If you read our first post, you saw that we introduced long-term athletic development by showing a chart from Istvan Balyi that defined the outline or concept.  We now want to delve into some nuts and bolts of what is meant by long-term development.

Every parent who has a child involved in sport wants that child to do well. We pay for private instruction, travel teams, the latest equipment and anything else to help that child make the varsity team in high school or get a college scholarship. In our rush to do this, we as parents miss the most important factor. That factor is teaching them to be physically literate. This is something that every parent can do, yet it’s so simple that we overlook it.

Margaret Whitehead, one of the earliest pioneers of the concept of physical literacy, defined it in a paper in 2001 as:

“An individual who is physically literate moves with poise, economy and confidence in a wide variety of physically challenging situations. Furthermore the individual is perceptive in reading all aspects of the physical environment, anticipating movement needs or possibilities and responding appropriately to these, with intelligence and imagination.”

Sounds like what I want my athletes to be able to do. To further illustrate this definition, she developed a chart with 13 different fundamental movement skills that every child should master.

Physical Literacy Ages and Skills

If You Can, You Will Chart

As shown above, if you have a mastery of these basic skills you will be able to participate in most sports or activities that you desire. Unfortunately, many of them are lacking in athletes by the time they’re in middle school or high school. What we have created in this country is a system of specific sport skills first without fully learning the fundamentals.

Let’s take a look at how the system works in the United States. Little Johnny grows up and in about first grade wants to play football, so the first thing we do is sign him up for Pop Warner football.  Let’s say that Johnny is big for his age and we all know Pop Warner has weight limits as far as who can run the ball. So they make Johnny a lineman.

Johnny grows up and never gets much bigger, but because of the weight limit and Pop Warner football he has never played any other position. He gets to the seventh grade and all the other kids are catching up to his growth.  What happens? Johnny can’t play any position other than lineman, lacks other skills and finds out that football is probably not going to be for him.  He quits the football team and doesn’t have another skill set; therefore, he drops out of sport completely.

To me, this is tragic. There are many different sports that Johnny could have tried out for and maybe become very good at, but he didn’t get the opportunity to do so because he wasn’t taught any basic fundamental skills. Now I’m not saying that he could have been a pro or Olympic athlete in something else, but the shame is that we will never know.

According the National Alliance for Sports, 70% of kids quit playing league sports by the age of 13 – never to play them again.  The number one reason they quit is because they aren’t having any fun.  And why aren’t they having any fun?  Parental pressure is one reason (this could be a post and maybe it will be later), but I think another big reason is because they have no fundamental skill set.  ‘They won’t let me pitch because I can’t throw the ball well enough.  Or I can’t play wide receiver because I have stone hands.’  When was the last time you tossed a bag of chips to your child when he was hungry?  Talk about developing soft hands.  You better have soft hands and catch it properly; otherwise you’re going to have a bag of crumbs instead of chips.

Developing all aspects of fundamental skills can lead to a variety of choices for each child, whether he/she chooses to play recreationally or competitively.  From there, we can build sport-specific skills that can lead to more options for playing different sports as well as playing different positions within the chosen sport.