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The role of tennis in developing physical literacy

Photographer: Ray Giubilo


Physical literacy as defined in SHAPE America’s National Standards & Grade-Level Outcomes for K-12 Physical Education (2014) and Mandigo et al. (2012) is “the ability to move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person” (p. 27). Other definitions have been put forth but embracing physical literacy as a desirable outcome clearly allows us to enhance physical education, physical activity and sport programs throughout the world (Roetert & Jefferies, 2014). Although one of the first uses of the term physical literacy in the United States referred to young army recruits being physically illiterate (National Physical Education Service, 1938), it was revived again as an updated concept fairly recently. More than sixty years later, Great Britain’s Margaret Whitehead shared her landmark paper entitled “The Concept of Physical Literacy” (2001) where she stated that physical literacy must encompass more than physical skills; it must include an ability to read the environment and to respond effectively. We can’t think of a sport more appropriate than tennis to teach these exact skills. Whitehead (2013) later asserted that not all contexts throughout the years were related to physical activity. Since Whitehead’s initial paper, the concept has been discussed, shaped, adopted and implemented with success in number of different countries. Much of this was based on her recommendation to address concerns that:

• Fewer people are continuing with physical activity after leaving school.

• Sedentary leisure pursuits are on the rise.

• Cases of obesity and stress related conditions are increasing.

• In many schools and other physical activity settings there was, and is, a subtle move towards high level performance being the principal focus of the subject.

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