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International physical literacy and the Big Apple

Our senior manager for children and young people shares the insight and perspective gained by attending the recent physical literacy conference in New York.

12th May 2023

by Charlie Crane
Senior manager children and young people, Sport England

There's a saying that talks about travel being the only thing you buy that makes you richer, and that’s exactly how my colleague and I felt after visiting New York for work last week.

As part of our work to develop the first ever physical literacy consensus statement for England, we wanted to learn from other countries who were further ahead on their journey to build a movement around physical literacy.

Through our conversations with Sport for Life in Canada, they invited us to join the International Physical Literacy Conference (IPLC) to present on a panel and exhibit a poster showcasing our work on the subject and its link to our long-term strategy - Uniting the Movement.

The experience – unlike the four-hour waiting time on arrival to JFK airport –  was magnificently rewarding.

During the conference we realised our collaborative approach to developing a consensus statement was of real interest to colleagues across the globe.

We also had a true 'lightbulb moment' when a keynote spoke of physical literacy as something "that’s not taught, but fostered through the accumulation of positive movement experiences”. We learnt a lot at the conference and made some valuable international connections.

As part of our work to develop the first-ever physical literacy consensus statement for England we wanted to learn from other countries who were further ahead on their journey to build a movement around physical literacy.

Some of our key take-aways included:

  • Our work on physical literacy can – and will – contribute to the change we committed to in Uniting the Movement, and there are also proven opportunities to embed physical literacy across our organisation.
  • International colleagues said our work feels well thought-out and progressive.
  • Physical literacy is a philosophy that can drive significant change, but it needs people, places and provision to bring about effective change.
  • There are opportunities for us to work together with other home nations to drive a movement in physical literacy, especially as the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have recently launched their own consensus statement.
  • We’ve developed closer working relationships with the Youth Sport Trust and the UK-based International Physical Literacy Association (IPLA) - with both partners being key advocates of the ‘why’ of physical literacy across their spheres of influence.
  • We need a clear and strong differentiation between physical activity and physical literacy as these terms are still used interchangeably but are different.

Sport England Charlie Crane and Georgina Howe stand by the International Physical Literacy Conference banner in New York.

Before we went to NYC we were grappling with where we wanted to take this work and spent time meeting and discussing our thinking with colleagues across the globe.

There’s exciting work happening in Canada, Ireland and Sweden that we want to learn from. There’s also strength in collaboration, as we’re all grappling with the same question: how do we advocate for physical piteracy in our systems?

We're working with a design agency and partners (showing the truly collaborative approach to our work) to stretch our thinking about what could be possible with it.

After our trip we’ve come to realise it will take time to get this right, so we need to get comfortable with this pace of change.

In the coming months we will continue to collaborate with the sector so that the steps following the publication of the consensus statement are designed together with our stakeholders. And we’ll also aim to embed the work across our own organisation.

New York was great and the learnings and connections we took away from the conference have helped to progress our thinking by about six months – a hard-to-beat return on investment for a week’s work!

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