Physical Literacy – An Introduction

If you follow Eugene Civic Alliance on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably seen us use the term “physical literacy.” But what does that phrase really mean? In honor of World Health Day this week (April 7th), we are launching a series of blog posts on physical literacy. We begin this series with a brief history of physical literacy and an outline of the concepts and practices that fall under its umbrella. In future posts, we will discuss the role physical literacy will play at Civic Park and share our favorite tips for incorporating physical literacy activities into your kids’ daily routine.

“Physical literacy” is a concept that has gained international significance over the past two decades. The basis of this new concept came from a a paper presented by Margaret Whitehead at the International Association of Physical Education and Sport for Girls and Women Congress in Melbourne, Australia in 1993. Since then, the concept has grown into a globally-recognized method of promoting lifetime health and fitness.

The International Physical Literacy Association defines physical literacy as, “the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for engagement in physical activities for life.” In other words, physical literacy is the foundation for the activities and fitness habits people adopt throughout their lifetime. Just as language literacy provides the basis skills for reading and writing, physical literacy provides the building blocks for skills we use throughout our lives.

This foundation is laid through the development of fundamental movement skills. Much like learning our ABC’s allows us to combine letters to form words and sentences, fundamental movement skills allow us to combine actions to perform daily activities. Without these skills, our daily tasks would become significant obstacles. Just as our lives would suffer without the ability to read, physical illiteracy affects every aspect of a person’s life. Physical literacy is not just about developing athletes or sport-specific skills, it’s about developing basic abilities that have a lifelong effect on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.