For a nation that prides itself on sporting prowess and engagement, there will be a shock at the results of a new research project from DCU that reveals only one in two children can kick a ball properly.
Researchers at Dublin City University, led by Dr Stephen Behan, have carried out an all Ireland study of over two thousand primary school children on the island of Ireland, and have found in addition that one in four cannot run properly and less than one in every five can throw a ball.
The findings also noted that the skills development of children with regards to running, jumping, catching and kicking, movements that are categorised as fundamental movement skills, plateau and stop progressing at the age of ten.
Existing research shows that mastery of these basic skills is achievable by 8 years of age.
This milestone is considered significant as in the case of children not reaching it, it can result in young people exhibiting an aversion to engaging in sports and physical activity, particularly in their teenage years.
These basic foundation movement skills are imperative for building up the sporting participation of children. A report by Sport Ireland, Sport NI and Healthy Ireland in 2019 showed that only 17 per cent of primary children in the Republic and 20 per cent in the North get the recommended level of 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
If that looks disappointing the numbers drop to only 10 and 11 per cent respectively at post Primary level.
There was a notable difference between boys and girls in certain skills with boys displaying a greater proficiency in ball skills such as throwing and catching, while girls scored higher than boys in skills requiring control of the body such as balance and skipping.
This is likely driven by traditional pathways into activity with girls more often taking up gymnastics and dance and the latter taking part in rugby and soccer. Both boys and girls have a huge involvement in Gaelic Games overall.
The Moving Well-Being Well project is assessing the current situation in Ireland in relation to this and developing interventions to improve children’s fitness, wellbeing, physical competence and confidence in a child-centred manner.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Sports Sciences and have emerged from data gathered as part of a wider research project Moving Well-Being Well, a major collaboration between the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics at DCU, the School of Health and Human Performance at DCU, the GAA and Dublin GAA to examine the physical literacy of over 2,000 children, aged 5-12 in primary schools nationwide.
“These results are the most comprehensive of its kind ever produced in Ireland and highlight the poor levels of basic skills in Irish children,” said Behan of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU and DCU School of Health and Human Performance.
“If children don’t have a solid foundation of basic movement skills, how can we expect them to do more complex skills as part of organised sport?”
“This solid foundation is what allows children to take part in a multitude of physical activities, and to feel confident in trying new things. There is a lot of attention on childhood obesity and low participation rates in sport – a focus on the fundamental movement skills in young children could be key in tackling both.”
“These findings highlight core issues that teachers, parents and coaches need to address,” added Dr Johann Issartel.
“If the current generation of children can’t throw and catch in basic situations, why would they choose to play if they aren’t good at it? “It is not fun” that’s what they say, and if it is not fun they won’t play.”
“It’s well known that if you can’t measure something then you can’t improve it,” said Professor Noel O’Connor, also of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU.
“This unique study has allowed us to measure and therefore understand current levels of mastery of fundamental movement skills in children, an important aspect of their overall development.”
“We can now identify where improvements are needed and this allows us to develop strategies to ensure this improvement takes place. It’s a great example of how the power of data analytics can allow us to positively impact society on a national scale.”
● The survey sample included 2,098 primary children (47% female and 53% male) aged between the ages of 5-12. The average age was 9 years.
● Participants were recruited from 44 schools across 12 counties (56% rural and 44% urban) taking into account all four provinces in Ireland and Northern Ireland.
● Previous research has shown that children can master all FMS skills by the age of 8. However, this most recent research finding shows that a large proportion of Irish children have not mastered FMS by age 10. At this stage, children could become self-conscious in the company of their peers when participating in physical activities/sports that require these skills, and in turn are likely to disengage, leading to a decrease in physical activity.
● Participants were tested using the Test of Gross Motor Development (TGMD-3) which comprises of locomotor (run, skip, gallop, slide, hop and horizontal jump) and object-control (catch, overhand throw, underhand roll, kick, two-handed strike, one-handed strike and stationary dribble) skill subtests. An additional locomotor skill test was included; the vertical jump. The TGMD-3 and the vertical test jump assess the performance of skill components, rather than the outcome.
● Participants were also tested on their balance, consisting of two tasks; walking forward along a straight line and standing on one leg on a balance beam with eyes open. These tests were based on outcome of performance.
● The findings show an absence of proficiency across all FMS components throughout primary school, with the children showing 60.6% of mastery/near mastery in balance while just over half hit mastery/near mastery in locomotor skills (52.8%) and 54.8% scored in object control skills.
“We are learning more and more about the movement deficiencies of our children and young people in Ireland,” said Dr Sarahjane Belton, Head of School of Health and Human Performance at DCU.
“It is no surprise that the 2018 follow up of the national CSPPA study shows a decline in physical activity participation rates of children by a further two per cent since 2010.”
“At primary school, less than one in every 5 is active enough to sustain health. Simply put it is time now for action. We need to focus our attention nationally on developing physical literacy capacities and capabilities in our children and young people.”
“We need to help them develop the tools needed to enable them to live long, healthy and active lives. At the moment we are failing our kids badly, and that is a very sad situation.”
Read More: Children’s Activity Levels Falling Short
Image Credit: DCU