Numerical literacy, language literacy, and musical literacy; the big 3 when it comes to literacy. Each just important as the next, but are those three all we should be focused on learning?
What about Physical Literacy?
Physical Literacy is the fourth, and always forgotten literacy. But why is it forgotten? The ability to understand and control the body is a very important skill and, generally speaking, it is the only literacy of the four that will keep a person alive.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Physical Literacy is defined by Physical & Health Education (PHE) Canada as:
Individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person (PHE Canada, 2010).
That sounds pretty important, so why aren’t we focused on developing it more in people? Part of the problem is that we are only able to learn them, when our brains are developing, which is why we see the “Big 3” being so emphasized in grade school. But not Physical Literacy?
It’s safe to say that physical activity is neglected. The over-arching problem here is that as a society, we really don’t value physical literacy, physical education, or being active.
One theory for why this could be is that being fit and healthy doesn’t make you any money – and we live in a society dictated by how much money we have. We are Wealth Conscious rather than Health Conscious, and that’s a problem. The reality of the situation is that while being physically literate and active might not bring in any extra income (unless you become a professional athlete), it will keep you alive longer.
Some people say Physical Literacy and Physical Education isn’t being neglected. The argument is that students have access to physical literacy during their Physical Education class.
“How can it be neglected if it’s built into their day to day school work?”
Be very honest with yourself, Phys Ed class is not valued as highly, on the totem poll of academia, as Math, Science, and English are. Math, Science, and English are all graded objectively. How well you do in each of those subjects depends on your competence. Physical Education on the other hand, is completely subjective.
Subjective to the point where I remember some PE class grade breakdowns having participation being worth as much as 50% of the final grade! (No, that isn’t a joke). If there was a news report that came out tomorrow that said all Math classes in Canada were going to have their final assessments based on a student’s participation in the course the country would be in uproar.
And rightly so.
Math is an extremely important skill to have in life and simply participating in learning it is just not good enough. Every single day you work with numbers in one way or another; whether it’s trying to calculate how much time you have left before you need to get to work or how much tip to give the waiter at a restaurant, math and numbers are everywhere, so it makes sense that it is valued.
What about physical literacy? If we’re going to assess it based on participation rather than competence are we as a society saying it is not important to be able to run properly? Jump high? Squat down low?
What kind of message does it send to the kids that play and love being active? To those kids who practice hours and hours a week to be great at their sport? That it’s a waste of time?
The reality is sad, and the end result is a generation of people who lack the ability and knowledge to move properly. This cannot be ignored as a factor in the conversation of all-time high obesity rates and other health concerns.
So what now?
As coaches we need to emphasize the importance of Physical Literacy. Rather than devalue it as a skill in life. Individuals who are physically literate have the ability to do whatever they want, move however they want, and live for as long as they want.
The promotion of physical literacy goes beyond just encouraging athletes to be active; just as much attention should be placed on encouraging athletes to try new things and challenge themselves physically so they can become more physically literate.
This isn’t a switch we can just make our athletes flip, becoming physically literate is a choice that we need to help our athletes make. Once we make it a choice, we need to help them make it a routine. Something much easier said than done.
Some great ways to do this are to:
Adopt a Games Approach to teaching. Where instead of running drills to teach skills, build those drills into games and have the athletes learn in a game like situation.
Ask your athletes for their input. Kids know what they like and what they don’t like. Open your practices up to a conversation with your athletes to see what they enjoy doing and what they don’t. This will help you give them a better overall sport experience.
Build movement skills into games. Using different movement skills in games is a great way to help young athletes develop all types of skills without them knowing. Something like playing Octopus and substituting crab walking for running, is lots of fun. (Just make sure you adapt the playing area).
There are many other great ways of promoting physical activity and physical literacy. But know that we all need to do our part to ensure the health and well-being of the next generation and those still to come.