What PE can teach us about assessing movement

There is a lot that coaches can learn from physical education: how to teach, creating a fun environment, organize games, progressions, the value of movement variety, thinking beyond reps, and more. Jeremy Frisch put together a must-read article on the topic last year. But there is one area that is often overlooked: understanding and assessing movement.

» Learn more: The July GAIN Master Class will examine physical literacy with Greg Thompson. Sign up now on the GAIN website.

People might think concepts like physical literacy are hard to define or quantify, but watch a top teacher and you see that’s not the case. Good PE teachers are masters of understanding and assessing movement because they have to do it constantly. Take a group of 20 kids and you will see the whole spectrum of movements skills. Some will be able to display very advanced movement, while others can do little more than walk. In order to create the best learning environment, the PE teacher has to understand where each child is at on the movement spectrum.

Example: a rubric for catching skills

Catching seems pretty simple: you can either catch something or you can’t. That’s true, however it can be broken down much further when you look at it closely. As an example of this, PE teacher Greg Thompson has put together some great examples of how he breaks down a number of skills. He breaks down catching in his Catching 101 video below. He uses a 4-level rubric to assess catching:

  • Level 1: touch (able to track and touch but not catch)
  • Level 2: hug catch (uses the body to assist in catching)
  • Level 3: hand catch (starting to catch the ball with hands only, but more rigid arms)
  • Level 4: pillow catch (arms and legs begin to absorb the ball)

Developing skills

Having a rubric serves several purposes. First off, it lets you know the proper starting point. Only after you identify where the child is at can you figure out how to best increase the demands to develop the skills further. The rubric guides your visual assessment, task selection, and cueing. This is the same as in reading: once you determine a child’s reading level you can begin to introduce slightly larger words and more complex books. Give them a copy of War and Peace and the’ll be lost, so you have to know where they are coming from.

» Related content: Greg Thompson has put together multiple videos for members to learn more including: GAIN Video 7: Foundations of movement and rhythm and GAIN Video 13: Teaching movement and rhythm available in the HMMR Classroom.

It also helps you measure progress. You can’t effectively teach anything unless you know how to measure for learning. Using the rubric, you can see how a child is progressing.

Coming back to the catching example, to develop the child’s catching skills you can take the child’s current level and start to introduce some new variables:

  • Height of throwing (more hight requires longer tracking)
  • Distance (longer throws place more demands on depth perception)
  • Speed (faster throws require faster reaction)
  • Size of ball (smaller balls are harder to catch)

Introducing these new elements might lead to a slight regression, but that is necessary for learning. Children might stumble as they learn new words just like they might not catch a high ball. But that is part of the learning process.

Once all the levels are mastered you can go even further: have them catch while they are running or in the presence of a defender. The ultimate goal of any skills is to make it more robust so it can hold up in more situations.

Creating your own rubric

This same approach can be applied to any skill. We could create a rubric for passing a soccer ball, tackling in rugby, hitting a backhand in tennis, or throwing a hammer. If you know your level and know your variables, you already have the toolkit for skill development and are well on your way to creating better athletes.