Improving fundamental movement skills proficiency in Irish adolescents
Insight has been working with Dublin GAA and the GAA to develop new strategies and technologies to help youths develop and strengthen fundamental movement skills. The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is Ireland’s largest sporting organisation and is celebrated as one of the great amateur sporting associations in the world.
In recent years, Dublin GAA and the GAA have been shocked by the decline in Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) in children. These skills include hopping, skipping, jumping, running, kicking, catching, throwing, balancing and turning –. These foundational skills are the building blocks of the more advanced movement skills required for sports. The need for research and intervention in this area was highlighted by a 2014 study that estimated that just 11% of Irish adolescents had mastered skills such as running, skipping and kicking a ball, an unprecedented low. These are skills that should be mastered by the age of 6. Dublin GAA and the GAA believe that a school based intervention that takes into account various psychological and environmental factors is necessary to reverse this decline. Insight, Dublin GAA and the GAA are conducting a collaborative project, ‘Moving Well-Being Well’, to focus on developing new interventions and new technologies for working with youths to develop and strengthen Fundamental Movement Skills.
Initial results from Insight’s Moving Well Being Well project have provoked a wide ranging discussion about children’s health and fitness in Ireland. Insight researchers carried out an all Ireland study of over two thousand primary school children on the island of Ireland, and have found that one in four cannot run properly; one in two cannot kick a ball 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 (FMS)), 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. However, this most recent research finding shows that a large proportion of Irish children have not mastered FMS by age 10. 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.
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. The findings are interesting in the context of the activities pursued by girls and boys, with the former often taking up gymnastics, dance and the latter taking part in rugby and soccer.
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.
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 the 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.
The first set of published findings from Moving Well-Being Well are significant in terms of identifying the maturation of FMS and also pivotal points in the context of children mastering and (or as is the case) not mastering FMS. This in turn can underpin their future participation and motivation in sport and physical activity. Those findings are currently being used to develop an intervention in primary school targeting all elements of physical literacy where all actors around the children are involved – teachers, coaches and parents. This holistic approach will support and enhance the development of the core components of physical literacy: physical competence, motivation and confidence as well as childrens’ knowledge and understanding of the benefits and importance of physical activity for life.
Dr. Stephen Behan, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU and DCU School of Health and Human Performance:
“These results are the most comprehensive of its kind ever produced in Ireland, and highlight the poor levels of basic skills in Irish children. 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”.