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What is physical literacy?

Hadyn Luke posted this on Tuesday 10th of June 2014 Hadyn Luke 10/06/2014

Tags: Client analysis


While literacy is a common phrase in schools when referring to learning how to read and write, physical literacy, the subject of this blog, is something that personal trainers and fitness instructors need to be aware of.

Essentially, physical literacy is about introducing children to different forms of movement and exercise from a young age.

These can include jumping, hopping and skipping, as well as throwing, catching and kicking a ball. In short, all of the fundamental skills a child will develop while carrying out physical activities in the playground or in PE lessons.

The Physical Literacy website (www.physicalliteracy.org.uk) defines it as:

“a disposition to capitalize on the human embodied capability, wherein the individual has: the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the lifecourse.”

Why does a child need physical literacy?

If a child has good physical literacy skills, they are more likely to be active as they are growing up and to both enjoy and perform well at sports.

This can help them live a healthier lifestyle and develop skills such as proprioception (see our blog on How to improve proprioception), as well as improving their confidence levels and getting them used to ideas such as reaching goals and teamwork.

In recent years, with the rise of computer and console games and the decline in playing outdoors, children have become less physically active. Children’s physical literacy skills are generally at a lower level than that of children of two generations ago and childhood obesity has increased.

When is the right time to learn physical literacy skills?

Ideally children should develop these skills before adolescence, when they will experience growth spurts. However, teenagers and adults can also work on improving their physical literacy skills (see our blog on Gym instruction for adolescents).

What are the fundamental aspects of physical literacy?

Although some children are destined for careers in sports or in the fitness industry, such as personal training or sports therapist, everyone can be physically literate to some degree and at all stages of life.

As well as competence, physical literacy represents an individual’s commitment to be active and to take responsibility for their own fitness. It encompasses their motivation and the enjoyment they gain from participation in sport, games or other physical activities.

As each individual is different, progress should be measured by their own individual achievements, rather than a common standard.

Movement and sports skills

Within physical literacy, there is a range of basic movements that should be learned.

These include “sending” skills, such as throwing, kicking and striking, all of which will be practiced by a child learning football, for example; and “receiving” skills such as catching and trapping, which are used in a variety of sports.

Locomotor skills range from basic movements such as walking, running, jumping and balance to more complex activities, including swimming, cycling, skipping, skating and skiing.

All of these activities can be carried out as part of unstructured play or within a sporting context.

What are the key environments for physical literacy skills?

Skills can be learned and developed at home, in the garden, in the park, at school and at sporting clubs.

While most activities are carried out on the ground, some take place in the air, for example gymnastics, diving or heading a ball. Others, such as swimming, take place in water, and activities such as skating, snowboarding and skiing take place on snow and ice.

In conclusion, physical literacy brings benefits to all. By experiencing a range of activities from a young age, individuals can enjoy the health, lifestyle and psychological benefits throughout their lives.

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