Most likely, few people would argue against the goal and necessity of 50 Million Strong by 2029. Indeed, many would view its importance as being critical to our future. However, as suggested by Steve Jefferies in his recent editorial, as a profession we have yet to make the extensive impact we’d like on the physical activity and health lifestyle choices of our students.
The Importance of Physical Literacy
We believe that the notion of developing physical literacy in students is vital to developing active, healthy lifestyles and, ultimately, the attainment of the 50 Million Strong by 2029 goal. Although definitions of physical literacy vary, it is commonly accepted that physical literacy is a holistic view of a person’s knowledge of how to move and the ability to do so with competence, their understanding of why activity is important, and the willingness and desire to be involved in physical activity on a consistent basis. If we want to be 50 Million Strong by 2029, surely this holistic view is a necessity. The 50 Million Strong by 2029 goal requires physical literacy and, similarly, physical literacy can achieve 50 Million Strong by 2029!
However, while physical educators understand this all too well, without this underlying type of acknowledgement and acceptance by our students, colleagues, parents/guardians, and policy makers, how can we ever reach the 50 Million Strong by 2029 goal?
Literacy and numeracy teachers were most successful in engaging others in supporting the importance of their subject areas. Can we do the same?
We contend that we need to learn from our colleagues who have presented arguments concerning the importance of literacy and numeracy skills. Their efforts have resulted in programs and policies being developed to harness such understanding among all of the students in our schools. They have been able to develop an almost universal “buy-in” to the importance of their programs and the content that they share with students. Can we frame our arguments in a similar fashion and what can we learn from their endeavours?
Normally, successful goal attainment is achieved through a systematic approach. So, with that in mind, we would like to offer some thoughts for consideration so that a greater understanding of the importance of physical literacy can be developed throughout our schools.
Engage Key Stakeholders
Because we as physical educators cannot be the sole stakeholders in reaching the goal of 50 Million Strong by 2029, we must continue to search for and discover ways to educate and support those around us so that the important messages surrounding physical literacy can be shared exponentially. For example, our pre-school and kindergarten teachers have unique relationships with students and their parents/guardians. These teachers often establish relationships that extend far beyond just the school year. Many important messages concerning literacy and numeracy begin at this early stage and are shared with parents/guardians and are constant reminders in classrooms. So, in a similar manner, we might need to enlist these same teachers to be among our strongest advocates to ensure that a child’s physical literacy journey begins at the earliest of ages.
How can we engage teachers such as these in our conversations? Can we enlist their support and assistance? Do they attend our conventions, or perhaps better still, do we attend their conventions and share with them in their environments? By supporting our colleagues on their journey of understanding physical literacy, we may find that they are willing to continue the line of communication within their classrooms and with the parents/guardians that they converse with. That way, messaging will come from a variety of individuals and the importance of physical literacy can reach a wider audience.
Enjoyment is vital to physical literacy development; it creates a movement experience where every individual can find their niche and develop a sense of success and value.
Although the importance of developing fundamental movement skills in order to move with confidence and competence is of great importance in the development of physical literacy, it is equally important to consider that students participate in things that they enjoy. From an educational perspective, we know that students’ participation rates in movement experiences tend to be higher when they value and enjoy movement experiences, choose to participate rather than being coerced, and have adult role models such as teachers and family members that are supportive of being active.
To support physical literacy we need to intentionally “throw our nets further afield.” We must think beyond some of the traditional approaches of physical education programming, what we teach in such programs, and how we teach our classes. If we want to be successful, we need to think differently.
How many of us have witnessed or know of individuals who choose to be active despite having an awkward gait or a low-skill level? Not surprisingly, they still choose to participate because they simply like an activity or want to participate because of friendships they are creating by participating with others. While we always want to improve physical competence, the issue of enjoyment is something that cannot be ignored. A person who is not fond of activity is much more likely to be inactive than a person who, regardless of skill level, enjoys activity and wants to be active.
The critical importance of the notion of valuing and enjoying moving is something that needs to be acknowledged. Students are not going to choose to be active in their own lives if our programming does not foster such intrinsic feelings. There not only needs to be a reason for students to adopt an active lifestyle, but there also needs to be a “value-added” experience for students. We believe that that enjoyment can play this “value-added” role.
For example, programming that simply encompasses traditional games or only skill-based activities and not the breadth and variety required for the development of physical literacy will likely not attract the interest level and foster the enjoyment of students who might need support or encouragement in developing a love and willingness to move. That is not to say that traditional-style activities cannot be part of our programming, just not its entirety.
While we certainly are not promoting the idea that our programs take the form of simple activity sessions, to achieve 50 Million Strong by 2029 we must recognize how important it is to attend to student enjoyment. We are now receiving a generation of students in our classes that require different approaches to reach and engage them. We are competing with students who identify with a technological, instant, and often sedentary lifestyle. Our programming not only needs to be appealing in order to engage with their thinking and likes, but ultimately also to develop their willingness to participate.
Supporting the Desire to Move
50 Million Strong by 2029 will only materialize if we create a society that wants to move. Upon that basis we are more likely to find a group of students that are encouraged to and want to be engaged in activity. That is our 50 million. Simply requiring students to move through mandated programming will not promote student willingness to be involved in active lifestyles beyond their school experiences. We believe that sharing the importance of physical literacy and taking the steps to develop physical literacy is a key to achieving the 50 Million Strong by 2029 goal. It’s vital we strive to get others to support us and to ensure that our programs are intrinsically motivating to students. If we are successful in this, we can meet our goal!