More About Fundamental Skills

Physical literacy is the combination of mastering fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills. It helps children involve themselves in and react to physical activities going on around them. Most skills require a series of developmental stages. If a stage is missed, development can be negatively affected.

For children to have success in sport – either for recreation or competition – it is important they master movement skills before sport skills, and fundamental sport skills before specific techniques.  Learning fundamental sport skills before mastering the related fundamental movement skills can reduce performance ability later.

Helping children learn fundamental movement skills

Almost all children learn their fundamental movement skills in the same sequence and go through the same phases:

When a child can learn a skill: As a child matures, nerve cells make more connections and muscles get stronger. Until the brain is mature enough and the muscles strong enough, the child simply cannot learn the skill. Children should be given opportunities to explore all possible movements in a safe yet challenging environment.

The child is ready to learn the skill: At a certain point in maturation, the child has the potential to perform a particular skill (the readiness factor). The combination of different equipment, simple instruction, fun practice and encouragement will build the child’s confidence.

The optimum time to learn the skill: There is a “best” time for the child to learn each emerging skill. Simple instruction and practice will improve learning. Though best times vary, there is consistency in the skill-learning sequence. Figure 5 indicates best times for some common fundamental skills.

Time for remedial work: If the child goes too long without learning a skill, then learning it may become more difficult. However, the sooner the child starts to overcome the learning deficit the easier it will be for them to catch up – and develop the skill and confidence needed to be fully active with their friends and peers.

Fundamental movement skills: Parent checklist

Ensuring a child learns all the important fundamental movement skills can be a challenge. The figure above, the fundamental movement skill chart (FMS), will help caregivers understand the sequence of child development.

Developing fundamental movement skills: Suggestions for parents

Children need to develop fundamental movement skills in a wide range of environments. Concerned parents should question daycare providers, schools and sport organizations to make sure their children’s needs are met.

Here are some questions:

  • Do all children have the opportunity to be vigorously physically active (at least 30 minutes/day for toddlers and 60 minutes/day for pre-schoolers) in their home, daycare setting or school?
  • Do they participate in dance and music activities?
  • Is there a wide range of material that children can play with – balls (various types and sizes), beanbags, hoops, and other similar equipment, and are there places to climb, room to run and jump, places to safely throw and kick objects?
  • Do teachers and caregivers encourage all children, including those with a disability, to engage in active play?
  • Can caregivers and teachers provide basic instruction to children who have difficulty with a specific fundamental movement skill?

The Parent Lobby Kit should help you determine if your child is getting adequate opportunity to learn and practice fundamental movement skills.

Fundamental Sport Skills  

Running, jumping, catching, kicking, throwing, swinging and hitting are the basic sports building blocks. Learning these fundamental sport skills allows children to play several sports with ease.  Missing out on these skills can lead to a lifelong disconnect from recreation and sport.

There is an important difference between fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills.

Throwing is a fundamental movement skill. Acquiring this skill means:

  • learning to throw lots of different sized balls
  • with one or two hands
  • at different speeds 
  • sometimes for accuracy using targets and sometimes for distance.

When a child learns to throw a softball using a pitching motion, and tries to get the ball over home plate, they have moved from learning a fundamental movement skill to learning a fundamental sport skill.

Getting the Sequence Right

For children to have success in sport – either for recreation or competition – it is important they master movement skills before learning sport skills, and fundamental sport skills before specific techniques.  Learning fundamental sport skills before mastering the related fundamental movement skills actually reduces performance ability later.

Kicking skills:

In the fundamental movement skill stage, children learn the basic kicking action, ideally with each foot. They kick a variety of balls – kicking for distance, for accuracy, for height, and for control on the ground.

In the fundamental sport skill stage (e.g. soccer), children learn to kick a soccer ball without touching it with their hands. They learn how much power is required to pass, and how to use the inside of the foot to increase accuracy.

Catching skills:

In the fundamental movement skill stage, children learn to catch – with both hands, then with one. They catch balls of different sizes and weights – first while standing, then moving toward the ball. These skills can transfer to other sports.

In the fundamental sport skill stage (e.g. Baseball), children learn to catch a baseball using a baseball glove. The child eventually learns to catch the baseball when it is thrown and then when it is hit with the bat – learning to catch it at ever-greater distances.

Missing out on physical literacy

Children like to play with other children who share their level of skill and who can “keep the game going”. If you can’t keep the game going, you won’t generally be asked to join in.

A child without fundamental movement skills is unlikely to willingly take part in an activity that requires proficiency in that skill. Being unable to perform even a single fundamental movement skill can seriously restrict later opportunities. This restricts both their choice of lifelong health-promoting activities and opportunities for sporting excellence.

>> Learn more about physical literacy: The ABCs