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The importance of Fundamental Movement Skills - FMS

Next time you get the opportunity, spend some time watching young children playing in a physical activity environment.  You will notice some children moving with effortless ease, they show fluency of movement and somehow radiate more confidence than some of their peers.

You may notice others on the fringe of the activities, or who have chosen not to take part: these children may well be physically challenged by games played in the playground, and may be put off or embarrassed about their inability to participate.

Without doubt, the ability to read, write and demonstrate numeracy skills are always under the spotlight within an educational setting, however, significant volumes of research indicate that - whether as a participant or a performer - having a proven range of Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS) is equally important.

There are a great many different fundamental movement skills available: the following have been selected since they form part of England Athletics’ Pentathlon award and all are part of the Sportshall Athletics competition that ACE supports each year.

Details of each event can be found here:

Standing Long Jump
High Stepper
Chest Push
Speed Bounce
Balance Beam

What are the benefits of developing Fundamental Movement Skills?

Children with recognisably competent fundamental movement skills are far more likely to take part in a wider variety of games and physical activities and as a consequence benefit from:

•Higher degrees of confidence and motivation to take part in physical play of all types and forms

•Improved feelings of happiness and enjoyment around sport and physical activity - less negative  'I can't' statements

•Increased levels of self esteem

•Greater willingness to take risks

•Greater popularity with their peers

•Improved knowledge and interest about the importance of being physically active

•Longer term commitment to being physically active

• Higher degrees of cardiorespiratory fitness

• Stronger muscles and bone tissue

• Higher likelihood to maintain a healthy weight

•Less likelihood to develop long term injuries, such as back pain, knee strains, ankle sprains – for all levels of sporting participation

•Calmer mind-sets: significant in an academic environment where concentration is required

• Being more able to contribute to team success, in many ways and at various levels

Within the genre of Health and Wellbeing, there is a lot to be said for being able to move well!

What are Fundamental Movement Skills?

Fundamental movement skills are the underpinning ‘movement’ blocks, or required patterns of movement upon which are built the more complex skills used in recreational and organised games and sports. They are frequently categorised into three different areas:

•The management of the body - or stabilisation skills - such as rolling, climbing, turning, landing etc.

•Movement or locomotion skills - such as running, jumping, hopping, etc.

•Object control or manipulation skills - such as catching, throwing, striking, kicking etc.

Alongside, and very much supporting the development of these skills, are the three key areas associated with the Fundamentals of Movement: Agility, Balance and Coordination.

When should children learn Fundamental Movement Skills?

Most children will naturally develop early movement patterns such as crawling, walking and throwing, but it is not guaranteed that they will end up performing these skills proficiently.  Some children go on to develop the more complex movements such as jumping and throwing, while others, if left to their own devices, will never master these skills and may well  develop an “I can’t” mentality.

There is an ideal time when children should learn these skills.  The body is most receptive to neural development between the age of 0-9, after this there is a gradual tail off in terms of the ability to learn new skills. The period between the age of 9 and 13, when puberty often starts is often known as the ‘skill hungry years’  

The challenge for those helping children learn these skills is to recognise that these skills will develop over time - years, not days, weeks or months, and may well have to be relearned during and after puberty. But the challenge is worth effort!

How should they be taught?

Interestingly, different sports take different approaches to training and development.  One key aspect that must be borne in mind is that children are not mini adults, which is why the FUN of FUNdamental movements is so important. This variety in approach is partly due to differences in the competition structure, the different physical demands of the sport on the body, the ages when the body is more receptive to a particular type of training, and the culture of the sport.

Since the window of opportunity is confined to the early years of a child’s life, the way these skills are developed is of paramount importance: there is very little chance for a second opportunity.  Purposeful play and engaging practise, within an environment that is enjoyable, fun, and relevant is more likely to lead to children learning these skills so that they become embedded and recalled as second nature. The overall approach needs to differentiate between girls and boys and recognise the different growth rates, ages and areas of sporting interest.

Recent research has underpinned the importance of appropriate strength and conditioning development for children, which is more reliant on recognising where each child is in relation to their development, as opposed to putting arbitrary times scales on specific types of activity.

