Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Physical literacy is a life skill.

We had the opportunity to attend an informative conference last week in Kananaskis called Shaping the Future. The crux of the message centered around the escalating rate of childhood obesity and measures that need to be taken to scale physical literacy. Physical literacy can be simplified in definition as a child’s comprehension of basic / fundamental movement patterns. Much like understanding  addition & subtraction are imperative for future life applications, understand fundamental movement patterns are no different. 

As an example, if a child doesn’t understand how to run / throw / jump or catch properly, there are an average of 15 sports [per movement skill] they are not likely to participate in later on in their lives.

The decline of physical literacy is on the rise, there are numerous stats to support this but perhaps the most rapid drop is in the ages of 12-18 (particularly in adolescent females). It is not likely a coincidence that mental health issues are increasing at the same time as physical literacy rates are decreasing, again particularly for this age group. This would present itself through examples such as;

  • 12-16 years old, at the lake with friends wake surfing, swimming etc, one kid doesn’t want to go out on the boat or partake. “Don’t like it”, which may in fact be masking the fact they lack confidence  because they don’t possess the acquired skill to swim.
  • 12-16 years old dropping out of sports. “I’m not good enough to make the team”, which may in fact be masking the fact they lack confidence because they don’t possess the acquired skill sets needed to run, jump, throw.
During the discussion, researchers shared reasons for this decline.

  1. lack of physical literacy amongst the teachers who are hired to educate physical literacy – can’t teach what you don’t know.  
  2. removing of physical education as a mandatory class / program in schools – let’s cut PE or make it elective
  3. the emergence & reliance on technology as placation for healthy interaction & socialization – DS, internet, i-pad/pod/touch/screen/am tuned out
  4. the emergence of early specialization vs. generalization across sports – my sons only focus is hockey and we play from August through July and wonder why at 15 he’s burned out and now doesn’t know what to do in other sports.
Having experience with all 4 parameters above, we can attest to their validity. 

As an example, last year we were invited to coach what was touted as a high level spring hockey program. We were hired to oversee the dryland training of 40 9-11 year olds and had a great plan in place that was shelved day #1 because over 95% of the players lacked the BASIC literacy around running, jumping, bounding, etc. 95%. Now, we can assure you if we would have asked the parents if they thought their sons had a good physical literacy that 95% would say yes. So while the investment is being made in specialty camps, composite sticks, extra power skating etc, 95% of the players don’t know how to stand up straight, run correctly or what the buzz word core really means. 

Similarly, we experience the same in baseball where, at the majors all star level in little league, there are some players who cannot properly run or throw a baseball. Left uncorrected these players risk suffering stability and mobility issues later on in their lives.  

The biggest problems across the examples above are:

  • ramifications are not seen in the immediate term. They are long term. ‘I don’t’ know why I have this injury’ - 5 years after repetitive incorrect movement patterns have taken their toll.
  • few people know where to go & what to do to rectify the issue because they are not paying attention. eg: I thought that was the PE teachers job, meanwhile, the PE teacher is rolling out a basket of balls for the ever popular dodge ball game.
  • as we’re seeing, by the time we get to the formidable teen years – it’s becoming increasingly too late.

  • understand what physical literacy means – two great resources PHE Canada & Canada Sport for Life
  • determine where your child / children are going to learn & practice fundamental movement patterns eg: approach the schools and ask this question. Ask to see the PE curriculum.
  • in the event they are not qualified, interested or educated on teaching these skills, find someone who can OR find somewhere they do.
While some may not consider physical literacy a top priority, we do. The reason we do is because we see the direct results of happy, confident, healthy individuals once they have returned to activity – through the re-mastery (in many cases) of proper movement patterns related to accomplishing physical activity goals. 

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