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Physical literacy

Physical literacy is a fundamental and valuable human capability that can be described as a disposition acquired by human individuals encompassing the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding that establishes purposeful physical pursuits as an integral part of their lifestyle.

The fundamental and significant aspects of physical literacy are:

The concept of physical literacy has been developed over many years. It is seen, by a growing number of people, as the goal of the school subject, physical education. However, whilst this is extremely relevant, it is important to recognise that physical literacy is not restricted to the school years – it is relevant throughout the lifecourse. In this respect, six phases of physical literacy have been identified: infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, adulthood and older adulthood.

Over the past few years there has been considerable interest, world-wide, in the concept of physical literacy. In Great Britain, a number of local authorities have adopted it as an overall guiding principle for their work in school-based physical education. In countries such as Northern Ireland and Canada, physical literacy has been the focus for considerable rethinking in respect of children’s physical development and has consequently been the inspiration behind the development of new programmes. In India this principle has been adapted by SportismTM for training the Indian kids on the basis of Physical literacy concepts.

However, there have been a number of interpretations of the concept that have moved away from the central tenets of physical literacy. For example, in some instances physical literacy has been the name given to a programme of fundamental movement skills, implying that the concept is solely about the acquisition of physical competence. Other interpretations have focused on knowledge and understanding, particularly in the games context. Both these scenarios include elements of physical literacy, but do not represent the whole story.

A physically literate individual will display the following attributes:

Physical literacy is founded on a strong philosophical platform, namely a belief in monism and a rejection of dualism. The principle that our body is as significant to life as our intellect is central to the concept of physical literacy. This is very much in line with current research which sees our embodied dimension as integral to who we are and all we do, in no way being merely a servant of our intellect. Thus at the heart of physical literacy is a commitment to the holistic nature of the individual. Furthermore, physical literacy relies heavily on an understanding of both existentialism and phenomenology. Fundamental to existentialist belief is that individuals create themselves as they live in and interact with the world. Phenomenologists understand that every individual will perceive the world from the unique perspective of their previous experience. These tenets are the platform on which physical literacy is built.

  • everyone can be physically literate as it is appropriate to each individual’s endowment
  • everyone’s physical literacy journey is unique
  • physical literacy is relevant and valuable at all stages and ages of life
  • the concept embraces much more than physical competence
  • at the heart of the concept is the motivation and commitment to be active
  • the disposition is evidenced by a love of being active, born out of the pleasure and satisfaction individuals experience in participation
  • a physically literate individual values and takes responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits throughout the lifecourse.
  • charting of progress of an individual’s personal journey must be judged against previous achievements and not against any form of national benchmarks
  • Physical literacy can be described as a disposition characterised by the motivation to capitalise on innate movement potential to make a significant contribution to the quality of life.
  • All human beings exhibit this potential. However, its specific expression will depend on individuals’ endowment in respect of all capabilities, significantly their movement potential, and will be particular to the culture in which they live.
  • Individuals who are physically literate will move with poise, economy and confidence in a wide variety of physically challenging situations
  • Physically literate individuals will be perceptive in ‘reading’ all aspects of the physical environment, anticipating movement needs or possibilities and responding appropriately to these with intelligence and imagination
  • These individuals will have a well-established sense of self as embodied in the world. This, together with an articulate interaction with the environment, will engender positive self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Sensitivity to and awareness of embodied capability will lead to fluent self-expression through non-verbal communication and to perceptive and empathetic interaction with others
  • In addition, physically literate individuals will have the ability to identify and articulate the essential qualities that influence the effectiveness of their own movement performance, and will have an understanding of the principles of embodied health with respect to basic aspects such as exercise, sleep and nutrition
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