Developing Physical Literacy - Part 1

    Posted on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 5:47 PM

    Posted by Mike McPartlin on Apr 20, 2017 5:47:57 PM

    Laying the groundwork for athleticism

    by Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy


    (Part 1 of a 4-part blog series about developing physical literacy in young athletes. Links to parts 2 through 4 appear below.)


    So what's with the late bloomer?

    We’ve all seen it: 

    1 1 Jacob Perreault StingThe athlete who appeared to be merely “okay” at his sport as a child … but then blossoms into a dominant (maybe even world-class) athlete as a young adult.

    Most observers would be amazed only at how this athlete had “developed” so much after puberty.

    But if that's all they saw, they are missing the most important thing.

    Because when it comes to developing world-class athletes, what happens before puberty is almost always more important. 

    It has to do with what sports science refers to as an athlete's “physical literacy.”


    Physical literacy in young athletesTo become physically literate children need to master fundamental movement skills, but this mastery does not come all at once, and we need to remember that children are not just “adults in miniature.”

                 from Developing Physical Literacy by Higgs, Balyi, et al.

    So what is physical literacy? 

    Physical literacy is one of the cornerstones of the Long Term Athlete Development model (LTAD), a concept developed by sports scientists working with Canada’s national Olympic sports programs and fully embraced by USA Hockey. (The Long Term Athlete Development model will examined in greater detail in Part 2 of this blog series.)

    According to the scientists who pioneered the concept as it relates to athletes:

    “Physical literacy is the development of fundamental movement skills and fundamental sport skills that permit a child to move confidently and with control, in a wide range of physical activity, rhythmic (dance) and sport situations. Physical literacy also includes the ability to ‘read’ what is going on around them in an activity setting and react appropriately to those events.”                                          

    also from Developing Physical Literacyby Higgs, Balyi, et al.

    This definition includes literally everyone (not just athletes), but also clearly suggests its importance in the development of high-level athletes.

    Developing physical literacy starts in infancySo when is physical literacy developed? 

    Physical literacy basically begins soon after birth, when an infant first begins to learn how to make his or her way around, and continues up through puberty. In other words, fundamental movements and skills that lay the groundwork for athleticism continue to be developed (to a greater or lesser degree) up through the onset of puberty.

    At puberty, however, the “window” for developing physical literacy begins to shut down. For boys this begins at around 12-14 years old, and for girls at around 11-13 years old.

    So why is physical literacy so important? 

    Good question, especially as it relates to the development of high-level athletes. And the best answer I’ve seen comes from the same people quoted above:

    Physical literacy is (important because it is) the key both to developing habits of life-long physical activity for enjoyment and health, and to the development of athletes who have the strong foundation that will permit them to reach the highest levels of international sporting excellence – to become world-class athletes.”

    In other words, physical literacy is important because without “the strong foundation” of physical literacy, it is virtually impossible to become a “world-class athlete.” 

    Developing physical literacy in youth athletesSo what's up with the physical literacy of youngsters today? 

    Although physical literacy as defined in the Long Term Athlete Development model has been around in one form or another for more than twenty years, yet programs that effectively adhere to it are very limited. 

    Most parents and coaches are not fully aware of it. Most schools completely ignore it. Even youth sports organizations don't give it much credence.

    And as a result, most top athletes are still developed by accident, with way too much left to chance. Because it's just a fact that most youngsters are NOT being introduced during their formative years to the types of physical movements that would help them be better athletes when they're older. 

    In other words, they are NOT consciously and purposefully developing their physical literacy.


    Here’s why I think physical literacy is so important:

    A person’s physical literacy is the foundation for his or her athleticism.

    This much is known:

    • Physical literacy is important for everyone to build confidence and to be able to be active for life
    • Physical literacy is absolutely critical to becoming a great athlete


    (Part 2 of this blog series discusses in greater detail the Long Term Athlete Development model and how within LTAD the concept of physical literacy relates to the development of young athletes.)

    (Part 3 of this blog series discusses how physical literacy might apply to early developers and late bloomers.) 

    (Part 4 of this blog series discusses physical literacy and the state of youth athletics today.)

    If this topic interests you and you would like to learn more about Bridgedale Academy, please click the button below so we can schedule a time to chat.


    Talk to Headmaster

    At Bridgedale we are committed to the development of our young student-athletes, helping them to develop their physical and mental skills so they can perform at their best when it matters most, no matter the arena of life that challenges them. If you would like to learn more about Bridgedale Academy, please click the button below so we can schedule a time to chat.
                                                                                           Mike McPartlin, Headmaster, Bridgedale Academy



    Attention 4th Graders

    In addition to our 5th through 8th graders, Bridgedale Academy is accepting a limited number of 4th graders for the 2023-24 school year, on a case-by-case basis. Please call me at 708-712-5079 to inquire. 

    Mike McPartlin, Headmaster


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    They engage academically ...

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    They train athletically ...

    ... and so they more fully develop their skills.

    They LOVE getting so much better ... so much sooner.

    They are physically fit and mentally alert ... they are thriving.



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    Bridgedale Academy is an all-boys school for athletes, a prep school for serious youth hockey players. We offer the 4th through 8th grades. In addition to our winning combination of sports and academics, we focus on leadership training. We use a classical academic curriculum and our graduates go on to attend some of the most prestigious high schools in the midwest, including Lake Forest Academy, Culver Military Academy, Shattuck St. Mary’s, Northwood School, Benet Academy, Fenwick Prep, Loyola Academy, St. Ignatius Prep, Marmion Academy, St. Viator, Latin School and Providence Catholic. We pride ourselves on being the top youth hockey prep school in the nation. Our grads go on to top colleges and universities, including Notre Dame, Harvard, Denver, Ohio State, Bentley, Western Michigan, Miami (OH), Boston College, Tufts, Nebraska (Omaha), Hobart, Adrian, MSOE and more.  More than thirty (30) of our graduates have already received their NCAA Division 1 college hockey commitments. Seven (7) of our grads have gone on to compete for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program (NTDP). Nine (9) of our grads have been NHL-drafted (one made his NHL debut this past season). Our grads play at all levels of college hockey and many are now playing junior hockey in the USHL, the NAHL and the OHL.
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