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Nigel Hetherington
Children Young people Improving Physical Ability

Encouraging Fundamental Movement Skills

Developing the widest array of robust core movement skills in children and young people can be shown to improve performance, confidence, motivation and reduce injury

We can all remember times when we heard teachers say this at school: “DO NOT run along the corridors!” or “Walk!”

According to school accident statistics more injuries occur in corridors than in any other place so it’s obvious that the solution is to ban running in schools, right?

Running, as we all know, is a fundamental movement skill but to what extent are we guilty, in early school or club years, of discouraging running or at least turning the very thing we want them to enjoy doing, into a penance!? “Take a lap!” And yes, right now, just like many of you, I’m visualising a scene from ‘Kicking and Screaming’.  Every coach, parent and athlete should watch this fab movie.

It doesn’t get much better in our teens – as the first frost of winter carpets the school fields or local park and thick cloying mud is building up, we tell our youngsters: “Time for cross-country”.

What a great introduction when you have no proper shoes, a complete lack of fitness and no time to shower afterward.

Running on uneven surfaces

Such a shame because running on uneven surfaces, slippery surfaces, inclines and broken ground is about the best activity imaginable to develop a higher sense of balance.

All those little synergist and fixator muscles are being worked in all dimensions, serving to better stabilise joint structures and hence to support fine control of limb movement.

Ironically, it seems the higher up the sports performance pathway you ascend (even including cross-country runners) the less likely you are to actually do just that – run on uneven surfaces! 

3G and 4G pitches, synthetic running tracks, sports halls – all with one thing in common – levelled to a flatness of within one millimetre per thousand square metres! Who would want our athlete to be injured running on an uneven surface after all?

“Oh, it’s okay, I develop my athlete's proprioception in the gym with a wobble board once a week!”

Don’t you agree it’s a shame we are so obsessed with inventing fixes for problems that shouldn’t exist?

One of my roles in recent years was as Head Coach in a high school talent environment. On taking up the post I doubt you can imagine the level of my incredulity when told that the kids didn’t train on the grass in case they injured themselves.

Do run! Run on all surfaces ... and often!

Throwing skills

Another thing often heard in classrooms is “If I catch you throwing things in the classroom again there will be serious consequences – throwing things is very dangerous!”

While it’s entirely true that throwing objects can indeed be dangerous, especially if you’re on the receiving end – and I have the scars to prove it – safety can be dealt with.

If the fullest range of throwing methods is introduced at an early stage through games activities then this unquestionably opens up a massive array of sporting options in the future – net / wall sports and bat sports, throwing sports, invasion sports etc.

And the phrase “Throwing like a girl”, for example, ought to be confined to the same receptacle as most other forms of inequality. Can someone please explain to me how Goldie Sayers or Leryn Franco ‘throw like girls’?

And, talking of the javelin, in Finland, throwing this implement is pretty much part of school life for everyone. It's no small wonder that the nation continues to produce a string of world class javelin throwers – they develop the full fundamentals of throwing at an early stage thus opening up the opportunity for a much greater number to progress to high javelin standards.

Do throw! Throw safely, and throw lots of things in different ways!

Jumping skills

So, to what extent are parents helping the case? How many parents regularly say “How many times have I told you not to jump on the settee?” 

And, I’ve seen how this legacy can be carried through to our involvement as adults in coaching.

A few years ago I was delivering a Level 2 Athletics Coach technical jumps module in Birmingham, England – from eight coaches attending, seven wanted to be long-jump coaches and one a high jump coach. 

Two thought they might be interested in triple jump coaching, but definitely not with children!  The thought of pole vault coaching frightened the life out of all of them!

However, thanks to a well-constructed module, I was able to take them all through the basics of the latter, high-flying event, to the point where they all felt they could deliver introductory pole handling and get an athlete to safely perform a rudimentary vault on to a landing mat.

Jumping activities are the basis for developing elastic leg strength (something we need even to run). Integrating basic jumping activities into games and training for all sports is so easy with any ability or age group.

The transferability of basic jumping skills into a whole host of sports ought to be apparent – how many sports can you think of where some form of jumping action may benefit the participant?

Do jump! Jump high, jump far, and jump for joy!

Benefits of fundamental movement

Developing the widest array of robust fundamental movement skills can be shown to impact on many of the most important factors in sport today:

  • increased likelihood of retention in sport beyond the mid-teen years
  • competence and confidence to take part in a wider variety of sports
  • cncreased performance levels in sport in adulthood
  • reduced risk of injury.

Despite your personal motivation for coaching; the sport you love to coach and the important attention you pay to developing the technical elements, ask yourself, how much time do you actually give to developing fundamental movement skills and making them robust?

Young people need variety

Many of these fundamental movement skills underpin greater competency in the sports skills on which you are trying to develop much-treasured sport-specific excellence.

So, as you already knew, the teacher was dead right, they always are, with, “Do not run along the corridors.”

Since, if all we do is run along the ‘corridor’, that narrow envelope of space in which we perceive we best can develop our athletes, then we do indeed run the risk that our youngsters, through a lack of variety and a lack of exposure to wider stimuli will indeed become part of the statistic – the non-accidental continued loss of participants from sport.

Do Run, Do Jump, Do Throw - irrespective of the sport you coach!

Related Workshop to Learn More

To gain a full understanding of how to include fundamental movement skills in your coaching sessions attend the UK Coaching workshop 'How to Coach the Fundamentals of Movement'.

Attend the Workshop Today!

Downloadable Activity Cards

Check out our FUNdamentals of Movement Activity Cards - packed with activities and ideas to help you develop balance, coordination and agility in your coaching sessions.

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Related Resources

  • The Importance of Coaching Fundamental Movement Skills

  • Youth Physical Development Model

  • Fundamentals of Movement and the Youth Physical Development Model


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Nigel Hetherington