Girl Power: A University of Newcastle program improves girls’ self-esteem, resilience, sport skills and physical activity levels. Picture: Marina Neil Most girls aged between 5 and 12 have not mastered skills like kicking, throwing and catching, University of Newcastle research shows.
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The findings have implications for mental and physical health, along with the chance of girls becoming obese and overweight.

The study included 153 girls from the Hunter Region.

“Skill development programs currently running in schools and sporting programs are clearly not working,” Narelle Eather, a senior lecturer in the university’s School of Education, said

Dr Eather, the study’s lead author, had a stark message for parents of girls and boys.

“The majority of children are not active enough.

“They do not have the skills to participate in many of the physical activities or sports available to them.”

She added that parents could “play a vital role in changing this situation”.

“I would ask all parents to acknowledge the importance of developing basic movement skills from a young age,” she said.

“I would also ask them to encourage their children – boys and girls – to be physically active and support them in developing their movement skills.”

She said this means playing and being active with their children more often.

It also meant providing opportunities and time for their children to be active or “enrolling them in lots of different activities or sports”.

She also said schools could “play a major role in helping girls develop the skills to be active”.

“All schools have the responsibility of providing children from kindergarten to year 10 with 150 minutes of planned curriculum time per week for physical activity, not including recess and lunch breaks,” she said.

“This usually includes physical education, sport, and planned activity breaks during the day.”

In physical education and school sport, teachers have the opportunity to develop skills that girls need to gain the confidence to participate in sport.

But not all schools do this.

“Some schools opt to devote more time to other areas such as literacy and numeracy,” Dr Eather said.

The study found “the vast majority of girls” failed to master skills like kicking,throwing and catching.

It concluded that fewer than 5 per cent of the girls studied in two groups –aged four to eight and nine to 12 – “demonstrated mastery or advanced skill level in the strike, stationary dribble, overarm throw or kick”.

Catching recorded the highest level of mastery at 34 per cent.

Dr Eather said it was a particular concern that the study showed only 14 per cent of girls had mastered the kick and overarm throw when entering secondary school.

In comparison, more than half of boys had mastered these two skills.

She added that these were “essential skills for many sports and physical activities”.

“In and around the world, children are failing to perform fundamental movement skills to their expected developmental capability. Boys generally outperform girls, especially in the skills of catching, throwing, kicking, striking.”

Nevertheless, the research also shows more boys need to be more active.

Fundamental movement skills are also described as “locomotor skills” (running, jumping, hopping) and “object-control skills” (catching, throwing and kicking).

These skills “do not generally develop naturally”.

“They need to be learned, practiced and developed,” she said.

Dr Eather said children who were more active and had better fundamental movement skills, were fitter and had better health generally.

This included physical health, socio-emotional health and mental health, along with and cognitive function and academic success.

The world-first study was part of the university’s DADEE [Dads And Daughters Exercising and Empowered] program.

This program was designed to encourage fathers to become role models and advocates for their daughters, and vice versa.

Fundamental movement skills were considered the “building blocks” needed to participate successfully in sport and physical activity.

Childhood was the critical time to develop these skills.

Research shows that children, who have higher levels of proficiency with these skills, were more likely to be active and participate in sport throughout their lives.

Such children would “reap the many health benefits associated with being adequately active”.

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