28 11 2010

Michael Gove; leading a Department which is undermining children's futures

This blog has tackled the subject of ‘legacy’ before and undoubtedly will again. It is unfortunate that the word appears to have lost some of its meaning in recent years as various initiatives are offered by Governments old and new supported by the Quangos they put in place and who appear to lack the knowledge to offer quality advice.

Harsh? Maybe. Fair? The evidence says yes.

We will look at the current Government’s latest offering of initiative led, strategy lacking legacy wishes in a future blog although it is worth noting how many of these ideas rely so heavily on funding making long-term ‘sustainability’ (another misused word) questionable at best.

But what if Government policy was to lack a basic element which would provide a genuine, lasting legacy both for sport and the health of the nation that would cost very little to implement and yet the absence of which continues to undermine our children’s future?

Forget ‘what if’ – the fact is this simple element is missing and not because it is new knowledge either.

I’m talking about Physical Literacy.

In the November 2005 issue of ‘The Coach’ I addressed the matter somewhat tongue in cheek:

 “Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”………so the song goes. Do you remember them? Not just the summer days which seemed to last forever, but every day, summer and winter. Those days before computer games and 300+ television stations, the days when you’d go out in the morning and might get home in time for tea if you ran out of things to do.Okay, I hear you ask, what has all that got to do with coaching?Everything!Because very frequently coaches from those generations (most of us) take it for granted (i.e. assume) that the physical development we received from our lifestyles as youngsters is the same as that enjoyed by today’s youth. Sadly, it’s not and that is why all coaches, regardless of the age group they work with should be aware of the five stages of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).In those bygone days (even the 70’s really were that long ago), what we now call ‘Physical Literacy’ was something youngsters developed naturally as part of their lifestyles. Riding (and falling off) bicycles; climbing (and falling out of) trees; balancing on (and falling off) walls; running, jumping, climbing, sliding, skipping and who knows what else!I recently joked with a group of coaches that the reason we see fewer youngsters in plaster casts these days is because they explore the limits of their Physical Literacy so little! A joke, yes but it is a fact that sitting in front of televisions and computers and getting lifts here, there and everywhere is a lot safer. Yet there can be little doubt it is affecting more than just the nation’s health, it is affecting the nation’s sporting performance too!

Nowadays, the fact is that the coach needs to be aware of exactly what we mean by Physical Literacy to ensure that the athlete’s training takes into account their development (or lack of).

So, what is ‘Physical Literacy’?

In short hand it is:


That is:

  • ABC = the ABC of athletic movement which is Running, Jumping and Throwing.
  • ABCs where A = Agility, B = Balance, C = Coordination and S = (neural) Speed.
  • KGB where K = Kinaesthesia,  G = Gliding and B = Buoyancy.
  • CKS where C = Catching, K = Kicking and S = Striking.

Now, think back to ‘those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer’ and you’ll see that the average child of the 70’s and before covered most of that little lot just by being a normal active child. Since the 80’s however children have been less active and have not developed the same degree of Physical Literacy.

Jim Cowan, The Coach, Issue 31, Nov/Dec 2005

The article went on the explain that the ideal ages to develop Physical Literacy was between 6 and 11 although the point of that article was to address remedial Physical Literacy work in senior athletes, only required because the general population was/is so poor!

Talking sense but will the Government isn't listening

Now the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine (BASEM) are agreeing with me and are calling on the Government to include something called ‘five in five’ in schools.

Speaking in the Daily Mail (26th November) Dr Richard Budgett, of BASEM, said he is deeply concerned about current PE lessons in schools. “Out of the 40 minutes, there’s eight minutes of activity going on. Very often the kids are standing around and just listening to the teacher talk.”

Dr Budgett said children are “made to ‘run before they can walk’ because they are thrown into playing sport before they learn how to co-ordinate and move properly.”

He added: “Without learning the basics of how to balance and reach and co-ordinate, all their sporting techniques may well be flawed.”

It is important to note that BASEM are not suggesting we do away with competitive sport in schools, simply that we add a logical step to the learning of every child which will improve their ability to both enjoy and excel at sport, both key reasons for continuing to do sport.

Is this new thinking? No. In 2001 Chris Earle (Loughborough University) in rebuffing the thinking that Physical Literacy as part of a Long Term Athlete Development programme was an ‘elite’ model said;

“This is not a “high performance” model but rather an athlete retention model.  By increasing each young person’s success rate, by keeping more young people playing sport longer, there will be a larger pool of potential talent to fish in.”

Undermined by Government policy?

Isn’t more people (especially youngsters) playing more sport exactly what legacy is supposed to be all about?

What is the cost of introducing the teaching of Physical Literacy into the curriculum of every primary school (and until we catch up other schools too)? It is the price of teaching teachers how and why to deliver Physical Literacy to the young people in their care. Compared to the £millions thrown at (so-called) legacy in recent years, it’s not much is it?

And the cost of not introducing it? Probably £Billions!

As part of one of our own Cowan Global Training workshops we highlight the knock on effects of a nation with poor Physical Literacy. These are not restricted to fewer people enjoying and therefore taking up sport. As a by-product of that we also see a population with less active lifestyles and less (physical) mobility who are also more accident prone, less healthy and are prone to higher levels of obesity. In short an invisible but nonetheless huge burden on the NHS’s budget.

As Dr Budgett puts it in the Daily Mail; “In later life this (lack of co-ordination, a key component of Physical Literacy) leads to musculo-skeletal disorders. Painful backs, necks, shoulders and hips can cause a great loss of quality in our daily lives.”

Of course, if it isn’t fun, people won’t do it so the learning of Physical Literacy must be fun. Having delivered hundreds of Physical Literacy sessions to young and old over the years, this author can testify that the above equation is easy to turn into fun sessions packed with variety and challenge.

Zoe Biggs, a teacher at Camps Hill Primary School in Stevenage has been trying out BASEM’s recommendations with 60 nine and ten year olds at her school. She told the Mail; “They have vastly improved co-ordination and strength. And they loved it!”

What of the Government? In the same Mail article the Department for Education (DfE) said deciding whether or not to include this training would be up to individual schools before stating it would prefer them to focus on more competitive sport.

Will someone at the DfE please wake up and realise what ‘legacy’ means and start thinking about how we equip ALL children to enjoy that competitive sport thereby creating a pathway for a lifetime of physical activity. You would not ask a child to write an essay without first teaching them basic literacy, why are you asking children to take up (and then hope they will continue with) physical activity without first teaching them to be physically literate?


My article from Issue 31 of The Coach is not available online however if you would like a copy please drop me an email.

The Daily Mail article can be read here.

Find out more about BASEM here.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, 2010

Twitter @cowanglobal



One response

22 01 2012

[…] Yet, if the teaching of Physical Literacy was made a compulsory part of the primary school curriculum in the same way PE is (and will remain) in secondary schools, no child should move on to secondary school unable to catch (Physical Literacy is best taught between the ages of 8 and 11). Physical Literacy covers a range of movement skills (of which catching is just one) vital to the future enjoyment of and success in sport and yet our past, present and now future systems continue to overlook them. (For more on Physical Literacy see: How Government Policy Past and Present Undermines Ours Children’s Future). […]

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