New study shows difference between boys and girls in certain skills

Findings emerged from data gathered as part of project involving DCU and GAA

A new study shows a notable difference between boys and girls in certain skills with boys displaying a greater proficiency in ball skills such as throwing and catching.

Girls scored higher than boys in skills requiring control of the body such as balance and skipping.

The findings are published in the Journal of Sports Sciences and have emerged from data gathered as part of a wider research project involving DCU and the GAA to examine the physical literacy of more than 2,000 children, aged five to 12 in primary schools nationwide.

The findings reflect the type of activities pursued by girls and boys, with the former often taking up gymnastics, dance and the latter taking part in rugby and soccer. Both boys and girls have a huge involvement in Gaelic Games overall.


The “moving well-being well” project is assessing the state of children’s fitness and physical movement and is seeking to develop interventions to improve it.

Researchers say fundamental move skills are a crucial building block in developing more complex movements required to participate in sport and physical activity.


The benefits of increased physical activity are well established, with substantial evidence linking it with reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity and conditions such as diabetes.

A 2018 study found that just 17 per cent of Irish primary children engage in the recommended one hour per day of moderate to vigorous activity.

Dr Johann Issartel of DCU said the 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’s 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.”

Researchers say longitudinal surveys show a decline in physical activity participation rates of children to the point where only one in every five children is active enough to sustain health. In the survey, a total of just over 2,000 primary children took part. The average age was nine years. Participants were recruited from 44 schools across 12 counties.

Previous research has shown that children can master all fundamental movement skills by age eight.

However, this most recent research finding shows that a large proportion of Irish children have not mastered them by 10 years.

Researchers say that at this stage, children can become self-conscious in the company of their peers when participating in physical activities/sports that require these skills, and in turn are likely to disengage, leading to a decrease in physical activity.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent