motor competencies play an important role in the everyday struggles of children for recognition within their peer group.

More information can be found in the Clearinghouse topics, Persons with Disability and Sport and Women’s Sport.

Physical literacy provides a platform for lifelong participation in a range of sports and physical activities because it instils movement confidence as well as competence.

In addition, physical literacy is a key component in the long-term development of elite athletes. Every elite athlete starts his/her sporting journey by developing an interest in sport and acquiring movement skills during the foundation stage; skills are then refined during talent development stages; and finally applied in elite competition. There has been a long-standing debate about the best pathway for elite sportspersons – early specialisation or diversification (i.e. sampling several sports during the foundation years). There is some research that supports an early specialisation pathway in certain sports where peak performance occurs during adolescence; but generally, research supports a sampling approach during childhood, with specialisation later during adolescence, or in some sports during the adult years. 

  • Early specialization in youth sport: A requirement for adult expertise? (PDF  - 72 KB), Baker J, High Ability Studies, Volume 14, Number 1 p85-94 (2003). This review examined the evidence (both for and against) regarding an early specialisation perspective and an early diversification approach, as a pathway to elite sport. The mechanisms by which diversification (e.g. sampling a number of sports) influences skill-development are related to transfer of skills and the effects of cross-training. Diversified training in the early stages of development is generally presented as the preferred model, but with the following qualifications. First, transferrable skills must have similar underlying performance elements in order to be useful. Second, the effect of diversified training decreases as the level of expertise increases. Research from the fields of physiology and motor learning support these caveats. Considering the potential consequences of advocating an early specialisation approach, coaches and sport scientists should consider the early diversification approach as a viable alternative.
  • Early sport specialization versus quality physical education (abstract), Jones L and Petlichkoff L, Chronicle of Kinesiology & Physical Education in Higher Education, Volume 19, Number 2 (2008). This article looks at the debate over whether children and youth should specialise in a particular sport, or receive an overall high-quality physical education experience. Youth sport participation literature suggests that children participate in sport because it is fun, because they are good at it, to improve their skill level, to improve health and fitness, and to be part of a team (social inclusion). A long-standing belief that focusing on one sport early in life will lead to greater success later in life is, in fact, not reflected in the literature. The evidence in the United States suggests otherwise; many studies have shown that early specialisation does not guarantee continued sport participation or success. Retrospective studies that surveyed parents of elite athletes, consistently show that they encouraged their children to participate in a variety of physical activities during the skill foundation years.
  • A look through the rear view mirror: Developmental experiences and insights of high performance athletes, Gulbin J, Oldenziel K, Weissensteiner J and Gagne F, Talent Development & Excellence, Volume 2, Number 2, p149-164 (2010). Data was collected from the National Athlete Development Survey which chronicles the key developmental experiences and insights of 673 high performance Australian athletes, including 51 Olympians, across 34 sports. Several general themes emerge, including: (1) that high performance athletes are characterised by diverse and high level sports participation prior to specialisation; (2) there is an investment and commitment to training and access to high quality coaching; (3) substantial parental support; (4) an early and enduring passion for sport; and (5) resilience to overcome obstacles and bounce back.
  • To sample or to specialize? Seven postulates about youth sport activities that lead to continued participation and elite performance (PDF  - 154 KB), Cote J, Lidor R and Hackfort D, International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Volume 9, p7-17 (2009). In a number of sports, early sampling serves as the foundation for both elite and recreational sport participation. Early sampling is based on two main elements of childhood sport participation – involvement in various sports, and participation in deliberate play. In contrast, a few sports use an early specialisation approach. This paper proposes seven postulates regarding the role that sampling and deliberate play, as opposed to specialisation and deliberate practice, have on long-term participation in sport.
  • What does the science say about athletic development in children? (PDF  - 611 KB), Project Play, U.S. Sport Policy and Research Collaborative (2013). This paper summarises the review of relevant and important literature on the topic of developing children as athletes. The paper addresses five prevailing questions regarding early specialisation and the role of practice and play in the development of skill acquisition and expertise in sports. The discussion draws upon over 50 published research papers, reviews, and book chapters.

Victoria University: Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living (ISEAL) partnered with Gymnastics Victoria and the Victorian Department of Education (Early Childhood Development Office) to study the effectiveness of a gymnastics-based intervention used in the primary school physical education curriculum.

  • Efficacy of the LaunchPad Gymnastics program, Rudd J, Polman R, Farrow D and Borkoles E, Victoria University (Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living, ISEAL), Gymnastics Victoria, Victorian Department of Education (Early Childhood Development Office) and Australian Sports Commission (2015).

This report provides an evaluation of Gymnastics Australia’s LaunchPad program. The program is designed to improve overall movement competence by developing fundamental movement skill and general coordination through a gymnastics-based program. This study specifically looked at the effectiveness of the second and third levels of LaunchPadwhich are GymFun for 5-8 year old children and GymSkills for 9-12 year olds. The research contained three parts: (1) assessment of movement competencies in a representative sample of 6-12 year old Melbourne school children; (2) a pilot study to test the design and feasibility of using LaunchPad as an intervention to improve the teaching of movement skills; and (3) a large scale intervention program, conducted across three primary schools. The final study would take into account the lessons learnt from the pilot study.

First it was necessary to determine the current movement competence of school children in the sample area (i.e. Melbourne, Victoria). A movement competence assessment test battery was developed to quantify children’s locomotive skills, object control skills, dynamic postural control and general coordination. These four aspects of physical literacy were seen as critical for a child’s development. Key findings from phase one of this study included:

  1. In general, the Melbourne children tested demonstrated a low level of movement competence. This finding was consistent with other Australian studies.
  2. Australian children who participated in gymnastics demonstrated superior overall movement competence compared to other students.
  3. Using normative data for Fundamental Movement Skill (FMS) from the United States, the Melbourne children were behind the American cohort. However, this finding should be viewed with caution, since the normative data was 15 years old, so the comparison was against a different generation of children.
  4. Australian children who participated in gymnastics demonstrated better general coordination and dynamic postural control then European norms.
  5. Primary school teachers were found to have the confidence to run physical education (PE) lessons, but were less confident to teach developmentally appropriate PE curriculum to facilitate movement competence.
  6. Teachers (in general) do not feel confident in teaching gymnastics.

The pilot program was conducted in one Melbourne primary school from October to December 2012 to test the efficacy of the LaunchPad program. A total of 113 children (61 boys and 52 girls) from school years 2, 4 and 6 took part in the pilot program. Key findings from phase two of this study included:

  1. The LaunchPad program, when taught in early-to-middle primary school years, is effective in developing object control skills, and to a lesser extent general coordination.
  2. The pilot study did not prove to be successful for year 6 students. Input from focus groups of year 6 students indicated that LaunchPad was not thought to be challenging enough or engaging enough.
  3. Classroom teachers reported that observing a gymnastics coach deliver the program helped their understanding of how to teach movement skills.

The main study (phase three) involved 314 children (163 boys and 151 girls) from grades 1 through 4 (e.g. 6 to 9 years of age). During the first school term the LaunchPad group received one lesson per week by the school’s PE teacher and a second lesson from an accredited gymnastics coach (observed by a classroom teacher). During the second school term LaunchPad was delivered jointly by the classroom teacher and PE teacher without the support of a coach. The control group received two lessons per week consisting of team based games delivered by their regular PE teacher. This was considered to be typical of the primary school physical education curriculum. Key finding from phase three of this study included:

  1. Overall, movement competence improved in both groups, but significantly more in the LaunchPad group.
  2. The largest improvements were in dynamic postural control and general body coordination. These are considered essential aspects of a child’s overall movement competence.
  3. The GymSkills program was most effective with children in grades 3 and 4.
  4. Year 4 children from the LaunchPad group showed significant improvement in object control skills compared to the control group.
  5. There was relatively little change in the perceived movement competence in both groups.
  6. Teachers found the experience of working with a trained gymnastics coach beneficial to their own professional development.

Several recommendations were made following this study. First, the GymSkills component (i.e. children 9-12 years of age) of LaunchPad was more effective than GymFun (i.e. children 5-8 years of age) at developing overall movement competence, in particular body coordination and postural control. Second, it was recommended that GymFun should focus more on foundational body management skills that are covered in the Kindergym program. Strong basic movement skills will accelerate the progress for dynamic postural control and general coordination. Finally, GymSkills should have a greater emphasis on object control skills.

The study also recommended that future research is still needed to understand the relationships between FMS and postural control and general coordination. The main strength of a program such as LaunchPad is that it provides opportunities for children to develop overall movement competence within a gymnastics framework. This suggests that learning Fundamental Movement Skills can be effectively mixed with gymnastics (as a delivery strategy) to facilitate general body coordination and dynamic postural control.

Gymnastics Victoria also partnered with Scope, a Victorian disability service provider, to study the physical and social outcomes that participation in a gymnastics program had on a group of children and adolescents with disability. Other research on the importance of acquiring fundamental movement skills among children with disability supports the notion that children with disability can benefit, perhaps more than children without a disability.

  • Understanding the benefits of gymnastics for children with a disability (PDF  - 358 KB), Campain R, Gymnastics Victoria, VicHealth and Scope (2014). This project was a joint research venture between Scope, VicHealth, and Gymnastics Victoria. The aim was to identify key issues in relation to the experience of gymnastics participation for children with disability, aged 2-17 years. Both parents and instructors emphasised the particular physical benefits of gymnastics; including strength, flexibility, balance and coordination; and how these factors contributed to outcomes achieved from the program. Children in the program also demonstrated improved confidence and self-esteem which contributed to their social development. This report also reviews the evidence upon which the benefits of gymnastics for children with disability underpin the efficacy of participation in a program.
  • Fundamental movement skills training to promote physical activity in children with and without disability: A pilot study, Capio C, Sit C, Eguia K, Abernethy B and Masters R, Journal of Sport and Health Science, Volume 4, Issue 3 (2015). A positive association between fundamental movement skills (FMS) and physical activity (PA) has been shown in previous research of children with and without disability. This pilot study explored a causal mechanism for such relationship, and hypothesized that when FMS proficiency is improved, enhanced PA uptake will result. It was further hypothesized that improving FMS proficiency will have a greater impact on children with disability than those without disability. Participants in this study included typically developing children without disability and children with cerebral palsy, who were allocated to FMS training groups or control groups. The findings suggest that improved FMS proficiency could potentially contribute to heightened PA and decreased sedentary time for all children. Also, the effect of improved FMS proficiency on PA appears to be greater in those with physical disability than in those without disability. The authors recommend that the findings of this pilot study be tested in larger samples and different populations.

A number of countries recognise the potential benefits of promoting physical literacy as a means of achieving population health and social objectives through increased participation in physical activity and sport.

  • Physical Literacy: A global environmental scan (PDF  - 3.5 MB), Spengler J and Cohen J, Aspen Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2015). Project Play is an initiative that aims to develop a cross-sector plan for physical literacy (PL) in the United States. The first step in the development of the project was to produce this environmental scan of current practice in nine countries: Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Venezuela, and Wales. Key findings from this initial investigation include: (1) each country has developed its own definition of physical literacy, but all definitions include a long-term approach, references to affective outcomes (motivation, confidence, etc.) and physical outcomes (fitness and health); (2) each country uses national sporting bodies and schools to promote physical literacy and deliver physical literacy through physical education, community sports programs and active play; (3) countries having well-established initiatives use an online presence (campaigns, resources, blogs, etc.) to deliver strong effective messages about the value of physical literacy; (4) promotion of physical literacy to policymakers often occurs in the context of preventive health outcomes; (5) many physical literacy initiatives target low-income and underserved populations for government funded programs; (6) effective physical literacy initiatives have grassroots support, and; (7) assessment tools to measure and monitor the outcomes of physical literacy initiatives are relatively new, and longitudinal studies are rare.


Physical literacy is a well-established initiative within the long-term athlete development (LTAD) model advocated by Canadian Governments (Federal and Provincial), peak sporting bodies and community organisations. In Canada, physical literacy is considered to be the foundation for both elite sport and a healthier nation. It is a policy objective that every child be physically literate by age 12.

  • Sport Canada and the Public Policy Framework for Participation and Excellence in Sport (PDF  - 466 KB), Canadian Government, Library of Parliament, Publication Number 2013-75-E (2013). Item 3.3.2 of this document, 'Long-Term Athlete Development', identifies the acquisition of fundamental movement skills and sport skills as a priority during early childhood.
  • Canada’s Physical Literacy Consensus Statement, Canadian Sport for Life (June 2015). The Consensus Statement provides a uniform definition with consistent language to help clarify what physical literacy means, for the development of policy, practice and research. “Physical literacy is the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” Motivation and confidence refers to an individual’s enthusiasm for, enjoyment of, and self-assurance in adopting physical activity as an integral part of life. Physical competence refers to an individual’s ability to develop movement skills and patterns, and the capacity to experience a variety of movement intensities and durations. Enhanced physical competence enables an individual to participate in a wide range of physical activities and settings. Knowledge and understanding includes the ability to identify and express the essential qualities that influence movement, understand the health benefits of an active lifestyle, and appreciate appropriate safety features associated with physical activity in a variety of settings and physical environments. Engagement in physical activities for life refers to an individual taking personal responsibility for physical literacy by freely choosing to be active on a regular basis. This involves prioritising and sustaining involvement in a range of meaningful and personally challenging activities, as an integral part of one’s lifestyle. There are five core principles that underlie the definition of physical literacy: (1) it’s an inclusive concept, assessable to all; (2) it represents a unique journey for each individual; (3) it can be cultivated and enjoyed through a range of experiences in different environments and contexts; (4) it needs to be valued and nurtured throughout life, and; (5) it contributes to the development of the whole person.
  • The Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy: Methods for children in grades 4 to 6 (8 to 12 years), Longmuir P, Boyer C, Lloyd M, Yang Y, Bolarskaia E, Zhu W and Tremblay M, BMC Public Health, Volume 15 (2015). Physical literacy is described by outcomes from several domains – motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding, and the ability to value and engage in a physically active lifestyle. The Canadian Assessment of Physical Literacy (CAPL) has been proposed as an assessment tool for physical literacy. This study looks at the validity evidence for the CAPL among children in grades 4 to 6. The CAPL was completed by 963 children (530 girls and 433 boys) in grades 4, 5 and 6, mean age 10.1 years. CAPL domain scores were statistically significantly associated with teacher ratings of the child’s motivation, attitudes, fitness, skill and overall physical activity. The CAPL appears to offer a comprehensive assessment, domain scores assist with the identification of areas where additional support may be required.
  • Canadian Sport for Life, Physical Literacy Resources. This webpage contains links to resources for parents, coaches, teachers and organisations.


No explicit definition of physical literacy appears in policy documents in the Netherlands. However, the development of fundamental movement skills is a well-established principle. The Dutch Sport Federation (NOC*NSF) places great emphasis on fundamental movement skills during the first three stages of their long-term athlete development model – Active Start, FUNdamentals, and Learning to Train. The teaching of fundamental movement skills is viewed as part of the talent identification and development process adopted by each national sporting body. Teaching fundamental movement skills is also seen as a way of attracting and engaging participation in sport.

  • Sport Agenda 2017+, NOC*NSF (2017). This document provides an overall strategy for increasing sport participation and strengthening elite sport.

New Zealand

The concept of physical literacy is endorsed and supported by Sport New Zealand and various resources have been produced. The national sporting bodies for Gymnastics and Athletics have been proactive in promoting physical literacy and many other NZ sporting organisations (although not all) include physical literacy in their development model.

  • Active Movement: An introduction (PDF  - 976 KB), Sport New Zealand (2012). This is the introductory brochure for a series of resources on physical literacy that are directed to parents, teachers and sports program providers. There is an emphasis on early (age 0-5 years) development of movement skills and the link between active movement and intellectual, emotional, and social development as well as physical development.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills among children in New Zealand (PDF  - 2.1 MB), Sport New Zealand (2012). This report provides some insights about movement abilities of Kiwi children and is based on data collected in 2002 as part of the National Education Monitoring Project (NEMP) for year-4 and year-8 children. A snapshot is provided, as well as an examination of whether skill levels have changed over time.
  •, Sport New Zealand (10 March 2016). is an initiative aimed at ensuring students are receiving quality physical education and sport at school. It uses a physical literacy approach that is focused not only on physical skills, but social and emotional skills needed to enjoy life-long engagement in sport and physical activity. In 2016 was started as a pilot program in 44 New Zealand schools. The program is funded primarily through Sport New Zealand and supported by the Ministry of Education.
    • baseline evaluationSport New Zealand, (March 2017). Supported by the Ministry of Education and ACC, is helping to create quality and engaging PE experiences in our schools that encourage a lifelong love of sport and physical activity, which contributes to the overall wellbeing of our Kiwi kids.

United Kingdom

The physical literacy initiative in the United Kingdom came from the context of school physical education and school sport. Developing physical literacy is the foundation of the physical education curriculum and is applied through school sport. Physical literacy is not perceived as a program, but as an outcome of learning experiences that are age and stage appropriate.

  • Primary School Physical Literacy Framework (PDF  - 666 KB), Sport England (2013). This framework has been designed to support those working in primary schools to consider how best they can structure their physical education (PE) and school sport programs to ensure maximum opportunity is provided to all students to develop their physical literacy.

United States

Physical literacy has been in referenced in academic literature in the United States since the 1880’s. Citations in the literature ebbed and flowed since the 1950’s, and were generally replaced by more frequent references to physical fitness concepts in physical education and sports settings. The emergence of physical literacy (as a key concept) in Canada, and the recent emphasis on physical activity as a counter-measure to the increasing rate of overweight and obesity in the United States, have sparked a growing focus on physical literacy.

  • Physical Literacy in the United States: A model, strategic plan, and call to action (PDF  - 2.3 MB), Project Play, The Aspin Institute, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2015). This white paper provides the rationale (call to action), model (what seems to work), and strategy (how to) for a national initiative to promote physical literacy in the United States. Particular attention is given to vulnerable populations, including children from low-income families, youth from racial and ethnic minorities, girls, and children facing physical or developmental challenges. It conceptualises a path forward, a journey that will require sustained commitment and coordination from a number of sectors.
  • Promoting physical activity through Policy (PDF  - 615 KB), Bassett D, La Monte M, Wiese-Bjornstal D, Volpe S and Mechanick J, President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, USA, Research Digest, Series 12, Number 3 (2011). Policies to improve physical activity may be direct, such as required participation in quality physical education programs in schools, or less direct, such as a transportation policy that encourages additional walking, or replacing automobile transport with cycling. This report describes five policy categories within schools and communities that have the potential to improve population physical activity. Evidence of effectiveness of these policies is already available or emerging. Currently, there is a growing consensus that policy-based approaches targeting the school environment, such as mandatory physical education (PE), may have the greatest impact on child and adolescent physical inactivity and childhood obesity. The five promising policy areas are: (1) quality PE programs in schools that include fundamental movement skills and physical literacy; (2) complete streets – policies that influence how communities are designed to influence physical activity; (3) joint use – policies that allow shared access to facilities and spaces; (4) community trail – construction or use of existing access routes (such as bicycle/pedestrian paths) that allow a variety of modes of active transport (i.e. walking, cycling, in-line skating, wheelchairs, etc.), and; (5) policies for active transport to-and-from school.

Position Statements

  • Fundamental motor skills module (PDF  - 5.3 MB), ACHPER, Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation, Victoria Branch (2009). It is the position of ACHPER (Victoria Branch) that the teaching of fundamental movement skills (FMS) should be integrated into the activities taught in the physical education curriculum. FMS are not something to add on to the program and taught as a separate unit. Teaches should try to identify current units where FMS can be taught. For example; a unit involving gymnastics is used to teach leap, roll, balance, run, and jump; dance can be used to teach twist, turn, bend, and slide; selected games and sports can be used to teach throw, catch, kick, dodge, etc.
  • International Position Statement on Physical Education (PDF  - 81 KB), International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (2010). This position statement by the ICSSWPE reaffirms the 1978 UNESCO International Charter on Physical Education and Sport concerning the value of physical education within the overall education environment. Physical education in schools is the most effective and inclusive means of providing all children, whatever their ability/disability, sex, age, cultural, race/ethnicity, religious or social background, with the skills, attitudes, values, knowledge and understanding for lifelong participation in physical activity and sport. Physical education develops physical competence so that all children can move efficiently, effectively and safely as they develop ‘physical literacy’ that contributes to their overall development and achievement.
  • Physical Literacy for Educators (PDF  - 189 KB), Physical & Health Education Canada (2009). Physical literacy serves as an important foundation for many sport and education policies in Canada. This paper provides an overview of physical literacy through the lens of an educator and attempts to bridge a significant gap between sport and physical education. The development of physically literate individuals is a priority that both education and the sport systems share. The working definition that is provided examines physical literacy from the perspective of a quality physical education program and the role that such a program plays in the development of the whole child.


  • Active for Life. This is a national movement in Canada that promotes physical literacy. Being physically literate is the foundation for being successful in any sport. By providing expert advice, inspirational tips and activity ideas, Active for Life helps parents to encourage their children to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity. Research has shown that physically literate kids have more fun being active, and that makes them more likely to stay active for life. Active for Life tip sheets include:
    *     6 ways babies develop physical literacy in their first year—regular movement is essential to healthy infant brain development; a parent’s job is to stimulate and encourage age-appropriate movement in the right ways at the right times throughout the first year.
    *     Physical literacy checklist: 0-2 years—there are a number of basic fundamental movement skills that an infant should be learning and mastering, they are: grasping, rolling over, sitting, crawling, holding on to larger objects to support their body weight to develop balance, and walking.
    *     Physical literacy checklist: 2-4 years—movement skills that a toddler should learn and master include: running, throwing, catching, kicking, swimming, and balancing.
    *     Physical literacy checklist: 4-6 years—basic fundamental movement skills that a preschool child should learn and master are: running with confidence, throwing and catching, falling and tumbling, hopping and jumping, skipping, and cycling.
    *     Physical literacy checklist: 6-9 years—different sports place an emphasis on different movement skills, a young child should learn and master a range of skills that include: striking sports, dribbling sports, gymnastics, balance sports (i.e. surfing, skiing, skateboard), aquatic sports, and skating or cycling sports.
  • An integrated framework for the optimisation of sport and athlete development: A practitioner approach, Gulbin J, Croser M, Morley E and Weissensteiner J, Journal of Sports Sciences, Volume 31, Number 12 (2013). A practical dilemma for sporting stakeholders arises in deciding what generic model(s) and approaches they should adopt for athlete and whole-of-sport development. This paper introduces a development framework that has been generated by multidisciplinary sport practitioners, combining current theoretical research perspectives with extensive empirical observations. The model is called FTEM –Foundations, Talent, Elite, Mastery. The model contains multiple phases of development for participants within an active lifestyle that includes sport participation, talent development, and sport excellence pathways. In order to better understand athlete transition from one stage to the next, the model avoids chronological age and training prescriptions as benchmarks. The model establishes a continuum between participation and elite performance that allows inclusion of many developmental support drivers at the sport and system levels. 
  • Being Active Matters. This publication was developed through a collaborative process between Womensport & Recreation Tasmania, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services. Being Active Matters was developed to provide parents of young children with information and practical games and activities that encourage active play and the development of Fundamental Movement Skills, also referred to as Fundamental Motor Skills.
  • I Move We Move (PDF  - 4.7 MB), NSW Health, Hunter New England Area Health Service (2000). The I Move We Move program and resource materials complement theGood for Kids Nutrition resource package promoted by the NSW Government, Department of Health. Together, nutrition and physical activity form an integral part of a healthy lifestyle for children. I Move We Move resources have been developed in partnership with early childhood and infant movement specialists. They are intended for parents and support staff at early childhood centres. Information will help caregivers encourage and promote fun and developmentally appropriate physical activity and play experiences which support the development of fundamental movement skills. This document outlines policy and implementation strategies and offers case studies.
  • Move & Learn: Training manual for non-formal Education through Sport and physical activities with young people (PDF  - 2.1 MB), Andonova D, Acs M and Holmes D, International Sport and Culture Association (2013). The European Union highly values the positive role that sport can play in the field of education. Sport is a key tool to promote social and personal values such as team spirit, discipline, perseverance and fair play; and sport can also boost knowledge, motivation and skills. This manual aims to provide an approach through which learning projects can be complemented with sport and physical activities and sport for all communities can be complemented with a more conscious learning for life skills dimension. The manual is written for sport trainers who work with young people and would be open to integrating a stronger non-formal education approach in their sport activities. It is also for youth workers and trainers who are ready to integrate sport and physical activities into their community projects and educational activities.
  • NSW Physical Literacy Continuum K-10. The Continuum is comprised of four interrelated aspects: movement competencies; tactical movement; motivation and behavioural skills; and personal and social attributes. It outlines the skills and attributes students develop as they progress from Kindergarten to Year 10. More information—and resources to support teachers and schools to implement the Continuum, including documents, case study and programming examples, posters, and videos—is available on the NSW Department of Education Physical Literacy webpages
  • PE Pulse, Australian Capital Territory Government, supporting physical education in ACT schools. This is a new initiative from the ACT Government to link sport and physical activity providers with local ACT schools through the PE Pulse Network. By selecting the Fundamental Movement Skill desired in a Physical Education lesson, a school can identify a local service provider. Fundamental Movement Skills are key components of all dynamic physical education lesson objectives and align with the Australian Curriculum.
  • Physical Literacy Assessment for Youth (PLAY) tools, Canadian Sport for Life. The newPhysical Literacy Assessment for Youth (PLAY) tools were officially launched by Canadian Sport for Life in 2013. The PLAY tools are designed for coaches, exercise professionals, physiotherapists, recreational leaders, parents and children; they make it possible to determine individuals’ physical literacy levels in much the same way as literacy or numeracy assessments are used in the classroom. PLAY tools will help people understand the importance of learning a wide range of movement skills, allowing children to be active for life, and establish their foundation for excellence in sport.
  • Physical Literacy Infographic (PDF  - 406 KB), Public Health Agency of Canada and ParticipACTION, Canada (2017).
  • Physical Literacy Key Messages (PDF  - 398 KB), Public Health Agency of Canada and ParticipACTION, Canada (2017).
  • Project Play. The Aspen Institute, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (USA) provides a number of reports, fact sheets, and case studies capturing key insights on topics associated with getting children more active.


  • Brain Boost: How sport and physical activity enhance children’s learning, what the research is telling us (PDF  - 2.9 MB), Smith J, Government of Western Australia, Department of Sport and Recreation (2015). This report is a follow-up to one published in 2010, it updates the latest research supporting the positive link between physical activity (including sport) and cognitive development and academic success. It details findings from Australian and international research published in peer reviewed journals and it provides summaries of intervention and longitudinal research, correlational studies, and research reviews.
  • Quality physical education: Guidelines for policy-makers (PDF  - 4.2 MB), McLennan N and Thompson J, UNESCO, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (2015). UNESCO’s vision is clear – sport and physical education are essential to youth, to healthy lives, to resilient societies, to the fight against violence. Physical education exposes young people to a range of experiences that enable them to develop the skills and knowledge they need to make the most of opportunities today and to shape new forms of global citizenship. Yet, despite the recognised power of physical education, we are seeing a global decline in its delivery. These guidelines have been developed in partnership with the International Olympic Committee and other organisations to inform and mobilise stakeholders to take action. This report highlights the fact that physical literacy is the foundation of physical education, it is not a programme but an outcome of any structured physical education provision, which is achieved more readily if learners encounter a range of age and stage appropriate movement experiences and opportunities.


  • Associations between young children's perceived and actual ball skill competence and physical activity, Barnetta L, Ridgersb N and Salmon J, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online (12 March 2014). A total of 102 children (56% boys, 44% girls) aged 4–8 years completed assessments. The results showed that girls had lower perceived and actual object control competence and were less active than boys. Actual object control competence was positively associated with perceived object control competence and this relationship did not differ by sex. However, neither actual nor perceived object control competence were associated with moderate to vigorous physical activity. Young children's perceived ball skill abilities appear to relate to actual competence. In older children, object control skill is associated with physical activity, so targeting young children's object control skills may be an intervention priority.
  • Contribution of organized and non-organized activity to children's motor skills and fitness (abstract), Hardy L, O’Hara B, Rogers K, St George A and Bauman A, Journal of School Health, Volume 84, Issue 11 (2014). This study examined the associations between children's organised physical activity (OPA), non-organised physical activity (NOPA), and two health-related outcomes – fundamental movement skill (FMS) and fitness in a sample of children aged 10-16 years. The authors concluded that both OPA and NOPA are important contributors to children's health-related outcomes. Among the girls, OPA was more strongly associated with both fitness and FMS competency. These findings support the importance of providing children with opportunities to engage in a range of daily physical activities, both organised (school physical education programs and school sport) and non-organised activities (active transport to school, play, and social sport).
  • Correlates of gross motor competence in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Barnett L, Lai S, Veldman S, Hardy L, Cliff D, Morgan P, Zask A, Lubans D, Shultz S, Ricgers N, Rush E, Brown H and Okely A, Sports Medicine, published online (19 February 2016). Research has shown that interventions can improve the gross motor competence of children and adolescents. However, it remains unclear which correlates should be targeted by the intervention. The aim of this systematic review was to identify the potential correlates of gross motor competence in typically developing children and adolescents (aged 3–18 years) using an ecological approach. A total of 59 studies reflecting this age group were identified from 22 different countries, published between 1995 and 2014. The most commonly examined correlates had biological and demographic origins. Physical activity and sport participation constituted most of the interventions. This review found physical activity to be a positive correlate of skill composite and motor coordination, with indeterminate evidence for physical activity being a correlate of object control or locomotor skill competence. Few studies investigated cognitive, emotional, psychological, cultural and social factors as correlates of motor competence. The findings suggest that evidence for some correlates differs according to how motor competence is operationalised and there is further scope for investigation.
  • Development of selected motor skills in boys and girls in relation to their rate of maturation – A longitudinal study (PDF  - 1.1 MB), Sokolowski B and Chrzanowska M,Human Movement, Volume 13, Numbver 2 (2012). This study made use of data from a longitudinal study of Polish children from 1980-1990 to examine the process of motor skill development in relation to maturation. The results indicated that early maturing children (both boys and girls) performed best in tests involving static strength. Early maturing boys performed best in tests involving speed and explosive strength, while late maturing girls performed best in all strength tests. The authors concluded that the rate of maturation had a significant effect on certain test results.
  • Differences in physical fitness and gross motor coordination in boys aged 6-12 years specializing in one versus sampling more than one sport, Fransen J, Pion J, Vandendriessche J, Vandorpe B, Vaeyens R, Lenoir M and Philippaerts R, Journal of Sports Sciences, published online (3 January 2012). This study investigated the effect of sampling various sports and of spending many or few hours in sports on fitness and gross motor coordination. Subjects were boys (N=735) in three age groups (6–8, 8–10, and 10–12 years), they were profiled using a fitness test battery; a physical activity questionnaire; and tests of motor competency. Analysis of the data suggests an acute positive effect of many hours in sports and a latent positive effect of early sampling on fitness and gross motor coordination. Multiple comparisons revealed that boys aged 10–12 years, who spent many hours in various sports, performed better on gross motor coordination tests than boys specialising in a single sport. These results highlight the importance of spending sufficient hours in sports participation and sampling various sports in the development of fitness and gross motor coordination.
  • Effectiveness of a 16 week gymnastics curriculum at developing movement competence in children, Rudd J, Barnett L, Farrow D, Berry J, Borkoles E and Polman R, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online ahead of print (14 July 2016). This study evaluated the effectiveness of a 16 week gymnastics curriculum on stability, locomotive and object control skills and general body coordination. A total of 333 children (136 in the intervention group and 197 in the control group) with a mean age of 8.1 years participated in the study. The intervention group received 2 hours of gymnastics per week for 16 weeks, and the control group participated in the standard physical education curriculum. Children's movement competence was assessed using the Test of Gross Motor Development-2, Stability Skills Assessment and the Körper-Koordinationstest für Kinder. The results indicated that stability and object control skills were significantly improved in the intervention group. No difference was found in locomotor skills or general coordination.
  • The effectiveness of a community-based fundamental motor skill intervention in children aged 3-8 years: Results of the “Multimove for Kids” project, Bardid F, Lenoir M, Huyben F, De Martelaer K, Seghers J, Goodway J and Deconinck F, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online ahead of print (28 July 2016). This study examined the effectiveness of a 30-week fundamental motor skill program in typically developing young children, and investigated possible gender differences. The intervention group (N=523) of 280 boys and 243 girls was compared to a control group (N=469) of 233 boys and 236 girls. The intervention group received 60 minutes of motor skill instruction weekly, delivered by trained instructors in a child care setting; the control group received no specific instruction. The intervention group demonstrated significantly better scores on object control tests, compared to the control group. The gains in object control were greater for boys than girls within the intervention group, but girls had greater gains in locomotor skills than boys. This study demonstrated the effectiveness of motor skill instruction in a community setting. The authors speculate that gender differences may be due to instructional strategies.
  • Effects of a kindergarten-based, family-involved intervention on motor performance ability in 3- to 6-year-old children: the ToyBox-study, Birnbaum J, Geyer C, Kirchberg F, Manios Y and Koletzko B, Journal of Sports Sciences, published online (1 April 2016). The ToyBox-intervention program uses a multi-component, kindergarten-based, family-involved approach to change young children’s behaviour toward healthy eating, water consumption, increased physical activity and decreased sedentary behaviour. The intervention is used in many European countries in a kindergarten setting. This study was conducted in Germany, it randomly assigned subjects to either the ToyBox intervention (N=863) or control group (N=430); 52% of subjects were boys and 42% girls. Two assessments; a jumping from side-to-side (JSS) task over 15 seconds, and a standing long jump (SLJ) test; were used to assess motor ability and muscle strength. The ToyBox subjects received two 45 minute physical activity sessions per week, divided into different levels of difficulty. Children in both groups improved their coordination and strength after one year. However, children in the intervention group had a significantly greater increase in JSS and tended to perform better on SLJ; suggesting a beneficial effect of the intervention on motor performance.
  • The effects of an early motor skill intervention on motor skills, levels of physical activity, and socialization in young children with autism spectrum disorder: A pilot study (abstract), Ketcheson L, Hauck J and Ulrich D, Autism, Volume 21, Issue 4 (2017). This pilot study measured the efficacy of an intensive motor skill intervention program on motor skills, physical activity, and socialization in young children with autism spectrum disorder. Eleven children with autism spectrum disorder, aged 4–6 years, participated in an 8-week intervention consisting of motor skill instruction for 4 hours per day, 5 days per week. The intervention group showed statistically significant improvement compared to the control group on all measures. These findings shed light on the importance of including motor programming as part of the early intervention services delivered to young children with autism spectrum disorder.
  • Efficacy of gross motor skill interventions in young children: An updated systematic review, Veldman S, Jones R and Okely A, British Journal of Sports Medicine, Volume 2, Issue 1 (2017). This review provides an update of the evidence on the efficacy of gross motor development interventions in young children (0 to 5 years) published from 2007 to 2015. Data were extracted on intervention design, participants, intervention components, methodological quality and efficacy. Most of the studies used trained staff members or educators to deliver the intervention; lasted for a period of 18 weeks or more, and; reported statistically significant intervention effects. Despite the substantial evidence regarding the importance of gross motor skill development in young children, and the recommendations made by other reviews, this review highlights the limited number of studies designed to evaluate the efficacy of interventions to improve key life skills in young children that have been published over the past 8 years.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills and habitual physical activity in young children (PDF - 176 KB), Fisher A, Rrilly J, Kelly L Montgomery C, Williamson A, Paton J and Grant S,Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise, Volume 37, Number 4 (2005). This study tested for relationships between objectively measured habitual physical activity and fundamental movement skills in a relatively large and representative sample of Scottish preschool children. The study concluded that in this sample and setting, fundamental movement skills were significantly associated with habitual physical activity.
  • Fundamental Movement Skills are more than run, throw and catch: The role of stability skills, Rudd J, Barnett L, Butson M, Farrow D, Berry J and Polman R, Plos One, Volume 10, Number 10 (2015). In motor development literature Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) are divided into three constructs: (1) locomotive, (2) object control, and (3) stability skills. Research has generally focused on children’s competency in the first two. The first aim of this study was to validate a test battery to assess the construct of stability skills in children aged 6 to 10 years (mean age 8.2, SD = 1.2). Secondly, the authors assessed how the stability skills construct fitted into a model of fundamental movement skill. Three stability skills were selected, each measuring a different aspects of postural control; i.e. the rock has high orientation demands, the back support requires high whole body stability, and the log roll requires both postural control and stability. It was believed that when combined, these three skills would provide a holistic picture of participants’ postural control ability and serve as a good measure for the stability skills construct. This study developed a process based assessment tool focused upon gymnastics skills as an alternative to the current product based assessment test batteries. The model (including all three aspects of FMS) demonstrated that the individual skills, as well as the stability skills as a whole, had predictive and construct validity. Overall, the stability skills were found to be an independent factor in the FMS model and consequently they should be assessed separately to other facets of movement competency. The current study also shows that the stability skills of children who have not experienced basic gymnastics training are poor compared to children who have. It is possible that the overall decline in children’s FMS is not only the result of children having decreased experience of incidental activity and play, but is also due to the marginalisation of physical education in the primary school curriculum. Educational gymnastics is no longer the cornerstone of physical education in the Australian schools system. The teaching of gymnastics skills has been replaced by sport education and sport pedagogy.
  • Getting the fundamentals of movement: A meta-analysis of the effectiveness of motor skill interventions in children (abstract), Logan S, Robinson L, Wilson A and Lucas W,Child: Care, Health and Development, Volume 38, Issue 3 (2012). The development of fundamental movement skills (FMS) has been associated with positive health-related outcomes, but children do not develop FMS naturally through maturational processes. These skills need to be learned, practised and reinforced; therefore, intervention strategies that facilitate FMS development are required. This review of literature concluded that motor skill interventions are effective in improving FMS in children. The authors recommend that early childhood education centres should implement movement programs as a strategy to promote FMS development.
  • Interventions to improve fundamental motor skills in pre-school aged children: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Van Capelle A, Broderick C, van Doorn N, Ward R and Parmenter B, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online ahead of print (23 January 2017). Mastery in fundamental motor skills (FMS) is associated with increased physical activity (PA) in school-aged children; however, the research on pre-schoolers (age 3–5 years) is limited. This review evaluated interventions for improving FMS as well as PA among pre-school children. Studies were categorised into three groups (1) teacher-led; (2) child-centred (i.e. play opportunities) and; (3) parent-led. Mean age was 4.3 years, with equal gender distribution. Interventions ran for an average of 21 weeks and included 3 sessions per week for approximately 35 minutes. Teacher-led interventions significantly improved overall FMS, object control and locomotor skills; whereas child-centred interventions showed positive, but not significant improvements. There was a small, non-significant reduction in sedentary time and a large non-significant increase in physical activity time. This review concluded that PA interventions improve FMS in pre-school children, but more specific research is required. Targeting FMS development among pre-school age children may promote higher physical activity levels and reduce sedentary time.
  • Interventions to promote Fundamental Movement Skills in childcare and kindergarten: A systematic review and meta-analysis, Wick K, Leeger-Aschmann C, Monn N,, Sports Medicine, Volume 47, Issue 392 (2017). Proficiency in fundamental movement skills (FMS) lays the foundation for being physically active and developing more complex motor skills. Improving motor skills may provide enhanced opportunities for the development of a variety of perceptual, social, and cognitive skills, as well as physical skills. Thirty trials (15 randomized controlled trials and 15 controlled trials) involving 6126 preschoolers, aged 3.3 to 5.5 years, were analysed. Although there is relevant effectiveness of programs designed to improve FMS proficiency in healthy young children, these studies need to be interpreted with care as they are based on low-quality evidence and immediate post-intervention effects without long-term follow-up.
  • The legacy of physical education: Influences on adult lifestyle, Shephard R and Trudeau F, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 12, Issue 1 (2000). The potential benefits of physical education (PE) in the school curriculum can be seen in the long-term patterns of physical activity throughout life. This review of literature focuses on the long-term legacy of PE programs. Many studies have tracked physical activity level, fitness, and motor ability from childhood into later life. Fewer studies have used control groups (matched subjects not receiving PE instruction or intervention protocols). A few consistent themes emerge as a legacy of PE programs in school: (1) motivational factors acquired during childhood are the result of having fun and learning skills, and; (2) PE forms the foundation for increased physical activity in later life.
  • LOOK Study (Lifestyle of Our Kids). The LOOK study is a collaborative, multidisciplinary longitudinal study beginning in childhood and finishing in old age.  Its main objective is to determine how physical activity and early physical education impact upon quality of life for Australians, not just in childhood and adolescence but right through a lifetime. The LOOK participants were initially 8 years of age when the study commenced in 2005. Participants were measured again at age 10 and 12 years. Over this period of four years in primary school data was collected to measure physical activity, fitness, body composition and nutritional intake; and to determine relationships of these factors with their bone health, risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes, their balance and coordination, their stress levels and body image, and even their academic progress. In 2013 the cohort was reassessed at the age of 15 years. A number of publications have presented the findings (this far) from the LOOK Study.
  • Measuring the physical activity practices used by parents of preschool children (abstract), Vaughn A, Hales D and Ward D, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Issue: Volume 45, Number 12 (2013). Parents play a critical role in shaping children’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours, including those around physical activity and inactivity. Our ability to identify which practices effectively promote children’s physical activity and limit inactivity is limited by existing measurement instruments. This project will develop protocols to measure physical activity, parenting practices, psychometric properties of this survey’s scales and their association with child physical activity and screen time behaviours.
  • Motor skill development in low-income, at-risk preschoolers: A community-based longitudinal intervention study, Bellows L, Davies P, Courtney J, Gavin W, Johnson S and Boles R, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, published online ahead of print (May 2017). This study compared four ‘Head Start’ preschools in Colorado (USA), two receiving an intervention program to develop children’s motor skill and two serving as controls (i.e. no intervention program). All children in the study came from low socio-economic (SES) backgrounds. Results indicated that delivering an intervention program in preschool confers a lasting impact on FMS, specifically object control skills. These results suggest that at-risk preschoolers are already behind in FMS development compared to children from higher SES backgrounds, and these delays will continue through first grade.
