Half of Irish school children cannot kick a ball properly

By June Shannon Policy News   |   27th Jan 2020

New study shows school children today lack basic skills which are key to participation in sports

One in four primary school children in Ireland lack the basic skills to run properly, one in two cannot kick a ball and less than one in five can throw a ball; all of which are key skills needed to take part in sports and physical activity, a new study has revealed.

The study, by researchers at Dublin City University (DCU) of more than two thousand primary school children on the island of Ireland, also revealed 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 improving at the age of ten.

This research is the first set of published findings from DCU’s Moving Well-Being Well project and involved a survey of 2,098 primary children (47% female and 53% male) aged between the ages of 5-12. The average age was nine years.

Participants were recruited from 44 schools across 12 counties (56% rural and 44% urban) considering all four provinces in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

For the study, the school children’s development was assessed using tests 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.

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 outcome of performance.

The findings revealed a lack of proficiency across all FMS components throughout primary school, with the children showing 60.6 per cent of mastery/near mastery in balance while just over half hit mastery/near mastery in locomotor skills (52.8%) and 54.8 per cent scored in object control skills.

Existing research shows that mastery of these basic skills is achievable by eight years of age. 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.

“We have seen this worrying trend firsthand in post-primary schools where children in first year have very poor levels of physical literacy. "

Laura Hickey, Children and Young People's Manager , Irish Heart Foundation

This most recent research shows that a large proportion of Irish children have not mastered these basic skills by the age of 10.

The researchers warned that at this stage, children could become self-conscious in the company of their peers when participating in physical activities/sports that require these skills, and in turn are likely to disengage, leading to a decrease in physical activity.

Commenting Laura Hickey, Children and Young People’s Manager with the Irish Heart Foundation, said that the research added to the growing body of evidence that Irish children are not getting enough physical activity

Laura said that physical literacy i.e. the motivation, confidence, knowledge and ability to take part in physical activity which includes the ability to throw and catch a ball, run etc. has a significant impact on participation levels.

“We have seen this worrying trend firsthand in post-primary schools where children in first year have very poor levels of physical literacy. To address this concern. we rolled out Y-PATH ‘PE 4 ME’; an innovative school based physical activity programme in 2018.

“The research from DCU shows that we also need to act from an early age. This coming September the Irish Heart Foundation will roll out ‘Action for Life Version 3’, a national primary school physical literacy programme.

“This programme developed with teachers addresses the worrying concerns raised in this research and importantly, the evidence we are seeing and hearing from concerned teachers. We are taking a holistic approach with the aim of increasing children’s level of motivation, confidence and knowledge, all of which are vital ingredients in improving physical literacy,” Laura added.

" 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 ."

Dr Stephen Behan,, DCU School of Health and Human Performance

The DCU study also found a 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.

Both boys and girls had a huge involvement in Gaelic Games overall.

The benefits of increased physical activity are well established, with substantial evidence linking it with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes to name but a few.

Dr Stephen Behan, Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, DCU and DCU School of Health and Human Performance said, “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”.

For more information on the work the Irish Heart Foundation carries out in schools please see here


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cardiovascular diease get active inactivity physical activity schools Y-PATH 4 Me young people

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