Move Over Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – Here Comes Physical Literacy!

By Jeff Roux B.P.E.; CSCS; TSCC-Gold
Kristin Smart BA(Hon.Kin); Masters of Teaching (MT); TSCC-Gold
Peter Twist Msc, BPE, CSCS, PTS, TSCC-Gold

“Physical Literacy [is] essential to a complete experience of human life.” (Whitehead, 2001)

In the fitness industry we aim to inspire others to become or stay physically active in order to live a healthy, active life. It is imperative to our success that we discover the reasons why. Today’s education system has put the development of the 3 R’s as the highest priorities for improving the academic development of our children without enough consideration of how being more  fit, healthy, and  active could actually help their academic development as well.

Despite all of the research and knowledge on the importance of physical activity, people of all ages are still sedentary or not nearly as active as they need to be on a daily basis.  Some would quickly assume they are just lazy or apathetic, but the truth is, they may be intimidated or simply lack the confidence to get moving in the first place. Poor physical literacy may be the reason. The great news is that coaches and fitness professionals have the opportunity and the tools to change this trend.

Everyone can improve their athleticism and become a better athlete at any stage of their life. Whether they are and elite NHL player, weekend warrior, or 8 year old house league lacrosse player, their athleticism can be always be improved. Everyone can learn to move more efficiently, effectively, and improve movement skill no matter what stage of training or life they are currently in.

Physical Literacy is not just the biomechanics of movement.  Physical Literacy is the feel of movement.  Our Twist performance coaches orient gym practices around teaching Physical Literacy by implementing and overloading drills focused on improving movement. The language of movement is written in feel.  Students learn their ABC’s of physical literacy when they are schooled in movement skills and trained in the physical ingredients the human vehicle needs to output those skills.

Margaret Whitehead, in 2001, defined physical literacy as: “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, understanding and knowledge to maintain physical activity at an individually appropriate level throughout life.”  Physical activity is about more than just doing, we cannot forget that there is a piece that needs to be taught, and reinforced.  If this piece is missing, we may feel incompetent and lose the joy of movement, leading to the loss of a healthy lifestyle with it.  It is natural to avoid situations in which they feel they will not be successful or at risk of injury. It is important to cultivate confidence which can then become an I-Can-Do-It mindset in terms of being physically able.

Educating people is a key part of effective coach. Becoming more physically literate starts by teaching a base of primal movement patterns with actions such as, jumping, running, skipping, throwing and catching. This base of essential  human motion is refined by honing specific fundamental movement skills such as lateral movement, open steps, cross overs, and back pedalling which, along with the full inventory of movement skills, become linked together and expressed as multi directional movement and agility.

Often these fundamental primal patterns and specific movement skills are just assumed rather than taught and trained.  Kids who have not developed them often avoid situations like Physical Education classes and sports teams because their confidence is low and they do not want to embarrass themselves. Adults begin stepping away from participating in sports and athletic activities as their physical abilities deteriorate to the point the body cannot produce such patterns and skills effectively or efficiently.

Twist education and training philosophies are based on purposefully coaching athleticism so every client may reach new levels of performance success at any age. Physical Literacy is not only for the young, aged, deconditioned or less athletic. Even programs designed for professional athletes intended to maximize athletic development begin and end with primal movement patterns and fundamental movement skills, because the performance goals of elite athletes in all sports centers on movement excellence.  Balance, movement efficiency, and co-ordination are best taught to with a neuromuscular focus rather than the traditional muscle based approach. This codifies athletic flow into software programming used to operate the human system.  Through this model, we can teach any person to move efficiently and become “athletic.”  Imagine a society in which the majority of people felt confident and competent with regards to participation in physical activity?

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” (Albert Einstein)

How many times in your life have you heard someone say, “It’s just like riding a bike?” The concept is simple, once you learn how to do something, the skill stays with you. When it comes to athletic skill in any sport this can be a blessing and a curse.  If an athlete learns bad habits or develops poor movement mechanics or inefficiencies along the way it can have the same negative effect as an injury.  Receiving quality performance coaching early develops the right foundation of Physical Literacy.  Moving well when young is a memory deconditioned adults can regain simply by improving the physical tools required to express movement skillfulness.  The skills do not go away. It is the self-degradation of the body which hides such skillfulness and only when the full physical arsenal is trained back up can these known skills again be expressed.

From a pro athlete perspective you will often hear scouts and development people say that once an athlete learns a skill he/she, “owns” that skill. This means that we know that they have mastered the motor patterns of that skill, or become “physically literate.”  Now their focus becomes continuing to fine tune and enhance this skills development by maximizing the athletic foundations of balance, movement and strength.  It is taking the training pillars of balance, movement, and strength to new heights that enables the physics needed to demonstrate these skills at new speeds and higher performance levels.

The same philosophy is applied to all clients that we draw from to teach children fundamental skills at an early age.  As coaches and trainers we all strive to help out athletes and clients attain their goals, and if we can help everyone learn, implement, and live a more active lifestyle they will reach and exceed their goals.  If we can inspire more people to focus on their movement first and foremost, we can have a massive impact on their Physical Literacy and set them up to be more successful in sports, activities, and life. Being able to participate in what they are passionate about sets them up to enjoy and embrace life on a whole different level. The confidence and long-term success of making even small changes in Physical Literacy can be a game changer for the lives of so many kids and many more adults. To think that education systems are still struggling to decide if this is as important as the 3 R’s is Ridiculous.