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Australian youngsters ‘can’t throw, can’t catch’
Australia’s future as a major sporting nation may be in doubt with a new study showing that Australian youngsters are falling behind their international peers in fundamental movement skills such as running, catching, throwing or kicking a ball.
With researchers having been tracking Australian children’s capacity to run, throw, kick, catch and jump (their Fundamental Movement Skills – a requirement to engage proactively in a high proportion of physical activities and sporting pursuits), new research conducted by Victoria University PhD candidate James Rudd,shows they are performing worse in these skills than they were 30 years ago.
The research, conducted in Western Australia over the past 30 years, assessed 27,000 primary school-aged children in terms of their skillfulness and fitness. The findings have demonstrated a marked decline in six to 12-year-old children’s general physical fitness and skilfulness which is likely to affect their abilitybecome fit adolescents who continue to play and enjoy sport.
First published in The Conversation, the research showed that the biggest decline was observed in six-year-olds, who now perform Fundamental Movement Skills markedly worse than those assessed in the 1980s in simple tasks such underarm throws, catching and bouncing balls. Using a scaled scoring system whereby 100 points was considered average, the 2014 study found six-year-olds now performed 20 to 30 points less than children three decades ago.
Over the past 13 years in New South Wales around 14,000 children aged nine to 15 have been assessed to identify their proficiency in five basic Fundamental Movement Skills.
By the time they left primary school competency was low, with less than 50% being competent at running, jumping, catch kick and overarm throw. Two thirds of the girls and a quarter of the boys had poor scores in the over-arm throw where less than 32% of boys and 8% of girls showed competence.
Similarly poor levels were found in the kick with fewer than 31% of boys and 6% of girls demonstrating mastery.
Poor comparison with overseas
Part of Rudd’s research is now looking at Melbourne children’s mastery of Fundamental Movement Skills compared to their international peers.
More than 400 pupils aged six to 10 from four schools were assessed between October 2012 and June 2013 using the same assessment tool as that from studies done to children in the United States.
The latest US study was in 2000 but the findings – when compared to the later Australian data – are described by Rudd as “disturbing.”
Figure 1: How Australian children perform at Fundamental Movement Skills compared to their American peers.
Not only are Australian children falling behind their older siblings and parents when at a similar age, as shown by the Western Australia data, but 90% of them are also scoring below average when compared to American children of the same age (see table above).
Rudd explains “it’s possible that the Fundamental Movement Skills of US children may also have declined since 2000 although we won’t know until we get any new studies.
“But if we look at the Australian data in more depth, we can see Australian children are performing below average in both areas of locomotive and objective control skills compared to the American normative data.”
Figure 2: Breakdown of the distribution of Melbourne children’s locomotive skills - Author provided
Figure 2 (above) shows the distribution of Melbourne children’s performance in locomotive skills which includes running, jumping, hopping, leaping, galloping and sliding.
Figure 3: Breakdown of distribution of Melbourne children’s object control skills - Author provided
Figure 3 (above) shows the distribution of Melbourne children’s performance in object control skills which includes throwing, kicking, striking, underhand rolling, catching and dribbling.
Rudd continues “overall Australian children have very low levels of Fundamental Movement Skills compared to their American peers.
“Even our most competent children are only performing just above average and none are considered superior compared to American norms.”
Why does this matter?
It has been found that children who possess good Fundamental Movement Skills have higher levels of physical activity as well as better health-related fitness, but many children are not being given the opportunities to master these skills.
At present only one in three children, and one in ten young people, meet the current physical activity guidelines for children of 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Furthermore, fewer than one in three children and young people are meeting the guideline for ‘no more than two hours of screen-based entertainment’ every day.
Given this worrying decline in children’s fundamental movement skills, accompanied by rising levels of sedentary behaviour, it is clear that more needs to be done if Australia is to maintain its reputation as a top sporting nation.
Rudd explains “primary schools can only do so much in the current educational climate.
“Physical education has been pushed to the periphery of the school curriculum with the majority of children currently getting well under the recommended two hours of physical education a week.
“It is common for classroom teachers to teach physical education but many lack specialists training.
“Recent data I have collected from Melbourne primary schools indicate that while 86% of classroom teachers feel confident to take a physical education class, 82% don’t feel confident to make the PE class developmentally appropriate to help children acquire Fundamental Movement Skills.”
Rudd believes that the best chance of improving Australian children’s Fundamental Movement Skills lies with parents and care-givers.
He concludes “they should try to ensure their children are provided ample opportunities to experience different sports so they can practice and develop a broad range of Fundamental Movement Skills.
“These opportunities should take the form of both structured sports coaching as well as unstructured play.
“Across the globe, Australia is looked up to as a beacon of sporting excellence. Australians are rightly proud of their sporting heritage but the truth is that Australia is in danger of becoming a country of spectators who watch sport rather than participate in it.
“To help turn this tide we must equip all children with Fundamental Movement Skills. This will help to ensure that future Australian children are more active and fitter.”
Click here to view the original article in The Conversation.
The data illustrated in figures 1-3 are part of a larger research project that has been funded by Victoria University, Australian Institute of Sport and Gymnastics Australia research grants.
27th August 2014 - STUDY SHOWS DRINKS CHILDREN ASSOCIATE WITH SPORT ARE LARGELY UNHEALTHY
20th January 2014 - RESEARCH REVIEW SUGGESTS BENEFITS OUTWEIGH THE RISKS OF INJURY IN JUNIOR SPORT
25th July 2013 - AUSTRALIANS’ LIFESTYLES STILL TOO SEDENTARY
12th July 2013 - NEW SHAPE FOR AUSTRALIAN HEALTH AND PHYSICAL EDUCATION
14th March 2012 - NEARLY HALF OF AUSSIE KIDS DON’T PLAY EVERY DAY, STUDY FINDS
23rd July 2010 - SPORTS WITHOUT BORDERS CALLS FOR URGENT ACTION FOR AUSTRALIAN YOUTH
17th February 2010 - SAFETY A CONCERN FOR YOUTH
5th June 2009 - REPORT CALLS FOR ‘MORE FACILITIES FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY’
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