Physical Literacy 103 – the Sport focus

8th May 2018 by Helen Parker
Physical Literacy 103 – the Sport focus
This third piece in the Physical Literacy series will present the ASC’s focus on lifelong sports participation.

Is your brain exploding with the details of Australian Sports Commission’s physical literacy Standard?

Yes, for me. Do you find the levels and milestones terminology confusing? Again, Yes. Are these labels synonymous with those used in curriculum documents? Not at all. This blog muses about the emphasis on sport, although terms such as physical activity and movement are also included in the ASC documents.


The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) defines physical literacy as “the integration of physical, psychological, cognitive and social capabilities that help us live active, healthy and fulfilling lifestyles”. Thus, PL is conceived as a multidimensional, holistic concept, focusing on whole-person development across these behaviour domains. The ASC’s interest in this new concept began in 2016, culminating in a detailed set of background papers, draft performance standards and a developmental framework in 2017. See ASC Physical Literacy

Read the first 2 blogs in the series: Physical Literacy 101 – A Primer, and Physical Literacy 102 – the ASC framework

Lifelong Sports Focus

Several key concerns were identified in the ASC research as the genesis for developing the Physical Literacy Standard. These are the reported low level of children’s and youth’s fundamental motor skills, the consequential impact on confidence to participate in sport and physical activity throughout life, adolescent drop-out, rising levels of obesity, and building optimal health and wellbeing.

Because the focus of the ASC is lifelong sports participation, with an emphasis on team environments, and fitness for participation then it is not surprising that the 33 elements in the Standard are directly linked to that recreational context. Eminent sports scientists and developmental researchers sifted through published evidence to settle on these contributing elements to lifelong participation. Nevertheless, the final choice of elements is open to debate. This ‘universal’ definition of PL to encompass sport, recreation and physical activity contexts, across all ages and stages provides, to my view, a complicated and confusing smorgasbord. I argue that the details of PL are NOT as important as is the overall concept of PL.

An example of unclear thinking in the documentation is seen in one of the four guiding principles for the Standard. Principle 3 (p. 9 Explaining the Standard) states there are other ways to build PL besides sport, recreation and physical activity such as encouraging walking the stairs, standing desks, walking meetings, etc.  While these activities do increase the amount of incidental physical activity, which is a very good thing, I am not convinced that these go anywhere near developing PL, the holistic capability to participate in physical activity. In such activities, few if any of the skills or fitness elements are developed nor are cognitive, physiological, social capabilities. There appears to be some confusion that any activity is building PL, but PL is not just fitness nor just being active. It is a holistic capability across the lifespan. Physical education has a critical, central role. See if you agree with me.

Curricular HPE

Our new WA Health and Physical Education curriculum provides an early focus on fundament motor skills, with expansion into games and sports contexts in the later years of primary schools.  While our curriculum focuses on the school years, it aspires to guide students for healthy, safe and active lifelong choices. Our role is to provide learning activities within a comprehensive curriculum in HPE to build skills, knowledge and motivation for physical activity in many contexts, including sports. As such, our HPE learning area has a central role to play in developing PL – but HPE should not be confused or conflated with PL.

As HPE teachers, the concept and practice of holistic development is already central to your educator role. You decide learning contexts, pedagogy and teaching styles based on the needs of ALL your students – their age, current abilities, interests, motivations, understandings; and school constraints – lesson time, facilities, equipment, geography, opportunities in local community. The learning area of health and physical education has always been about educating the whole child ‘in-though-about’ movement to use Arnold’s (1988) concept, both motorically and psycho-socially.

Take home message

As a learning area, physical education contributes to important foundations of PL within the school-years.

But it cannot be held responsible for an individual’s choices down the track, in the adult years, in regard to lifestyle.   There are many more factors in an individual’s life beyond school HPE that enable or indeed thwart participation, e.g., financial, quality of coaching, friendship groups, peer pressure, parental encouragement, cultural norms, family priorities.

PE and sport are physical activity contexts within which the behaviours of PL MAY be learned, IF the pedagogy and coaching methods are also adapted to facilitate learning of the desired, broader outcomes beyond physical skills and fitness. This is what I’ll address in my last instalment.

By Helen Parker


The next instalment, Physical Literacy 104, will finish with series with a focus on Pedagogy for Physical Literacy



Arnold, P. (1988). Education, movement and the curriculum. London: Falmer Press.
Kegan, R., Barnett, L., & Dudley, D. (2017). The Draft Australian Physical Literacy – Explaining the Standard