Posted by: Norman Brook | December 15, 2009

FUNdamentals in Disadvantaged Communities?

Dr Istvan Balyi is acknowledged worldwide as the expert in long term athlete development and the periodization of training plans.  He has led some excellent development work in this area in Ireland, Canada and the UK.  Most recently he has been engaged by the South African Sports Commission and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) to develop long term athlete development (LTAD) plans with South African sports federations.

Dr Istvan Balyi presents on LTAD in South Africa

The LTAD model developed by Balyi and his associates places great importance on the development of physical literacy for both healthy life long enjoyment and for sporting success.  The ages 6-9 in boys and 6-8 in girls is an important phase in the development of physical literacy. Children during these ages need to participate in structured activities that develop basic skills where an emphasis is placed on FUN.

The development of physical literacy at this age is best achieved through unstructured play in a safe and challenging environment; and quality instruction from knowledgeable sports practitioners in schools, community and sports organisations. 

One  of the principles that Dr Balyi recently presented to a group of school teachers and sports coaches in Stellenbosch was that of system alignment.  In the context of developing physical literacy through the FUNdamentals stage this implies that school, community and sports club programmes would be alligned in developing basic movement skills in settings that place an emphasis on FUN.

Alignment may present a challenge in the context of previously disadvantaged communities in South Africa.  Schools lack facilities, equipment and teachers with specialist knowledge in the development of physical literacy.  Physical education and sport had been withdrawn from the school curriculum.  (This problem that has been recognised by President Zuma’s government which has indicated that PE and sport is to be returned to the curriculum).

If children in previously disadvantaged communities are not accessing sport or PE through schools, they are reliant on sports clubs or sport for development initiatives to develop the basic  movement skills needed as a foundation for future participation and excellence in sport.

Coaches in sports clubs in disadvantaged communities may have difficulties in accessing coach education and may have a limited understanding of the need to develop physical literacy at years 6-9 years.  Sports coaches who have not developed and awareness of LTAD principles are likely to be focused on developing specialised sports skills and promoting competition.  For many sports clubs there will be no provision for children as young as 6-9 years leaving them to develop their own skills in unstructured play settings.

Sport for Development initiatives oftenpresent the only opportunity for children to access sport and physical activity.  Such programmes are well organised and provide safe and empowering environments for children to play and develop their life skills.  These initiatives use sport as a development tool and often are more focused on developing the personal and social capabilities of children and young adults. They may be less focused on developing physical literacy and quality sport skills. 

If South Africa is to deliver long term athletes development there will be a need to address the role of schools in delivering quality physical education and the role of practioners in sport for development initiatives in promoting physical literacy.  The principle of alignment will need to be contextualised for Southern Africa and be widened to include the Sport for Development organisations that provide much of the community sports in disadvantaged communities.

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