“Choosing Physical Activity for Life”

Our Aims

The International Physical Literacy Association (IPLA) is constituted as a registered charitable incorporated organisation (CIO) with the Charity Commission UK that aims to:

  • promote the value of physical literacy world-wide
  • continue to develop the concept of physical literacy
  • preserve the integrity of physical literacy
  • provide a forum for exchange of views relating to physical literacy
  • support and disseminate research and scholarly activity in all aspects of physical literacy
  • encourage research activity and the application of research and scholarly activity into policy and practice

Our History

The concept of physical literacy was first proposed in 1993 in a paper presented by Margaret Whitehead at the International Association of Physical Education and Sport for Girls and Women Congress in Melbourne, Australia.

The concept was founded on a doctoral study into the perceptions of our embodied nature by philosophers in the Schools of Existentialism and Phenomenology, principally Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau Ponty. Significant among their views is the centrality of human embodiment in life as we know it. Sartre took pains to highlight the importance of the embodiment-as-lived as distinguished from the embodiment as an object, while Merleau Ponty developed the idea of the ways in which our embodiment informs all perception of the world around us. Both philosophers worked from a monist position refuting dualism.

Reflection on these ideas and other key elements of these philosophies, created a picture of the unquestioned significance of our embodied dimension, an importance overlooked on account of the stranglehold of dualism in much of the developed world.

There was little doubt that our embodied potential was a significant capability alongside other capabilities described by Nussbaum (2000) and Sennett (2009) This capability was described as physical literacy. The authoritative support given to this aspect of our being by respected academics generated the confidence to argue that the fostering of this capability had a strong claim to be part of education, and to be of significance throughout life. As part of education physical literacy does not principally play a role in cognitive development rather it provides the opportunity to foster a key aspect of our personhood. In other words, physical literacy can be justified as having educational. validity in a broad and balanced curriculum.

From this study the concept of physical literacy developed and a definition and attributes were formulated. In addition, the implications of physical literacy being the goal of all structures were drawn up.

From 1993 to the present day papers have been presented at numerous conferences around the world, the book Physical Literacy: throughout the life course (Whitehead, 2010) was written and a number of conferences and workshops have been mounted.

The first conference was in 2008 at the University of Bedfordshire and this was followed up with workshops in Loughborough, Plymouth , Canterbury and Derbyshire. A significant element of each workshop was an extended time to take part in discussion. The concept developed as a result of these discussions. For example, the notion that physical literacy is a disposition came from Canterbury, physical literacy as a journey arose from Plymouth, systems of charting progress were introduced in Derbyshire and implications for practice were highlighted in Loughborough.

The second conference in 2011 was an international event at the University of Bedfordshire Conference Centre and focused on physical literacy in the early and primary years. The third conference, again international, was held in 2013 at Wyboston Lakes Conference Centre in Bedfordshire and looked particularly at physical literacy in the secondary phase of education. At the close of this last conference the notion of forming an international association was discussed and from those discussions the International Physical Literacy Association (IPLA) was established.

Credit for the development and establishment of the concept includes support and study by Elizabeth Murdoch, Liz Taplin, Len Almond, Patricia Maude, Margaret Talbot, Melanie McKee and Dominic Hadyn Davies – to name but a few.


  • Nussbaum, M.C. (2000) Women and Human Development The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge: CUP.
  • Sennett, R. (2009) The Craftsman. Penguin Books, UK.
  • Whitehead, M. (2010) Physical Literacy: Throughout The Lifecourse. Routledge, UK.