Children’s perception of abilities affects physical activity participation, study says

A child’s perception of abilities was a greater determining factor than their actual abilites

Children’s perception of their ability to do basic movements such as running, hopping, skipping and jumping plays a key role in their decision to take part in physical activity, a new study suggests.

According to the research from Dublin City University (DCU), the child's perception of their capability was a greater determinant of their likelihood to take part in activity, and had far greater influence than their actual competency in the skills.

The research investigated whether “movement competence”, a combination of movement skills and perceived competence, promotes ability and interest in long term physical activity in children aged between eight and 12 years old.

The researchers, who assessed 860 pupils from more than 30 schools, found that fostering children’s perception of their abilities is crucial to improving a child’s own desire to participate in physical activity.


The study also found that children with a greater inclination to participate in physical activity were more likely to overcome obstacles and to view problems as something to be overcome through increased effort.

Dr Cameron Peers, one of the researchers, advised parents to "provide constructive feedback and encourage kids to keep moving, with the main focus on enjoyment".

“We are learning more about the impact of fostering movement and how it develops children’s belief and physical activity,” Dr Peers said.

“Of course movement ability is necessary, but fostering children’s perception of their movement and belief about participating in physical activity is just as important.”

“Although findings show Irish children’s basic movement skills require attention to be improved, what this research shows is the impact development of the skills and perception of these skills can have on their attitude and physical activity levels.”

Long-term benefits

Dr Sarah Jane Belton from the DCU School of Health and Human Performance, said this period of social isolation can be used to promote physical activity in children.

“ Spending a little bit of time encouraging and teaching our children to move, and indeed moving with them as adults, not only has short-term mental and physical health benefits for us all, but will also have long-term benefits on our children’s physical activity participation,” she said.

“If children develop skills and motivation for movement, they will develop positive attitudes towards movement, and this will foster confidence that they will take into physical activity for the rest of their lives.”

The study, which was led by DCU and the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, in partnership with the GAA and Dublin GAA, was published in a paper in Human Movement Science.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is a reporter for The Irish Times