What is Physical Literacy?

Childhood obesity and rising inactivity among children threatens the future health of Canada. For kids to get physically active, they need to feel confident in activity settings. That confidence stems from having learned fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills – physical literacy – as a child.











Just as learning the alphabet is necessary to read, the development of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills is critical if children are to feel good about physical activity. The ABCs - Agility, Balance, Coordination and Speed are the four skills that underpin physical literacy.

Physical Literacy is the mastering of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to read their environment and make appropriate decisions, allowing them to move confidently and with control in a wide range of physical activity situations. It supports long-term participation and performance to the best of one’s ability.

Physical Literacy is the cornerstone of both participation and excellence in physical activity and sport. Ideally, physical literacy is developed prior to the adolescent growth spurt. It has been adopted as the foundation of the Sport for Life concept in Canada.

Children should learn fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills in each of the four basic environments:

  • On the ground – as the basis for most games, sports, dance and physical activities.
  • In the water – as the basis for all aquatic activities.
  • On snow and ice – as the basis for all winter sliding activities.
  • In the air – basis for gymnastics, diving and other aerial activities.
  • Parents, caregivers, coaches, and teachers all play a role in the development of our children’s physical literacy. If these people do not fulfil their roles, we will not succeed.

The myth that it “just happens”

Although many children develop good physical skills on their own, there are many who do not. Physically skilled children often enjoy vigorous healthy play, while the less skilled are often left out. This can lead to decreased effort and eventual withdraw from physical activities.

Our children need to learn physical literacy in a wide range of settings and from many different people. However, the responsibility for developing a physically literate child ultimately rests with parents and guardians.