A contemporary reflection on physical education and lifelong physical activity engagement

As we presently live in a complex globalised world, there is no escaping the differing leisure pursuit trends to that of the 70’s and 80’s (Fullagar & Davidson, 2016).

Depending on which era you grew up in, you might recall engaging in many ‘traditional games’ (such as kick to kick in the street or a bike ride to a friend’s house to see if they could play) played typically outdoors (ovals, streets or in the backyard) in a much more “informal” and incidental way, which is quite different to the more formalised and scheduled ‘play dates’ of today.

The traditional games of yesteryear formed much of the Physical Education (PE) program along with units of dance, gymnastics, athletics, fitness and even Saturday morning inter-school sport! 

In this article, we reflect on our current influences and PE delivery, and invite you to consider “what do you remember from your days as a PE student that influence what you do now as an educator?“ 

Today, many of the conversations we are having with teachers cannot escape the pandemic influences:

  • A rising trend of solo sporting pursuits – pandemic exacerbates swing towards solo sports (abc.net.au) and in adolescents: cycling, dancing and golf (PASI VicSport, 2022) supported with the introduction of the individual pursuits karate, sports climbing, surfing and skateboarding at Tokyo 2022.
  • The emergence of informal sport; activities widely recognised as sport but that are nevertheless clearly distinct from traditional forms of sport (O’Connor & Penney, 2020).
  • Shift to cooperative participation vs competitive participation (O’Connor, Alfrey & Penney, 2022).
  • Decrease in team-based sports and female participation across Victorian local government regions (PASI Vic Sport, 2022). 

Relevant to teachers’ current PE programs while acknowledging evolving sporting trends, in this article we also reflect on the longstanding importance of fundamental movement skill (FMS) proficiency for games, sports and activities that individuals pursue, and the potential ‘gap’ in these skills that might have been exacerbated — not as a consequence of the pandemic, but evolving over time.

FMS are learned movement patterns (locomotor, manipulative, and stability skills) that are considered the foundation for more complex, specialised skills (Gallahue et al., 2012) and enable successful participation in a variety of physical activities and sports (Haubenstricker & Seefeldft, 1986). 

As shown in Figure 1 diagram at left, in 1980 Seefeldt introduced the concept of a motor skill “proficiency barrier” which reflects a general level of FMS competency necessary to learn the sport specific skills on the pathway for physical activity more broadly. There is evidence that those who are competent in motor skills are more likely to be active later in life (Malina,1996 & Hardy et al, 2013).

Consideration: Has our time spent remote learning restricted opportunities for our students to receive the quality instruction and feedback that is so significant in the development of these skills? (Martin, Rudisill & Hastie, 2009). And if so, what might we do to support bridging this gap, just as in non-pandemic times? 

  • What do we usually do when students are faced with learning challenges or barriers? Modify task constraints, small-sided games, incorporate student voice to cater for student needs, differentiation, and scaffolded learning.
  • What does “fundamental” mean? (Newell, 2020) and what is “fundamental” to our students of today? As educators might we review our curriculum offerings to bring relevance to current global activity trends?
  • The Victoria FMS Manual (1996) identified eleven FMS that reflected those skills frequently addressed in the literature and taught in many schools at that time. Although Seefeldt (1980) identified 28 FMS (Figure 2 at right), the Victorian study focused on those movement skills associated with sports, games and activities “common” to the culture at this time, and did not broaden the criteria to include the skills/activities represented in the top layer of Seefeldt’s model.

Therefore, within the scope of the Victorian Curriculum F-10 (Levels F-6, Movement and Physical Activity, VCAA, 2019) it might be worthwhile to reflect on our interpretation of the FMS referenced content descriptions (as shown in Figure 3 below) as to which FMS are relevant to today’s context to connect more purposefully to our students’ sporting interests. For example, is the catch, throw, kick more transferable and relevant to your students sporting pursuits than the bounce, strike, punt? We also invite you to consider if all FMS are equal? For example, do they all require the same time? What do the content descriptions in Figure 3 mean to you?

  • A “one-size” fits all approach does not work, so we might adapt and bring relevance to the needs of our students and school community. We might incorporate “trending” activities into our teaching activities that help develop the FMS that are relevant to all activities. For example, if the school community has a cricket focus, then maybe the strike, catch, throw would be more relevant to your teaching program?
  • How are you delivering the content? To develop the range of fundamental principles (ways of thinking, knowledge and practices) and FMS that prioritise relevance to the school context and have utility across activity contexts (O’Connor & Penney, 2022), we might develop student understanding through game-centred approaches. Do we use reliable teaching strategies to deliver learning outcomes such as the High impact teaching strategies (HITS, DET, 2022)?
  • Within the constraints of your PE program, you may need to make important decisions about where to prioritise your time. The average student requires between 240-600 minutes of instruction time  to become proficient in one FMS (DET Victoria & Wessel and Kelly, 1986), so how do you spend what time you have?  
  • How are you planning your FMS scope and sequence? You might wish to consider these further questions from the ACHPER Victoria FMS eBook — your answers will help inform FMS planning: 
  1. How many FMS can realistically be introduced and taught with the expectation of improvement at any one year or level?
  2. Over how many units, semesters and years will each FMS need to be introduced, refined and developed?
  3. Within any unit should the focus be on teaching the entire skill or on components within the skill?
  4. How will each student's current skill level, their level of maturation and quality of previous practice and instruction impact the time/practice needed to further develop each FMS?
  5. Based on difficulty, should some FMS be introduced before others? For example, the sidearm strike may be more difficult to learn than the catch? Run before the skip?
  6. What does 'mastered' mean - does the skill need to be perfected before it can be functionally applied in an activity, game or recreational setting?
  • What FMS skills are students challenged by that are pertinent to their sport specific skills and sport engagement? As shown in Figure 4 below (ACHPER Victoria FMS eBook) a student lacking competency in the overarm throw might be limited to engaging in tennis, softball, cricket, netball, javelin. 

In summary, as stated by Corbin (2002) “our most important objective as PE educators is to promote lifetime physical activity behaviours amongst all of our students”. In line with this, we encourage you to consider what FMS are relevant to your school to promote these lifetime physical activity behaviours. We must “offer a range of activities that students need to be physically active; want to learn because the activities lead to opportunities in competitive sports and recreation; and enjoy learning because the activities are meaningful and relevant in their lives today” (Ennis 2011).

If you need a little help to implement quality FMS at your school, check out our latest Tip of the Week HPE, theFMS eBook, FMS eLearn courseor book an in-school workshop today.