Physical literacy is the language of movement.
If there was any language I learned most proficiently, it was movement. I was athletic. I could swim, jump, run, tumble, catch, kick, throw, shoot, ride my bike, ski- on both water and snow, and swing a bat. I was better at some elements than others, but there were very few physical games in which I couldn’t participate. I was not born an athlete, however. Despite popular belief, there is no such thing as an athletic gene…or at least researchers haven’t found one yet. It is a common assumption that when there are seemingly generations of athletes it is because athletic parents have athletic children. The truth is…athletic children become athletic because their parents do athletic things with them. What matters more is the timing of exposure to certain physical activities, and an intention toward that exposure. We all have the capacity to learn athletic movements.
My childhood had been the perfect, and inadvertent, breeding ground for growing physical literacy. My dad had been a solid athlete throughout his life and he loved to do athletic things with us. My mom became a passionate trailblazer in a time when a door was opening to create never-before-seen opportunities for young female athletes. And then there were the constant teammates and opponents I had in my siblings. Through all of my play, I was unknowingly building physical literacy. The more I moved the more proficient I got.
Instead of accidentally creating athletes, the Canadian Sport For Life has long supported a more purposeful approach called the Long-Term Athlete Development program (LTAD). Developed in the 1990’s by sport scientist Istvan Balyi, it was created over an eight-year period during his work with Canadian alpine skiers. Since its inception, it has become internationally accepted as the model by which athletes should be developed. Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and more recently organizations in the United States like USA hockey and US Soccer have all adapted youth athlete programming that reflects the LTAD model.
Based on findings of physical development, the LTAD model has evolved into basically seven phases: an active start, FUNdamental movements, Learning to train, Training to train, Training to compete, Training to win, and Retirement and retainment. Instead of chronological age as an indicator for athletic development, the LTAD model uses Peak Height Velocity (PHV) as the gauge by which programming should be implemented. PHV is the point in pubescence when the tempo of growth is the greatest.
****Ideas to promote physical literacy…good for families…easy on checkbooks******
If we want better athletes, it is not hard. Starting from when they are really little, and up to about the ages of 8 to 10, make it a goal to teach them to do the following things:
Ride a bike, swim, kick and dribble a soccer ball, throw and catch a baseball, throw and catch a football, run, ice skate, ski, jumprope, swing a tennis racket, skateboard. There is no prescribed order, just an intention to teach your children these skills before they are 10 years old. The best part about seeing athletic development as physical skill acquisition is that it does not have to cost a single dime. You CAN do all of these things at home. Granted, there are plenty of awesome programs developed to expose your child to these different athletic skills, and it is fun to sign up with friends as they learn, but it is not necessary.
Now granted, there are some elements that are harder depending on where you are geographically, but there are ways to simulate skiing and skating. It takes creativity. You don’t need to pay for swim lessons, just get in the pool as much as possible and swim. (unless you’re not comfortable in the pool, then it’s better to hire someone who will not exhibit fear in the water). Visit playgrounds and skate parks, buy roller blades (and make sure to buy lots of padding), look up park workouts that you can do in snow and sun. Make up exercises for every card in a deck of cards and when you draw that card, do that exercise. Play family games of kickball, hockey, soccer, or basketball. Play tennis on an open court, shoot baskets outside, take bike rides, go hiking, encourage kids to do cartwheels. I tell my girls cartwheels are pushups in disguise. Do handstands too. Let you kids have dance parties (aerobics) and dance with them. If you don’t know these skills then look up how to do them. Living in the information age provides access to information that is unparalleled to any other time in history. Take a chance and try it…teach yourself so you can teach your kids. It is valuable bonding time and you don’t have to pay gas, uniforms, registration, etc. If you work really hard on the first kid, you won’t have to worry about that same energy for your younger kids. They’ll have a model of movement in their sibling (s).
There is no real need to expose kids to team competition until they are about eight years old. They don’t get what it means to be part of a team before then, and the games we adults set up for them provide some skill development, but it seems to be more about being entertained. It is not as much fun to watch children gain physical literacy as it is to see them score a goal, but if we want better athletes, we’d be better off delaying the investment in team activities and exposing kids to all sorts of physical movement.
We need to change our mentality about teams for young kids if we want ALL children to become better athletes.
Meagan’s book Choosing to Grow For the Sport of It: Because All Kids Matter is her current WIP. You can learn more about the project at her website: www.meaganfrank.com
Copyright 2013 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow