Games and Play to Develop Early Physical Literacy in Young Aspiring Athletes

Games and Play to Develop Early Physical Literacy in Young Aspiring Athletes

Thursday, 21 March 2019

By Professor Laurence Chalip, George Mason University

The concept of long-term athlete development debunks the benefits of early sport specialisation, prescribing instead more opportunities for games that are age and skill appropriate.

Athlete development is undergoing a significant shift with the new understanding of how physical education (PE) during the early stage of physical development can have a huge impact on the athlete’s skills development and execution in professional life.

Traditionally, PE is focused on providing physical activities to school children, while athlete developments are separately conducted by coaches in sports clubs and national teams. Both systems operate independently and seldom coordinate with each other.

For children engaging in early sport specialisation to pursue an athletic career, they suffer from a major problem of performing sports skills which they have not quite developed the essential motor skills or physical capacity to handle effectively. These aspiring athletes have to compensate in some ways to adjust to the training, often leading to a deficiency in skill execution when the child matures into a professional athlete. These overly practiced skills acquired at a young age are difficult to fix when the athletes have become habituated to them. This is often exacerbated by a narrow array of skills required by the sport, further limiting skills transfer and creative execution of open skills.

To overcome these problems, several countries are now implementing a systemic approach to athlete training called the long-term athlete development (LTAD). An important aspect of LTAD is that it replaces early specialisation with an extended period of games and play for children in the pre-school and early school years to acquire proper physical literacy. In such a system, PE teachers play a vital role to incorporate fun activities that can optimise the development of physical skills and complex motor schemata as well as to modify the games as with the children’s physical and mental development over time.

LTAD is able to align PE and sports development by combining the knowledge base and research skills of school PE specialists with the skills demand of established sport systems. This will ensure better long-term athlete development, and for the society as a whole, produce an active populace able to enjoy and engage in lifelong physical activities.