The aim of the current study was to examine the associations between FMS competency and objectively measured MVPA during time periods of the day that represent key physical activity opportunities for children. It was found that object-control skill competency, but not locomotor skill competency was significantly associated with children’s MVPA during lunchtime and recess breaks at school. Children who were more competent at object-control skills and locomotor skills were engaged in more MVPA in the after-school period.
To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the association between children’s FMS competency and MVPA throughout key periods during the school day. Outside of curriculum time, lunchtime and recess periods provide important opportunities for children to be active within the school environment . The current study found that object-control skill competency, but not locomotor skill competency, was significantly associated with MVPA during lunchtime and recess breaks. This finding may be indicative of the games and equipment provided to children during this time period. Games and activities such as soccer and basketball are popular break-time activities which are highly active and require high levels of object-control skill competency . It is possible that the more skilled children dominate these games and the areas available for activity, thus increasing their activity levels and reinforcing the divide between the low skilled and high skilled children.
The school environment and existing policies may also influence children’s activity levels during recess and lunch breaks . Ridgers and colleagues  found that overall facility provision (i.e., sum of facilities available) and the provision of unfixed equipment, such as loose equipment, balls, skipping ropes, contribute to increased levels of physical activity among children during school break times. Providing children with access to a variety of facilities, spaces and equipment may encourage physical activity by increasing feelings of choice and supportive environments that foster physically active behaviors . Interestingly, Ridgers and colleagues  found stronger effects for children who were less active at baseline. However, it is possible that such approaches will support the activity levels of more skilled children and fail to engage the least skilled individuals. Further research is needed to explore the impact of such policies on the activity of all students, regardless of their existing skill levels.
The significant contribution that physical education can make in the promotion of lifelong physical activity through the teaching of skills and positive behaviours has been well established [6, 32]. Fairclough and colleagues  found that the more highly skilled students engaged in more MVPA (approximately 5%) during physical education lessons than the less skilled students. Movement skill competency may affect the degree to which skills are effectively performed, which could impact on the potential level of activity achieved in a physical education activity . Thus, higher skilled children would be expected to be more active than less skilled children. Fairclough and colleagues  illustrated the need for teachers to use quality pedagogical strategies during physical education that provide all students with equal opportunities for successful movement skill acquisition and optimal physical activity engagement that can be then transferred outside of lessons. Moreover, it is noted that physical education should not be seen as a solution to overcome the increases in physical inactivity in children. Rather, it should be viewed as a regular educational environment (i.e., opportunity for children to learn movement skills) that complements other physical activity opportunities within the school environment. Physical education combined with other school-based opportunities, such as lunchtime and recess breaks, can make a valuable contribution to children’s daily physical activity [6, 20, 33].
With increasing time during the after-school period spent indoors using electronic entertainment , it is important to identify the determinants of children’s physical activity during this time. The after-school period is a “window of opportunity” for promoting physical activity and has the potential to make a substantial contribution to children’s daily physical activity . The study findings suggest that children who are more competent in object-control and locomotor skills participate in more MVPA during the after-school period. These results are consistent with existing evidence of cross-sectional studies in primary school aged children. Raudsepp and colleagues  reported the development level of FMS is associated with skill-specific after-school physical activity, with throwing and jumping skills related to higher intensity, skill-specific physical activity. Although these findings were similar to our study, Raudsepp and colleagues  only assessed two FMS (overhand throw and standing long jump) and used an observational tool to assess physical activity.
Although BMI was found to be a significant factor in children’s MVPA, the findings in the current study demonstrate that locomotor skill competency and object-control skill competency was a stronger predictor of children’s MVPA throughout the day than BMI. This adds to existing evidence by Spessato and colleagues  who found that overall movement skill competency was a better predictor of physical activity during physical education lessons than BMI. This provides further evidence for the development of FMS competency as a key strategy in the promotion of children’s MVPA.
Developing an understanding of the role of FMS competency in promoting physical activity is an important health priority. It is important to consider the bidirectional relationship between FMS and physical activity i.e., whether higher FMS competency increases a child’s physical activity or whether greater participation in physical activity improves FMS competency. Due to the cross-sectional design of the current study, the direction of this relationship cannot be inferred. There is limited research investigating the potential causal relationships between FMS competency and physical activity behavior. However, Barnett and colleagues  found a reciprocal relationship between object-control competency and MVPA, and a one-way relationship from MVPA to locomotor skill competency. Although the explicit development of movement skills appears to be an important focus for increasing children’s physical activity levels, it is also important to consider the impact of movement opportunities. It is suggested that if the relationship between skill competency and physical activity is viewed as a “positive feedback loop”, skill development and increasing physical activity should be simultaneously targeted . This has important implications for school and after-school programs policy and practice. Providing quality teaching of FMS during physical education and sport , may be as equally important as ensuring the lunchtime and recess environment is conducive to physically active choices (i.e., providing access to sporting equipment during breaks, and utilizing sports equipment and games that target both locomotor and object-control skill use) in the promotion of children’s physical activity .
Recent reviews of the effectiveness of physical activity interventions [39, 40] have reported modest findings in the promotion of physical activity. This may be in part due to an inadequate understanding of the unique primary factors that influence physical activity for a particular population i.e., low socio-economic position, in a specific context i.e., lunchtime, recess or after-school. In light of these findings, future physical activity interventions are encouraged to focus on improving children’s FMS, providing physical activity opportunities and environments for skill practice and application during school break-times and after-school.
Strengths and limitations
The current study has a number of strengths, including the use of a comprehensive qualitative assessment of movement characteristics of all major FMS, an objective measure of physical activity, adjustment of all analyses for confounders, and a relatively large sample size. However, there are some limitations that should be noted. Accelerometers underestimate certain types of physical activity as they cannot be worn in the water and are insensitive to non-ambulatory activity such as cycling. Accelerometer wear time criteria are typically generated from whole-day data, therefore it is uncertain if the same criteria can be applied to discrete segments of the day . Due to the cross-sectional design of this study a cause-and-effect relationship between FMS and physical activity cannot be inferred.