What's Skill Got to Do with It? A Developmental Approach to Promoting Physical Activity in Urban Youths: Motor Competence Plays a Crucial Role in Promoting Physical Activity among Youths

By Goodway, Jacqueline D. | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, October 2009 | Go to article overview

What's Skill Got to Do with It? A Developmental Approach to Promoting Physical Activity in Urban Youths: Motor Competence Plays a Crucial Role in Promoting Physical Activity among Youths


Goodway, Jacqueline D., JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Promoting youth physical activity is a major public health goal, particularly for underserved and minority youths in urban schools (United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). Despite a sustained focus on the subject in the past decade, youth physical activity rates in urban, low-income, and minority populations remain discouraging (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2008). We need to recognize that there is a developmental trajectory to physical activity and the factors that affect it if we are going to get urban youths to be physically active. So how do we do this? I would suggest that we turn back the developmental clock and look at the early years to understand better the role that motor competence plays. Little attention has been given to the developmental process of "how children learn to move" and the changing role that emerging motor competence may play in children and youths' physical activity levels as they grow.

Fundamental Motor Skills as a Foundation

Several models of motor development speak to the role that motor competence can play in promoting and sustaining youth physical activity levels. Seefeldt (1980) suggested that fundamental motor skills (FMS) must be developed during early childhood to serve as the foundation of lifetime activities and sports. He suggested that if young children did not develop a basic level of competency in FMS such as throwing, catching, and running, they would not be able to successfully apply their skills to lifetime physical activities such as softball and basketball and would ultimately opt out of sports and physical activity. Seefeldt referred to this notion as a "proficiency barrier."

More recently, Clark and Metcalfe (2002) proposed a "mountain of motor development" model. They too indicated that FMS serve as the foundation of the "mountain peaks" of different physical activities. Children apply the competence they have developed in FMS to context-specific activities such as softball and basketball. The part I like about this model is that the "mountain" has different "peaks" of skillfulness, with children being skillful at some activities and less so in other activities.

The third model is a complex one proposed by Stodden and colleagues (2008) that supports the idea that motor competence drives lifelong physical activity. This model suggests that children with low motor competency will become less active and will ultimately perceive themselves as less competent. Over time these children will opt out of physical activity, as it is not intrinsically engaging and they "know" they do not have the skills to be successful. They refer to this as a "negative spiral of disengagement" (p. 296). For children in urban centers, this negative cycle of disengagement is further compounded by factors such as poor physical environments to support physical activity, limited finances to afford activity programs, and few role models, especially for girls (Branta & Goodway, 1996).

These three models should cause us to take a step back and reflect on what this means to urban youths. Do urban children develop the necessary motor competence to apply these skills throughout life? Many urban physical educators would say no. But what do these data show?

Lack of Motor Skills in Urban Preschoolers

If FMS are supposed to develop in the early childhood years, we need to look to urban preschoolers to examine their motor development. There is little research in this area, but what is available strongly supports the idea that urban, disadvantaged children enter preschools with developmental delays in their FMS. These data have been found to be true across gender, geographic region, and ethnicity (Goodway & Branta, 2003; Goodway, Robinson, & Crowe, in press; Goodway, Savage, & Ward, 2003). In general this work has found the following:

* Urban preschoolers enter school with delays in FMS (object control and locomotor). …

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