Primary and Prep schools have a significant responsibility here to ensure that the necessary time is devoted to allow their children to become as physically numerate as they are from a literacy or numeracy perspective. For the past two years, Wells Cathedral School has been following a programme that specifically focuses on developing Fundamental Movement Skills from year 3 onwards, and the results are already becoming self evident.

Within this context it is fair to ask how do we know if they have been learned.  Which is a good question, but one that needs careful thought. The challenge is to recognise that these skills underpin more complex processes and it is not necessary to assess these skills from a ‘performance point view’.  They are process skills, where young children can demonstrate fluidity, grace, smoothness, range of movement, assurance, awareness and flow: in short they can show that they have mastered the requirements of the movement.  The opposite of these, when children are still learning are awkwardness, stuttering, lack of confidence, uncertainty, where the movements look unpractised, faltering.

Fundamental Movement Skills are driven by process not outcome: e.g the Quality of Movement!

About the events

Standing Long Jump

The standing long jump is used internationally at all levels, across many different sports, as a tool to assess coordination, and power (a combination of speed and strength).  It also includes elements of both static and dynamic balance, and also spatial awareness .

1. Stand with feet a shoulder width apart

2. Ankles, knees and hips bend

3. Eyes focus forward

4. Arms swing behind the body

5. Slight forward lean just before take off

6. Legs extend and drive the body more forwards than up

7. Arms drive forward and up above head

8. Both feet leave ground at the same time

9. Long extended body shape held at an angle to the ground

10. Prior to landing, lower body swings forward from the hips with feet now extending in front of the body

11. Both feet land at same time

12. Ankles, knees and hips bend to absorb impact, body finishes still

High Stepper

As an exercise, the high stepper resembles the tyre run seen in many outdoor sport training activities and is a great test of agility, coordination and speed.

1. Each participant must run from the start line to the second line, through the Hi-Stepper 4 times, placing one foot in each of the squares as they do so.

2. For a quick time, they must place their foot in each of the squares so that the toes are facing forward.

3. Using a collect action, the knees are driven forwards, not out to the side, copying a running style so that the knees stay as close together as they would for a sprint.

4. In the process, participants must ensure they pump their arms forwards and backwards vigorously in time with the legs (using and opposite arms to legs).

5. At the end of each run, one foot must be placed over the line before going back through the Hi Stepper in the opposite direction.

Chest Push

Being able to perform a chest push is a test of coordination and power, essential for so many different sports.  Learning this skill helps ensure young children know how to make the most of this training method and to perform the movements safely.

1. Start by holding the ball with both hands and keep the ball close to the chest

2. Both feet must stay on the floor at all times, although one foot may be in front of the other

3. The throw takes place without a run up or by taking steps into the throw

4. Both feet must remain behind the throwing line throughout the throw

5. The measurement is from the throwing line to the point where the part of the ball nearest to the throwing line is judged to have landed

Speed Bounce

Speed bounce is an excellent example of agility, mental focus and to a degree an element of endurance or stamina.

1. Each trial starts with both feet on one side of the wedge.

2. The athlete starts on the whistle, and must complete as many bounces as possible within the time limit given

3. On each bounce, both feet must land and touch one side of the mat at the same time

4. Any bounce landing on the wedge will not be scored, neither will a bounce where the feet are placed astride of the wedge.

5. The bounces stop on the second whistle.

6. High scores are gained by just clearing the wedge on each jump, and landing as close to the wedge as possible.

7. A coordinated twisting of the hips and arms also increases leg speed, leading to higher scores

Balance Beam

Balance is a fundamental aspect of so many sports, both in a static context and as part of holding a shape when moving, often in the air.  Static balance requires strong stable ankles, as well as a strong core/trunk which is so important when moving.

In this activity, each athlete has 4 attempts at balancing for 15 seconds, giving a maximum score of 60 seconds

1. Foot flat the beam, keeping the standing support leg still

2. Non-support leg held bent at 900, not touching support leg

3. Eyes focus on looking forward,

4. Head and trunk stable and upright,

5. Non holding arm held as still as possible

6. Hold the position for a maximum of 15 seconds

7. Swap legs and then repeat for a maximum score of 60