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Relationship Between Fundamental Motor Skill Competence, Perceived Physical Competence and Free-Play Physical Activity in Children

Emi Tsuda, Jacqueline D. Goodway, Ruri Famelia, and Ali Brian

rqes cover december 2019

Engaging in physical activity is often associated with positive health outcomes, such as less chronic disease, healthy weight, or reduce the risk of cancers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2018a; World Health Organization [WHO], 2018). Physical activity is also related to positive cognitive outcomes in young children including increases in executive function and academic performance (CDC, 2010; Khan, Raine, Donovan, & Hillman, 2014). Early childhood is an important window for developing healthy physical activity behaviors because physical activity tracks from childhood into adulthood (CDC, 2018b).

To reap health-enhancing benefits of physical activity, the National Association for Sport and Physical Activity and Physical Education (NASPE, 2009) recommends that preschool children should engage in at least 60 min of structured physical activity and up to several hours of unstructured physical activity each day. However, studies report that many children do not meet the recommended amount of physical activity (Frank, Flynn, Farnell, & Barkley, 2018; Pate et al., 2002). Even in early childhood centers and preschools, children often spend a large amount of time in sedentary behaviors (Bower et al., 2008; Dowda, Pate, Trost, Almeida, & Sirard, 2004; Staiano, Webster, Allen, Jarrell, & Martin, 2018). Of particular concerns are girls who are less active and more sedentary than boys (Frank et al., 2018).

The conceptual model proposed by Stodden et al. (2008) suggests that there is a relationship between fundamental motor skill competence (FMSC), which consists of locomotor and object control competence, and physical activity with perceived physical competence mediating this relationship (Robinson et al., 2015; Stodden et al., 2008). Children with higher FMSC and higher perceptions of competence will be more physically active (Fisher et al., 2005; Foweather et al., 2015; Williams et al., 2008). Fisher et al. (2005) reported that FMSC was weakly but significantly correlated with the whole-day physical activity (r = .10, p = .039) and moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA; r = .18, p < .001). Further, they found that time spent in MVPA was significantly higher in the children who had higher FMSC than the children who had lower FMSC. Similarly, Williams et al. (2008) reported a significant positive correlation between FMSC and whole-day MVPA (r = .20). Between locomotor and object control competencies, both subsets of skills were significantly correlated with MVPA. Over time, children’s perceived physical competence will have a greater influence on the associations between physical activity and FMSC (Crane, Naylor, Cook, & Temple, 2015).

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