Run! Jump! Throw!

Like Olympic athletes, children need to learn basic movement skills to live a healthy, active life.

Like Olympic athletes, children need to learn basic movement skills to live a healthy, active life.
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Let's get physically literate!

Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, January / February 2010

Over the past couple of months, we have been inundated with media coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver - the road leading up to the Olympics, the Olympic Torch Relay and, very soon, the games themselves. And as a self-proclaimed Olympic junkie, I try to take in the whole Olympic Games experience, or as much as possible from three provinces away.

Of all the Olympic Games coverage I have seen so far, I am particularly interested in the "Road to the Games" segments where our Canadian Olympic athletes are profiled and we get to see a glimpse into their lives - not only their lives as Olympic athletes, but more importantly, how they got to this point, where they began and who was there to support them along the way. I am less interested in the fact that they are elite athletes and more interested in their journey - especially the early years when they were initially being introduced to activity and sport. As a promoter of physical activity - and for you as parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors for our children - this information is key to helping children enjoy being physically active, to get involved in sport, and stay involved in sport and other physical activity pursuits into adulthood.

Throughout the stories of our Olympians is a common thread - the idea that the success of all athletes comes down to skills. More than just sport-specific skills - skating, hitting a target, and scoring a goal - but the basic fundamental movement skills that athletes learn at a very young age that allowed them to try out many different sports before ever focusing in on the sport that they excel at now.

I know most children won't become Olympic athletes, and in fact, I'm not recommending that be their goal. But I am recommending that all children get the opportunity to learn these basic fundamental movement skills at a very early age to allow them the opportunity to be physically literate in sports and everyday physical activities for life.

To be physically literate means that a child has developed basic fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that allow the child to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity, rhythmic (dance) and sport situations. Physical literacy is developed during the first three stages of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model used by Canadian Sport for Life. These basic movement skills are fundamental to most physical activities and sport - walking, running, jumping, skipping, throwing, catching, rolling, bouncing and kicking a ball, etc. Contrary to popular belief, these skills aren't always naturally acquired by children - these skills are learned, practised, refined, and practised some more. Just as you read and sing rhymes with your child to develop reading and writing skills, they also need lots of opportunities to develop physical literacy from an early age. Mastering these skills increases a child's confidence, develops a positive relationship, and increases opportunities for your child to live an active life. And, it leads to a healthier quality of life and decreased health risks associated with physical inactivity.

It's interesting to note that if your child cannot run, jump or throw with confidence they may miss out on playing tag, hideand- seek, hop scotch, and skipping with their friends. They may also be less interested in playing sports, such as soccer, basketball, frisbee, football, and baseball because of the lack of confidence and skills. So, working with your child to develop running, jumping, throwing, kicking, and other basic fundamental movement skills will encourage them to enjoy a healthy, active and confident life - on the playground, in the gymnasium, in the water, on snow and ice, and out in the community.

Physical literacy is a process that occurs over time as children develop physically, mentally and chronologically - which means that children will learn the skills at their own pace and it may be different for each child. You can ensure your child has the best opportunities to develop and refine these skills, based on their abilities, by recognizing what stage they are at and allowing them lots of appropriate opportunities to develop.

Deanna Betteridge is a coordinator with Winnipeg in motion, a partnership of the Winnipeg Health Region, the City of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba.

Wave: January / February 2010

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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