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I just wanted to make a quick observation about fundamental movement skills and would value any feedback – as this blog, while brimming in speculation and opinion, is missing evidence and expert insight.
I interviewed a primary school PE teacher recently and sat in on their Year 6 gymnastics lesson.
I was intrigued as I watched the pupils move from apparatus to apparatus. By the end of the lesson I was more than a little dismayed. The class was an enthusiastic and athletic bunch for sure, but their struggles on the climbing ropes was particularly striking.
In a class of more than 20 pupils, few could even raise one hand above the other and pull themselves up the apparatus just a few inches. There was a noticeable lack of coordination and an inability to synchronise limbs. I’m not sure how much an absence of strength and determination was a factor but certainly they were not clamping the trail between their legs with any force whatsoever. A second or two after jumping onto the rope, they would let go and fall the short distance back to the floor.
I raised the issue with the subject leader. I was concerned they might think it was a slight on their teaching methods when I said that, at the same age – a long, long time ago, in a county far, far away (Isle of Wight, circa 1982) – most of the boys in my class could, with a lot of effort and endurance, drag their way to the very top, touch the roof, and snake their way back down.
Or perhaps I was looking through rose-tinted glasses, I asked?
The teacher – who has worked in primary and secondary schools for nearly three decades – replied: ‘It’s funny you should say that because I have had the same conversation with other PE teachers, and we all said exactly the same thing.’
Their view was, you can almost plot the steady decline in rope-climbing technique by the decade. Thirty years ago, the stronger and more athletic boys between nine and 12 would be able to touch the roof; 20 years ago the percentage had dropped to around half; 10 years ago it was a quarter; today it is in single figures.
Those percentages are pure guesswork based on a few generalised observations, but my point is, you can surely draw a valid parallel between the steady decline in rope-climbing ability and the steady decline in fundamental movement skills.
I’m sure there are other exercises that require a mix of core movement skills – agility, coordination, balance and strength – which could serve as cases in point, but are there any more easily observable ones that constitute evidence of this correlation between the passage of time and the reduction in children’s levels of movement competency?
Society must change fundamentally
It is great news that fundamentals of movement is now a key component of the PE national curriculum for Key Stages 1 and 2 and that organisations like Sports Coach UK are doing such fabulous work to educate coaches in the subject.
But unless there is a seismic shift in societal attitudes and behaviour, can we ever hope to turn the clock back to the way things were?
How many children of the current generation hone their fundamental body shapes and movements by playing in parks and open spaces for hour upon hour, climbing up and jumping off trees, walls and buildings, crawling through woodland, making dens, chasing each other, wrestling with each other, having piggyback fights?
And how many prefer to sit motionless in front of their television, smartphone, computer or games console?
The situation isn’t helped by a slump in the number of children’s play areas and the shrinkage of open green spaces, or the perception that it is no longer safe for children to play outside.
More rigorous health and safety practices are a blessing, but they can be a curse too if misunderstood.
As Peter Whitlam writes in the 8th edition of Safe Practice in Physical Education in Sport: [Coaches and PE teachers] can misunderstand the expected standard of safety required and seek to make situations as safe as possible, rather than as safe as necessary… In order for them to feel safe, they actually minimise the risk by limiting the students’ work to a level where the demand is insufficient to enable learning to occur.’
These combination of factors have had a damaging impact on the development of children’s basic building blocks that are necessary to support the advancement of physical literacy.
Like I say, it was just an observation from attending one PE lesson. Maybe I am being a bit of a rope-a-dope, and guilty of veering off on a tangent. Or perhaps have I roped you into my way of thinking?
Organisations: Find out more about how to organise the sports coach UK ‘How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement’ workshop.
Coaches: To find a ‘How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement’ workshop running near you, visit the sports coach UK Workshop Finder.
Blake - there clearly has been a decline in basic movement skills over time; your observation could be confirmed many tmes over by sports coaches (especially those working in "community" settings, rather than "performance") who see relatively low levels of mobility, agility, speed etc. from young players with competent (even, sometimes, exceptional) sports-specific skills but who could never be described as "athletes".Re ropes - my old secondsry school refurbished their gym some 15 years ago, and took away the ropes - none of the kids could climb them, so they were never used.
It is not only climbing the robes. Some of the children I work with (age7-9) have the movement vocabulary I would expect of a toddler. So sometimes I will start teaching the basic movements.
Blake I agree with you. I too have seen that through out schools children still have lack of fundamental movement, My youngest of 5 children I have watched more that my other children and watched to see how differently he has grown up how computers, laptops and tablets have had a massive impact on his daily activity. 3 years ago I placed a pull up bar in between my door way for my children to have a play on, every day they would walk through the door way to go upstairs and try and do at least 1 pull up neither of my children could manage, as the months passed by my eldest 4 was able to complete 2 or 3 pull ups which they was extremely proud of my youngest at the time only being 6 wasn't happy due to the fact everyone else but him was unable to reach the bar so the challenge begun, every day he would try his best to jump for the bar, months later he jumped and touch the bar he really excited of his achievement, weeks passed and one day he just jumped and grabbed hold of the pull bar and pulled himself up he could only manage 1 pull up but still the fact he pulled himself up was the achievement, a few more months of jumping and pulling himself up he was able to swing from the bar, do pull ups just from a jump. Now in my house it is a competition to see who can do the most pull ups my youngest wins hands up, we now have a totally new challenge in place, now attached to the pull up bar is a suspension trainer which they are now training on, Nothing like climbing a rope but with the right training i'm sure rope training will be on our next agenda. My local parish council has recently invested in a new out play area this has had a massive impact on the local community and the children of the community, every day children are spending hours on the play area one of those being my son, more investment of playing facilities should be put in place to help communities get together and spend more time outdoor.
Love it! Thanks for sharing Emma. Never a dull moment in the Tomlinson household.
BlakeI have worked in the Junior level of performance and the lack of mobility / movement skills is very common. So we spend a lot of time going back over the basic good movement patterns. My experience is that at the younger age the importance of PE at schools, in terms of lack of the time they play means they do not develop. The other issues is not playing out like I did in the past, the blue screen has a lot to answer for
Thank you for sharing Blake. 2 comments from me. First one - I think that we have an issue with the amount of physical activity children are getting inside and outside of school - I think this stems from pressures from SATs and the national curriculum, as well as from technology and a reduction in safe spaces to be active in, like parks for example. My other comment is that you have used physical literacy and fundamental movement skills interchangeably - physical literacy includes more than just fundamental movement skills, it also considers motivation, confidence and knowledge about movement and the body. I hope this helps.
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