Status: Physical literacy is an established initiative in Canada based on a modified long-term athlete development (LTAD) model. Canada’s LTAD plan provides a framework for each Canadian National Sport Organization (NSO) to implement physical literacy through the creation of physical activity programs for individuals across the lifespan. In Canada, physical literacy is considered to be the foundation for both elite sport and a healthy nation. It is Canada’s goal that every child be physically literate by age 12. Each of the NSO’s LTAD sport-specific models provides a plan for the development of high-performance athletes as well as individuals who wish to participate for recreation and for the health benefits. Each NSO provides a designated Sport Canada program officer with updates and copies of LTAD products to allow Sport Canada to assess the NSO’s progress on issues that include advanced physical literacy. An assessment of progress is tied to funding. Canada also recognizes the importance of physical education in schools to enhance and develop physical literacy for Canadian children and youth (physical education is required in most provinces until Grade 9 [age 14]).[4]

Definition: “Physical Literacy is moving with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person.”[5] 

Leadership: Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) and Physical and Health Education (PHE) Canada both promote physical literacy at the grassroots level across various sectors (e.g., education, sport, recreation, public health). PHE Canada has developed resources for physical educators and parents to help them better understand physical literacy and why it is important. CS4L has developed resources that, in addition to reaching educators and parents, also educate coaches and recreation leaders on the concept of physical literacy. Both CS4L and PHE have also taken the lead in connecting physical educators to the LTAD model.[6] 

Funding: Via tax revenues, the Canadian government funds Sport Canada as a branch of the Department of Canadian Heritage (and Ministry of Sport).[7] Sport Canada funds CS4L, which in turn has physical literacy programs and initiatives. CS4L also supports physical-literacy-based initiatives through private funding. Examples of government-funded programs include: 1) the Becoming a CS4L Community project, one of 129 projects funded by the Ontario government, 2) physical literacy initiatives in Fort Providence schools, funded by the Northwest Territories government and Sport Canada, 3) the My Personal Best Program that provides physical literacy assessment, and 4) the delivery of fundamental motor-skill training to 30 Aboriginal leaders through the government of Nova Scotia. Examples of private funding include: 1) funding from the McConnell Family Foundation, which provided support for CS4L implementation in nine communities, 2) funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which supported the creation of a resource called Becoming a Canadian Sport for Life Community 2.0 and funded the distribution of over 2,000 copies, 3) $2 million over three years from the Royal Bank of Canada to support physical literacy programs in more than 90 communities across Canada, and 4) funding from ViaSport and six British Columbia school districts to fund physical literacy mentors in 33 schools. 

Sector and Venue: Physical literacy is taught and developed through physical education, organized sport, and active play. It is provided in schools, sport venues, and community recreation settings and delivered/practiced in a holistic manner (includes affective, cognitive, and physical components).

Sample Program: 

Passport for Life is an important physical literacy program in Canada that supports the awareness, assessment, development, and advancement of physical literacy among students and teachers. The four components of physical literacy that the Passport assesses are Active Participation, Living Skills, Fitness Skills, and Movement Skills.[8] 

Key Resources: 

Canadian Sport for Life: This website is geared toward helping educators, coaches, and recreation leaders better understand physical literacy.[9] 

Physical and Health Education and An Introduction to Physical Literacy: These websites provide resources for educators and parents to help them better understand the concept of physical literacy and why it is important.[10]   

Messaging: Canada has a well-developed online presence with resources for parents and coaches that include workshops, videos, and blogs. It is estimated that 25,000 parents seek information about physical literacy every month on www.activeforlife.ca. Active for Life is a national movement about physical literacy and social enterprise founded by B2ten, a private business group that supports Canadian athletes. Active for Life targets parents who want to raise active and successful kids, and its messaging provides expert advice, inspirational tips, and activity ideas that can help children get the recommended daily amount of physical activity. Canada also employs social media as part of its messaging campaign. Messaging to decision-makers is primarily focused on rising health care costs and the benefits of a healthy nation. 

Inclusion: PHE Canada has FMS: Active Start and FUNdamental Stages for Children with a Physical Disability. Designed for teachers and coaches of youth who have a physical disability (congenital or acquired disability) and who are in the Active Start and FUNdamentals Stages of the long-term athlete development (LTAD) model, the document is intended to assist in teaching motor skills. It includes theory, tips, and activities and lists specific adaptations suitable for children with mobility aids, mobility limitations, visual impairments, and hearing impairments, and for those who are in wheelchairs. All of the skills it teaches address the three major LTAD categories: stability skills, object-manipulation skills, and locomotor skills.[11] Additionally, over 70 delegates from communities across eight provinces launched the Aboriginal LTAD to include Aboriginal children in physical literacy initiatives. 

Assessment: In 2013, PHE Canada launched Passport for Life (an education-based physical literacy assessment) in 500-plus schools and launched the Physical Literacy Assessment for Youth (PLAY). Recent findings from the PLAY Self survey instrument revealed that Ontario students, aged 6 to 13 years, rank physical literacy as a top priority and one that is very important to them both at school and in social settings.[12]  

Sports Teams/NSOs: Each NSO in Canada has a sport-specific model that provides a plan for both the development of high-performance athletes and for individuals who wish to participate for the health benefits associated with sport, active play, and physical activity. CS4L has worked with 29 national sport organizations directly. Additionally, the Ideal NSO resource guide was created to guide the advancement of LTAD nationally.[13]  The Ideal NSO guides NSOs that are seeking funding to advance physical literacy. Further, some NSOs have revolutionized ways to develop athletes through programs like Sail Canada’s CanSail program and Tennis Canada’s Progressive Tennis model.  

Success Stories: 

  • In 2013, new child care accreditation standards were signed into policy for child-care facilities in Alberta. These new standards include guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behavior. 
  • The Edmonton Sport Council created a Physical Literacy and You (PLAY) group. PLAY groups have emerged across Alberta and are supported by the Association for Reformed Political Action.
  • The Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence provides physical literacy programs to approximately 700 children each week.