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Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2018 Jan;28(1):212-219. doi: 10.1111/sms.12889. Epub 2017 Apr 26.

The development of the physical fitness construct across childhood.

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University of Münster, Münster, Germany.
Willibald Gebhardt Institute, Essen, Germany.


The measurement of physical fitness (PF) is an important factor from many different perspectives. PF is a determinant of healthy child development as it is related to several health outcomes. However, existing taxonomies of the construct and frequently used fitness assessments vary concerning their theoretical assumptions and practical implications. From a theoretical perspective, the construct of physical fitness covers a variety of motor domains, such as cardiovascular endurance, strength, coordination, or flexibility (eg, Caspersen et al., 1985). However, most fitness assessments provide a single (composite) score including all items as test outcome. This implicitly relates to a one-dimensional structure of physical fitness, which has been shown for other motor performance assessments in early childhood (eg, Utesch et al., 2016). This study investigated this one-dimensional structure for 6- to 9-year-old children within the item response theory framework (Partial Credit Model). Seven fitness subtests covering a variety of motor dimensions (6-minute run, pushups, sit-ups, standing broad jump, 20 m sprint, jumping sideways, and balancing backwards) were conducted to a total of 790 six-year-olds, 1371 seven-year-olds, 1331 eight-year-olds, and 925 nine-year-olds (48.2% females). Each item was transformed into five performance categories controlling for sex and age. This study indicates that a one-dimensional testing of PF is feasible across middle childhood. Furthermore, for 6- and 7-year-olds, all seven items including balancing backwards can be accumulated to one factor. From the age of about 8 and 9 years balancing backwards seems to become too easy. Altogether, analyses show no diversification of PF across childhood.


Rasch measurement; item response theory; motor abilities; motor ability; motor competence; motor performance

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