Parent myths, and real truths, about physical literacy

Parent myths, and real truths, about physical literacy

When parents talk to me about physical literacy and their children, different myths and misunderstandings often surface. Most revolve around their basic understanding of movement skills, sport and activity, and physical development. Some relate to the perceived attitudes and desires of their children. But a lot of it is bunk. So I am going to debunk.

1. My kid is not athletic

This is probably the biggest myth going. After the child tries a couple of organized team sports at age 5 and doesn’t score any goals, the parents figure that destiny has shown its hand. Their child will never be physically literate, nor will they be playing in the major leagues 20 years from now.

While it’s very likely true — even highly probable — that 99% of kids will never become professional athletes, it’s not true that 99% of kids are “not athletic”. Furthermore, no one can make this kind of assessment on the basis of a handful of outings to the hockey rink or a few soccer practices at age 5 or 6.

Humans are designed to move, and unless your child has an extraordinary developmental condition or severe injury that significantly impedes physical movement, you can be sure that they have some degree of latent “athleticism”. It’s called physical literacy, and you have to help them to develop it. Physical literacy doesn’t happen on its own.

To help your child develop physical literacy and movement skills, simply ensure that they get lots of opportunities to explore different physical activities, sports, and free play. And help them to find something that they enjoy doing. Not every kid will like typical sports and activities such as hockey and soccer. Get imaginative. Let your child explore the hundreds of possibilities in dance, martial arts, gymnastics, cycling, and more. And above all, give it time — like all of childhood.

2. It’s too late for my kid

Once their child reaches age 8, many parents figure they are past their prime. Sadly, a lot of coaches and instructors will tell them the same. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but if Antonia has never played tennis before, she has no chance of ever matching Serena Williams’ record at Wimbledon.”

Again, there already existed a 99% likelihood that your child would never play tennis at Wimbledon, so this point is moot at best. But the bigger problem is that this statement is actually completely misguided and misleading.

The key thing to understand: Your kid can still learn to play tennis at age 8. In fact, they can still learn to play at age 18 or 38. And they can learn to love the game and play for the rest of their lives if they want. They just might not win Wimbledon. Do you care?

It’s more important to develop physical literacy through a variety of physical activities, sports, and free play. And while it’s optimal to start in early childhood, it’s never too late to develop physical literacy. Just get moving.

3. My kid doesn’t like sports

First of all, physical literacy is not “sports”. It’s about developing general competency and confidence in movement. And second of all, you don’t really know that. You think you know that, but you don’t. Your 8-year-old doesn’t even know, so how could you know?

When parents have said this to me, I ask them: “What sports and activities has your child tried?”

“He did a one-week sport camp last summer and they played soccer, basketball, and tennis. He didn’t like any of it.”

Then I ask the parents: “Has he tried swimming? Skating? Judo? Sailing? Hiking? Rock-climbing? Skiing? Skateboarding? Ballet? Hip-hop? Badminton?”


“He likes to draw pictures and play music.”

“Me, too,” I say. “I’ve been drawing since I was a toddler and I actually won awards all through school for my art. I also play piano and guitar. But I also enjoy cycling, dancing, hiking, yoga, and playing soccer, golf, and basketball. My activities have kept me healthy and happy all these years, and they’ve also helped me to make all sorts of friends.”

And this is when the parents punch me in the nose. Well, not really, but they probably want to.

4. My child doesn’t like competition

Again, this may or may not prove to be a true statement — see the aforementioned issue of knowing the unknowable, above — but it is a possibility to consider. Some kids really don’t like competition in any form, and that’s fine.

But the assumption here is that all physical activity is competitive, and therefore the child must remain a lump on the sofa for the next seven decades. That simply isn’t true.

Again, physical activity — and by extension, physical literacy — doesn’t have to revolve around ice hockey, soccer, basketball, and professional tennis. Physical literacy can be dance. It can be orienteering. It can be rock-climbing. It can be hundreds of things.

So please don’t give up on your kid. It’s almost certain that there is a physical activity or a sport that they’ll enjoy. And there’s always time for them to develop a healthy, active lifestyle by developing physical literacy.

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