Daniel  J. Green by Daniel J. Green

With people unable to gather in their local parks to go for walks, ride bikes or play some pick-up basketball, many youngsters are likely growing increasingly frustrated with their lack of physical activity. 

This may be great time to (re)introduce the concept of physical literacy to young athletes who do not want to lose their skill or fitness levels but are unable to take part in their chosen sports, as well as to nonathletes who would really benefit from building a solid foundation of good motor skills. 

Physical literacy is defined by The Aspen Institute (2015as the ability, confidence and desire to be physically active for life. Even if one of your youth clients doesn’t dream of someday playing in the NBA or competing in the Olympics, he or she can undoubtedly benefit from gaining skill and confidence in the ability to move efficiently and with good form. For example, a child who knows how to swim will be able to participate in countless water-based activities for the rest of his or her life, like one day swim with their own children.

Physical literacy goes beyond the development of foundational motor skills like running, balancing and throwing, however, as it also requires the mindset to use those skills. Confidence involves knowing that you have the ability to play sports or enjoy physical activities as opportunities arise. Once a child has the ability and confidence to participate, his or her desire to be active can be developed through early positive experiences with physical activity that are fun and motivational (The Aspen Institute, 2015) 

The Aspen Institute identifies 10 sectors that are well-positioned to play key roles in advancing physical literacy, including community recreation organizations, schools, healthcare providers and fitness facilities. When it comes to exercise professionals, the following recommendations may be particularly applicable during COVID-19: 

  • Make physical literacy the basis of programming for families 
  • Offer complimentary physical-literacy assessments to children of adult clients 
  • Reduce or eliminate talk of body image 
  • Use kid-friendly talk, imaginative scenarios and music that matches the activity and participant level 
  • Prioritize effort, not performance 
  • Teach good form 

Parents and guardians are also identified as a key sector by The Aspen Institute. Some of the following are things you may want to consider as you virtually coach or train youth, or you may want to share these with adult clients who are struggling to keep their kids active during this time of social isolation. 

  • Integrate physical-literacy concepts into children’s daily activities and help them to develop physical literacy outside of traditional sports environments 
  • Promote unstructured play 
  • Emphasize the importance of engaging in a wide variety of sports or activities to prevent early specialization and associated stress 

According to The Aspen Institute (2015), the efforts to improve the physical literacy of children have come largely in response to declining rates in physical activity around the world. The risk of physical inactivity among youth are well-known, including weight gain, missed school, worsened academic performance and a higher likelihood of having obesity as an adult.  

From a more positive perspective, children with better-developed motor skills are more active as early as the preschool years, and that trend carries through the grade school years and into adolescence and adulthood. These strange times offer exercise professionals a unique opportunity to work with entire families, helping people of all ages to learn new skills, gain confidence in their abilities and have fun experiences associated with physical activity.  



The Aspen Institute (2015). Physical Literacy in the United States: A Model, Strategic Plan, and Call to Action. https://www.aspeninstitute.org/publications/physical-literacy-model-strategic-plan-call-action/