The contribution of out-of-school physical and sporting activities to an active lifestyle

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The right to move – a human right. But not just any old moving! “When it comes to developing physical literacy, the only limit is our imagination” … and our expertise, our determination and our energy as professionals.

One of the basic elements of physical literacy is movement; learning how to move is as important as knowing the alphabet or counting. The fundamental movements of physical literacy are the basic motor skills, performed in different physical and social environments (Gallahue, 1982).

Physical literacy opens up a world of opportunities in physical activity, sport and everyday life.

How do we create the right environment for learning the fundamentals of movement, the determinants of motor condition and sports skills?

School is one of the most favourable environments for pursuing physical and sporting activities, for several reasons. We are seeing the emergence of new models of a shared space that, it is hoped, will support the training and success of our pupils, and of physical and sporting activities organised in lunch breaks, after school, sometimes between lessons.

The school environment offers a safe and secure place to practise physical and sporting activities. It permanently adopts an active lifestyle and respects the safety rules set not only by the school but also the sports and recreation environment, integrating the behaviour of the teachers, coaches and other stakeholders. Regarding the protagonists’ behaviour and respect for the stakeholders, the Pro Safe Sport project, funded by the European Union and led by the Council of Europe’s Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS), offers a self-assessment tool for use by all institutions offering physical and sporting activities for young people:

Physical education teachers, coaches and trainers, and sometimes parents, are involved in offering out-of-school physical and sporting activities. Do they compete with one another? It does not seem so. For schools the aim is not to be incorporated into a local sports policy, but rather to invent new forms of collaboration in a formal framework compatible with their own missions and curricula. Some European programmes (Erasmus+ Sport) support such initiatives, offering forms of collaboration between clubs and schools (Active school communities).

Why emphasise regular physical activity? “Everyone” knows the WHO recommendations: when children and adolescents engage in 60 minutes’ physical activity a day, the health benefits are increased. Physical activity is part of health, strengthening muscles and joints and reducing the risks of developing chronic illnesses. It also helps develop self-esteem and self-confidence and reduce stress and anxiety. When one adds to these qualities the beneficial effects that physical activities can have on academic performance, the factors that can influence pupils’ success – cognitive skills and attitudes (concentration, memory, verbal aptitude), academic behaviour (participation, time spent performing a task, tasks undertaken outside school, behaviour in society), academic success (marks, assessments, tests) – it is clear what responsibility the protagonists bear! It is also clear what children and adolescents who do not have access to high-quality sports activities are deprived of.

The various studies that have been made always confirm at least the stability of academic results when classroom teaching hours are reduced to increase the number of physical activity lessons; very often they show improvement.

Despite these obvious truths, many young people do not fulfil the recommendations in terms of physical activity. Why? Physical literacy could be an inspiring concept, from the earliest years of life. These activities may be organised in clubs or offered without any other commitment than enrolling in one or more activities.

The pedagogic climate (pleasure, learning, shared effort), the effectiveness of the intervention (expertise of the physical education teachers, collaboration with coaches, integration with parents and other competent teachers) make it possible to offer appropriate activities, so all children, young pupils and students, can improve, whatever their level and needs. Creating this environment encourages physical and sporting activities. Sometimes the cohesion of the group encourages the participants – the children and adolescents – to spend more time together and therefore not miss training, to enrol for a match, a competition, etc.

Rose-Marie Repond has been a Scientific Advisor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport since 2014. Before that, she was a professor at the same institute, as well as the Sport Sciences Institute of Lausanne University. She has been involved in various European projects about physical education, health and sport.