by Mia Thomas, PT, DPT
When the word literacy is mentioned many people immediately think about reading and writing, but there has been more talk recently about physical literacy; that is, how well are our kids able to perform basic gross motor movements, such as: swimming, running, jumping, throwing, and batting. There are multiple factors that have lead to this generation being more overweight as well being the first generation more likely to die younger than the generation before them. Fortunately, it is not just the increased screen time or easier access to mobile devices, but it is something we can very much control.
Research shows that only 40% of children between the ages of 6 and 12 are participating in team sports, this is a 4.5% decline from 2008. These numbers are even more in low income areas, where only 1 in 4 children play on recreational sports teams. While this decline may relate to access to sports teams there is another side to it. Children have also begun specializing in their preferred sport, or sometimes their parent’s preferred sport, earlier and earlier in life. This means these children are getting really good at one or two gross motor movement pattern and letting the rest fall to the wayside. But, what happens when this child sustains an injury from their specialized sport because they have been playing on multiple teams and practicing too many hours a week – they have nothing to fall back on! They did not developed other movement patterns to switch their sports and avoid re-injury, so likely they return to their original sport to possibly get injured further, until they eventually need to stop playing. This creates athletic drop-outs, typically by or before high school, which means they no longer have the skill they were relying on for college scholarships or they lose sight of their potential career.
While this may seem like a small problem that does not affect much of the population, especially outside of the United States, it is actually a huge problem that the US has only begun to recognize. When the United States initiated Project Play, there were already physical literacy initiatives in England, Whales, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, the Neatherlands, Venezuela, and Scotland. Project Play through the Aspen Institute was created in 2013 and since have created partnerships with over 20 American organizations to promote diversity in youth sports. If you are now wondering if your child is over specialized in their sports, use these guidelines to reassure yourself: the number of hours your child practices a week should not exceed their number of years on this earth, all children need one to two rest days a week, children should not be on more than one athletic team at a time, and kids needs a less than 2:1 ratio of organized sports to free play.