  • Opportunities and pathways from beginners to elite to ensure optimum and lifelong involvement, Cote J, UniQuest, Review of Junior Sport Framework, briefing papers, Project Number 00715, (University of Queensland) for the Australian Sports Commission (2007). Note: ‘Junior Sport Matters: briefing papers for Australian junior sport’ is available through the National Sport Information Centre (NSIC) in hard copy only. This paper reviews different research-based models that explain developmental pathways in sport. The evidence shows that long-term involvement in sport at a recreational or competitive level is based on an introduction to sport during childhood that includes participation in different sporting activities and involvement in youth-led play activities (e.g., deliberate play). The interdependent nature of different types of play and practice activities in children’s sport results in a complex learning environment that ultimately promotes long-term development and commitment to sport. There are serious limitations to any approach to long-term development in sport that relies on early selection of talent, early specialisation, short-term success, and only adult-driven activities during childhood. We have insufficient understanding of the interactive nature of all the variables (e.g. personal, social, environmental) that connect throughout the development process to optimise performance and participation in sport. However, the changing role of social agents (e.g. parents, coaches, peers) at different stages of a participants’ involvement in sport are not well understood. Finally, the transfer of skills from one sport to another has been supported anecdotally, but the processes that need to be put in place to facilitate optimum transfer of skills are still being explored.
  • Physical education in primary schools: Classroom teachers' perceptions of benefits and outcomes, Morgan P and Hansen V, Health Education Journal, Volume 67, Number 3 (2008). This study examined the perceptions of classroom teachers regarding the benefits and outcomes of their physical education (PE) programs. Data was collected from 38 randomly selected primary schools in New South Wales. Results indicated that teachers believed PE: (1) provides children with opportunities to improve fitness and be active to counter societal trends towards obesity and increased sedentary behaviours; (2) impacts positively on learning and behaviour in the classroom; (3) helps children to improve social skills and allows some children an opportunity to experience success in a unique learning environment. The teachers in the current study believed their programmes were only somewhat successful in achieving the outcomes of self-esteem, motor skills and fitness. The teachers believed PE was beneficial as a vehicle for physical activity and positively impacted on learning and behaviour in the classroom, but they felt PE programs offered little educational value.
  • Primary school teacher perceived self-efficacy to teach fundamental motor skills(abstract), Callea M, Spittle M, O'Meara J and Casey M, Research in Education, May 2008, Volume 79, Issue 1 (2008). Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) are a part of the school curricula, yet many Australian primary-age children are not mastering FMS. One reason may be a lack of perceived self-efficacy of primary teachers to teach FMS. This study investigated the level of perceived self-efficacy of primary school teachers to teach FMS in Victorian schools. A cross-sectional survey, based on the Victorian Institute of Teaching Standards of Professional Practice was used. More than two-thirds (67.6%) were self-efficacious in teaching FMS and 32.4% were not. Male teachers had higher perceived self-efficacy than female teachers, and a positive relationship was found between perceived self-efficacy to teach FMS and interest in, and participation in, physical activity. Implications for practice include providing FMS teaching resources and professional training.
  • Promoting gross motor skills and physical activity in childcare: A translational randomized controlled trial, Jones R, Okely A, Hinkley T, Batterham M and Burke C, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, abstract published online ahead of print (5 November 2015). The aim of this study was to evaluate a gross motor skills and physical activity program for preschool children, which was facilitated by trained childcare educators. Four early childhood centres in Tasmania participated in this study. Childhood educators were trained to deliver the intervention program in two centres and the non-intervention centres were used as a control. Gross motor skills and overall physical activity of the children was assessed before and after the intervention program. No statistically significant differences were identified; however, small to medium effect sizes were found in favour of the intervention group on four of the five gross motor skills, total gross motor skill score, and reported physical activity. This study highlights the potential of educator-led physical activity interventions and supports the need for further trials within the early childhood sector.
  • Prospective association between objective measures of childhood motor coordination and sedentary behaviour in adolescence and adulthood, Smith L, Fisher A and Hamer M,International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Volume 12 (2015). Higher levels of gross motor coordination are positively associated with physical activity in childhood. This study investigated the longitudinal association between gross motor coordination at childhood and sedentary behaviour in adolescence (age 16 years) and adulthood (age 42). Data from the 1970 British Cohort Study was used. The results indicate that higher levels of gross motor coordination during childhood were associated with lower screen time and greater physical activity participation later in life.
  • Relationships between fundamental movement skills and objectively measured physical activity in pre-school children, Cliff D, Okely A, Smith L and Mckeen K, Pediatric Exercise Science, Volume 21, Number 4 (2009). Gender differences in the relationships between fundamental movement skill (FMS) sub-domains (locomotor skills and object- control skills) were examined in preschool children. Among boys, object-control skills accounted for 17% of the variance in time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA). Among girls, locomotor skills accounted for 19% of the variance in time spent in MVPA. The authors concluded that gender and sub-domain of FMS may influence the relationship between FMS and time spent in MVPA among preschool children.
  • The relationship between fundamental movement skills and self-reported physical activity during Finnish junior high school, Jaakkola T and Washington T, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, Volume 18, Issue 5 (2013). Previous studies have shown that fundamental movement skills (FMS) and physical activity are related. Specifically, earlier studies have demonstrated that the ability to perform a variety of FMS increases the likelihood of children participating in a range of physical activities throughout their lives. This study focused on the development of, or the relationship between, these variables through junior high school (ages of 13 and 15). Similar results to previous studies were obtained.
  • Relationship of fundamental movement skills and physical activity in children and adolescents: A systematic review, Holfelder B and Schott N, Psychology of Sport Exercise, Volume 15, Issue 4 (2014). This systematic review provides an overview of research describing the relationship between fundamental movement skills (FMS) and physical activity (PA) in children and adolescents. The results suggest that a cause–effect relationship between FMS and PA exists, but has not been fully demonstrated yet. The identification of a causal relationship may help to underpin practical implementation of FMS programs for young children.
  • Setting them up for lifetime activity: Play competence perceptions and physical activity in young children. Lisa M. Barnett, Nicola D. Ridgers, Kylie Hesketh, Jo Salmon, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 20 (9), pp.856-860, (2017). The study purpose was to assess if perceived active play competence is associated with young children’s physical activity. Positive findings in the older sample show school-aged children need exposure to play based activities in order to develop the positive self-perception needed to engage in MVPA every day.
  • A systematic review of the effectiveness of physical education and school sport interventions targeting physical activity, movement skills and enjoyment of physical activity (abstract), Dudley D, Okely A, Pearson P and Cotton W, European Physical Education Review, Volume 17, Issue 3 (2011). This article presents a systematic review of published literature on the effectiveness of physical education in promoting participation in physical activity, enjoyment of physical activity, and movement skill proficiency in children and adolescents. The results of the review detail the nature, scope and focus of various intervention strategies reported in the literature. The most effective strategies to increase children’s levels of physical activity and improve movement skills were the result of direct instruction teaching methods and providing teachers with sufficient and ongoing professional development in using best practice instruction methods. The review revealed a lack of high quality evaluations and statistical power to draw conclusions concerning the effectiveness of many interventions. The authors conclude that adequately powered interventions that target movement skills and critically evaluate school sport curriculum are urgently needed.
  • Young children's motor skill performance: Relationships with activity types and parent perception of athletic competence, O’Neill J, Williams H, Pfeiffer K, Dowda M, McIver K, Brown W and Pate R, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Volume 17, Number 6 (2014). The aims of this study were to examine the relationship between children's motor skill levels and types of physical activities performed during preschool attendance, and to examine the relationship between motor skill performance and parent perception of athletic competence. Subjects (N=264) were 3 to 5 year-olds from 22 preschools. Locomotor and object control skills were assessed using standardised tests. The study found that children with the highest locomotor skills engaged more in dancing, and children with the highest object control scores engaged in throwing activities/games/sports. Parent’s perception of their child’s skill was consistent with their child’s relative performance (e.g. high perception associated with high score). These finding support the need for child care professionals to provide opportunities for young children to learn and practice fundamental motor skills.


