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Jumping the first hurdle

Good PE lessons are vital in the earliest years of primary school if children are to have the skills necessary to play sport in later years, new research reveals.

Pupils need to be treated as individuals, and provided with sports activities that can be adapted to their own particular needs, to ensure that they have a positive experience of school sport.

In his report, titled The Benefits of Sport for Children: tri-athletic development, freelance researcher Richard Bailey points out that childhood is a vital period in the development of physical skills. Some scientists argue that, if children do not develop a broad foundation of skills before puberty, they never will.

Fundamental movement skills, which Bailey describes as the "building blocks of all later physical activities", include walking, running, bending and throwing. With these skills, children can progress to more specialised pursuits, such as football, ballet, swimming or athletics.

Failure to master physical skills at one stage of development will therefore hinder the development of skills at the next, and create a proficiency barrier to participation. "The quality of movement experiences during childhood are vital, if sport and other physical activities are to become a feature of regular behaviour."

But children of the same chronological age can be up to two years older or younger than their peers in terms of physical development, Bailey says. They will vary in height, weight, maturity and physical ability. As a result, they will be capable of different levels of training and performance.

"Children and young people need to be treated as individuals, and the sports education and training they experience ought to be adapted or flexible enough for their individual needs," Bailey says.

"Positive sports experience... does not automatically occur simply by registering a child in a sports club. Outcomes are mediated by a host of factors. Without doubt, the most significant of these is the social climate generated by teachers, coaches and other adults."

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