The concept of physical literacy has stimulated increased research attention in recent years—being deployed in physical education, sport participation, and the promotion of physical activity. Independent research groups currently operationalize the construct differently.
The purpose of this systematic review was to conduct a systematic review of the physical literacy construct, as reflected in contemporary research literature.
Five databases were searched using the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (PRISMA) guidelines for systematic reviews. Inclusion criteria were English language, peer reviewed, published by March 2016, and seeking to conceptualize physical literacy. Articles that met these criteria were analyzed in relation to three core areas: properties/attributes, philosophical foundations and theoretical associations with other constructs. A total of 50 published articles met the inclusion criteria and were analyzed qualitatively using inductive thematic analysis.
The thematic analysis addressed the three core areas. Under definitions, core attributes that define physical literacy were identified, as well as areas of conflict between different approaches currently being adopted. One relatively clear philosophical approach was prominent in approximately half of the papers, based on a monist/holistic ontology and phenomenological epistemology. Finally, the analysis identified a number of theoretical associations, including health, physical activity and academic performance.
Current literature contains different representations of the physical literacy construct. The costs and benefits of adopting an exclusive approach versus pluralism are considered. Recommendations for both researchers and practitioners focus on identifying and clearly articulating the definitions, philosophical assumptions and expected outcomes prior to evaluating the effectiveness of this emerging concept.