Half of primary school children in Ireland cannot kick a ball properly, while one-quarter cannot run properly, a new study has found.
Researchers at Dublin City University (DCU) carried out a study of almost 2,100 primary school children living on the island of Ireland, and found major deficits in basic movement skills.
The children, all aged between five and 12, came from 44 schools in both rural and urban areas across all four provinces.
The researchers focused on a range of movements, including running, jumping, catching and kicking - these are categorised as fundamental movement skills (FMS). Current research shows that a child can master these basic skills by the age of eight.
However, according to these findings, many Irish children have not mastered FMS by the age of 10. This is seen as important because at this stage, children can become self-conscious about not having these skills when they are with their peers. This can lead to them disengaging with sport and physical activity, especially in their teen years.
FMS are seen as the building blocks of more complex movements that are required to participate in physical activities. As a result, those with better FMS tend to be more physically active, the benefits of which are well known.
People who are more physically active reduce their risk of a range of conditions, such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
However, this study found major deficits in FMS overall. One in two children could not kick a ball properly, one in four could not run properly and one in five could not throw a ball.
There was a big different between boys and girls in certain skills, with boys tending to be more proficient in ball skills, and girls more proficient in skills requiring control of the body, such as balance and skipping.
The researchers noted that boys tended to play soccer and rugby more, while girls tended to take part in gymnastics and dance more, although both boys and girls had a major involvement in GAA.
According to Dr Stephen Behan of DCU, these results are "the most comprehensive of their kind ever produced in Ireland and highlight the poor levels of basic skills in Irish children".
"If children don't have a solid foundation of basic movement skills, how can we expect them to do more complex skills as part of organised sport? This solid foundation is what allows children to take part in a multitude of physical activities, and to feel confident in trying new things.
"There is a lot of attention on childhood obesity and low participation rates in sport - a focus on the fundamental movement skills in young children could be key in tackling both," he commented.
Meanwhile, according to Dr Johann Issartel of DCU, these findings "highlight core issues that teachers, parents and coaches need to address".
"If the current generation of children can't throw and catch in basic situations, why would they choose to play if they aren't good at it? ‘It is not fun', that's what they say, and if it is not fun they won't play.
"Develop confidence and competence for our children, then they won't stop playing and that's what you want - children at play for as long as possible every day of the year," he said.
Details of these findings are published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.