Early childhood motor development: measuring, understanding and promoting motor competence

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Motor development is considered a crucial factor in children’s overall growth, and is related to other aspects of health such as social and cognitive development. The ability to perform a variety of motor skills in a proficient manner, also described as motor competence, underpins engagement in physical activity. Moreover, gaining competency in fundamental motor skills (FMS; e.g., hopping, kicking and throwing) during early childhood is important to be successful in sports, games and other types of physical activity. The aim of this thesis was to gain more insights into motor development and motor competence in young children. One of the challenges researchers and practitioners face when assessing motor competence, is the adoption of reliable and valid measures with known relationships to other assessments. The first two studies in this thesis investigated the measurement of motor competence. The first study (Chapter 2) compared the Body Coordination Test (KTK) and the Motor Proficiency Test for 4- to 6-year-old Children (MOT 4-6), two frequently used assessments in Europe. The results provide evidence of convergent validity between both tests but the moderate to low levels of classification agreement do suggest the need to use more than one assessment when detecting motor difficulties or identifying talented children. The second study (Chapter 3) investigated the construct of motor competence in three- to six-year-old children using the large set of items in the MOT 4-6 to test the general motor ability hypothesis. This hypothesis states that various skills are related and underpinned by a general motor competence. The findings reveal a one-dimensional and homogenous structure for motor competence, supporting the general motor ability hypothesis in early childhood. In addition, it supports the use of composite scores in practice. The following two studies examined the cultural context of motor competence. The third study (Chapter 4) compared the motor competence of Australian and Belgian children using the KTK. The results indicate that Belgian children demonstrated higher scores than the Australian children. Nearly twice as much Australian children were categorized as scoring below average. The motor performance of both groups was nonetheless lower than the German reference population. In the fourth study (Chapter 5), we investigated the FMS of three- to eight-year-old Belgian children using the Test of Gross Motor Development, Second Edition (TGMD-2), and compared the scores with the United States reference group. The findings show that FMS performance increased with age from three to six years for locomotor skills (running, galloping, hopping, leaping, jumping and sliding) and from three to seven years for object control skills (striking, dribbling, catching, kicking, throwing and rolling). Furthermore, Belgian boys scored higher on object control skills than Belgian girls. In addition, Belgian children generally demonstrated lower motor competence levels than children from the United States, especially for object control skills. These findings indicate that researchers and practitioners need to be cautious when using reference norms from culturally distinct populations. The last study (Chapter 6) evaluated the effectiveness of the Multimove for Kids intervention, a FMS program for young children aged three to eight years. The results show that the intervention had a positive effect on children’s motor competence. Additionally, sex differences were found, i.e. boys made more gain in object control skills while girls made more gain in locomotor skills. The study highlights the value of sustainable interventions that involve collaborations with existing organizations (sports clubs, sports councils, schools and day care centers) and local instructors. In conclusion, the research in this thesis provides evidence of a one-dimensional structure in motor competence and convergent validity between existing assessments in early childhood. We also found cultural differences in motor competence but future research is needed to determine the role of factors such as physical activity and physical fitness. Finally, the present research underscores the value of diversified movement initiatives organized and implemented in existing child settings.
Original languageEnglish
  • Lenoir, Matthieu, Supervisor, External person
  • Seghers, Jan, Supervisor, External person
Award date28 Aug 2016
Place of PublicationGhent, Belgium
Print ISBNs9789461974259
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2016


  • childhood motor development
  • motor competence
  • motor proficiency testing


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