  • The dynamic association between motor skill development and physical activity (PDF - 185 KB), Stodden D and Goodway J, JOPERD, Volume 78, Number 8 (2007). It is well documented that poor motor skill development limits physical activity among children, adolescents and adults. Physical inactivity increases a number of risk factors of non-communicable diseases. The authors present evidence to support the value of motor skill development during childhood as a way to mitigate the health risks of inactivity, overweight, and the lack of physical fitness. The authors propose a model representing what they believe are important concepts which have been identified in the literature, but have not been integrated and systematically linked to the understanding of why so many individuals become inactive as they move to adolescence and adulthood.
  • How fundamental are fundamental movement skills? Hands B, ACHPER Active & Healthy Magazine, Volume 19, Issue 1 (2012). The article discusses the importance of fundamental movement skills (FMS) for children. FMS are the basic building blocks of skills used in games, sports, and recreational activities. They may be categorised as body management, locomotor, and object control skills. Children with a high level of competence in a range of FMS are able to confidently participate in a wide variety of activities. Physically literate children also benefit from better social, emotional, and health outcomes because they are more likely to participate in physical activity in both the short and long-term. Most states in Australia have formed teaching resources and supporting information to help teachers deliver FMS programs as part of the physical education curriculum.
  • Learning to train: a key stage in developing physical literacy, Norris S, Well Spring, Volume 22, Number 3 (2011), appearing in the Canadian Sport Information Resource Centre bulletin (January 2013). This article outlines the importance of the ‘learning to train’ stage in the Canadian Sport for Life framework and offers insights and guidance to coaches, teachers, and adults responsible for children’s activities and sports programming as they work to promote physical literacy in girls aged 8–11 and boys aged 9–12. In essence, the skill development approach is like building a comprehensive ‘library’ or ‘menu’ of skills and movement capability that will provide each child with a sound basis for future physical activities.
  • Physical Activity in early childhood: Setting the stage for lifelong healthy habits (PDF - 1.8 MB), Centre for Excellence for Early Childhood Development, Canada, Parenting Series (April 2011). Early childhood, 0 to 5 years of age, is a critical time for establishing healthy behaviours and patterns that will carry forward into later childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Structured physical activities, such as gymnastics or swimming lessons, as well as unstructured play activities help children develop fundamental movement skills. Young children need parents’ and other adults’ support in accessing environments in which to be physically active. Research supports the notion that young children tend to be more active if their parents participate in physical activity with them, in both indoor and outdoor settings.
  • The value of informal and formal sports to youth development, Skirka N, Soccer Journal(July-August 2011), appearing in the Canadian Sport Information Resource Centre bulletin (January 2013). Both informal and formal sports contribute significantly to youth player development in physical, cognitive, social and emotional domains. Informal sports (pickup games) can be defined as games organised and controlled by the players themselves, they are generally unstructured and may not apply standard rules. Informal sports have many valuable attributes because their structure helps to develop interpersonal skills, responsibility for resolving disputes, compromise and collaborative behaviour. Participants’ interactions are more relaxed because they are not pressured to win and as a result, the focus is on social aspects, exercising, enjoying sports skills, learning in a relaxed environment, and having fun.
  • What do we know about play? (PDF  - 415 KB), Play Scotland, from the ‘Growing Up in Scotland Study’ (2012). The study concluded that children’s outdoor play should not be restricted to designated play areas. Other research shows that children value being able to play out on the street and in natural environments. Around one in ten parents reported that they took their child to a park or playground every day or most days. Just over half reported that they did this once or twice a week. Only two per cent said that they never took their child to a park or playground, these proportions did not vary between families with different socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Why active play is so important, Canadian Sport for Life, Active Start. Young children need regular, vigorous, physical activity (active play) to develop and grow properly. Active play helps bones and muscles develop and also builds important connections in the brain, and between the brain and children’s muscles. These brain connections help children when they start school and begin to engage in more organized games and sports.


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