Physical literacy: a concept analysis

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9 Citations (Scopus)


This paper presents an evolutionary concept analysis of Physical Literacy (PL) in order to shed some clarity within the uncertainty surrounding this highly adopted yet widely adapted concept. Inevitably, concepts like PL become re-interpreted as they gain popularity and get redeployed to serve an increasingly diverse range of purposes in varied contexts. The inevitability of an ‘evolution’ of concepts has not bypassed PL. With implications for research and theory formation, this paper takes stock of the concept of PL and presents findings that form a conceptual understanding of the concept as it has appeared within the scholarly literature over time. 103 papers from the peer-reviewed literature between 1993 and 2019 were analysed according to Rodgers’ (2000. Concept analysis: An evolutionary view. In B. L. Rodgers & K. A. Knafl (Eds.), Concept development in nursing: Foundations, techniques, and applications (pp. 77–102). Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders) six-step method of concept analysis. Thematic coding involved extracting and analysing the surrogate terms and related concepts for, and the attributes, antecedents, consequences, and references of PL. Findings map the evolution of the concept, its subsequent splintering into a range of variable interpretations and an obscurification of foundational ideas. Rather than present a single, universal or ‘correct’ version of PL from a synthesis of the literature, we draw upon Sartori’s (1970. Concept misformation in comparative politics. The American Political Science Review, 64(4), 1033–1053) ‘ladder of abstraction’ to present a pluralistic approach to the concept for researchers and practitioners to adopt. Using this approach, PL can be defined against its level of abstraction (low, medium or high) and by moving between thicker and thinner interpretations of the concept, some clarity about ‘what version’ of PL is being used can be obtained. This research should enable PL to be used in future theory development and empirical research with greater confidence and clarity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)946-959
Number of pages14
JournalSport, Education and Society
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • concept analysis
  • definitions
  • interpretations
  • physical education
  • Physical literacy

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