By: Nicholas Boon

This term “physical literacy” has been floating around for a couple of years now.  This new movement (pun intended) has been championed by the sports sector, and is slowly creeping into physical education and even parenting resources.

This is a very good thing.

But physical literacy is still a relatively new concept, and is not always the easiest to grasp.  And as with any paradigm shift there is a learning curve, and potential for miscommunication.
With this post we’ll bring everyone onto the same page.


Most people think of literacy in the context of reading and writing.  But this is just language literacy.  In fact we can be literate in almost anything.

People can be emotionally literate, culturally literate, and mathematically literate.  Some people are musically literate.  Some people are computer literate.

And some people are physically literate.  But a lot of people aren’t.

Literacy really just means having knowledge or competence in a subject area.  Applying literacy to physical movement can be somewhat abstract, and so it is helpful to use language literacy as a comparison.  Holding them both up side by side allows us to draw parallels and comparisons between the two.

For example, how does a child progress from not knowing the letters of the alphabet and basic phonics to reading entire novels and writing poetry?  They start with the fundamentals.


Broadly defined, physical literacy is “the foundation for developing the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed for Canadians to lead healthy, active lives” [1].  This foundation is made up of two levels, the Fundamental Movement Skills and the Fundamental Sport Skills.

Fundamental Movement Skills are the basis of any and all physical movement – think of them as the letters of the alphabet.  And just as letters are either vowels or consonants, movement skills are also categorized [2]:

Fundamental Movement Skills
Locomotor Skills Running, jumping, skipping, climbing, swimming, etc.
Object Control Skills Kicking, throwing, catching, dribbling, striking, etc.
Balance Skills Landing, stopping, turning, falling, stretching, etc.

As these movement skills are introduced and refined, they make up the “physical alphabet” of a child.  And the larger their alphabet, the more words they can learn.

Fundamental Sport Skills are these “physical words”.  For example, once a child knows how to throw and catch a ball you can introduce basketball chest and bounce passes.  Or when a child can hold a balanced ready position, they can now learn the basics of man-on-man defense.
And though sport skills are often specific to an individual sport, there is plenty of crossover.  Consider the similarities between swinging a baseball bat, hockey stick, and tennis racquet.


Honestly, the reasons are endless.  We could do an entire post on this question alone.
In fact – we will.  Stay tuned.


As physical literacy becomes more and more prevalent in society, the number of resources for parents, teachers, and coaches has skyrocketed.  Listed below are a few (current) favorites – but know that there are tons of other websites, documents, and articles published all the time.

An Introduction to Physical Literacy
A short pamphlet breaking down physical literacy in more detail, including lists of skills and the developmental pathway.

Active for Life: Skills Builder
A fantastic tool for identifying physical literacy weaknesses and strengths in children at different stages of development accompanied by recommended activities.

Active for Life: Activities
Check out this huge bank of activities to develop physical literacy, plus resources articles for both parents and professionals.

PLAY Tools
The Physical Literacy Assessment for Youth (PLAY) Tools offers something for everyone, including resources specifically for parents and coaches.   

Ophea Teaching Tools: Learn to Move
A collection of activity cards and posters – available for download and printing in both French and English – designed for teachers but easily used by parents. 

Have any favorite physical literacy or fundamental skills resources, tools, or websites?  Share them with us in the comments below!

[1] Physical Literacy for Educators – Physical & Health Education Canada
[2] Long-Term Athlete Development 2.0 – Canadian Sport for Life (Sport Canada)

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
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