The Relationship Between Motor Competence and Physical Fitness from Early Childhood to Early Adulthood: A Meta-Analysis

  • Till UteschEmail author
  • Farid Bardid
  • Dirk Büsch
  • Bernd Strauss
Systematic Review



Motor competence and physical fitness are important factors for promoting positive trajectories of health over time. In 2008, Stodden and colleagues developed a model that discussed the role of both factors in physical activity. Furthermore, the authors hypothesized that the relationship between motor competence and physical fitness is reciprocal and changes over time.


The aim of the present meta-analysis was to synthesize the evidence on the relationship between motor competence and components of physical fitness from early childhood to early adulthood and the potential influence of age.


Scientific databases Web of Science and PubMed were used for the literature search. German- as well as English-language studies were included that assessed typically developing children. In accordance with the PRISMA guidelines, 93 studies between 2005 and June 2018 were screened in full. Nineteen studies comprising of 32 samples, 87 single data points from 15,984 participants aged 4.5–20.4 years (Mage = 11.44, SD = 4.77) were included in the analysis.


A random effects model was conducted for the meta-regression with age as moderator variable. The relationship between motor competence and physical fitness was moderate to large (r = 0.43, p < 0.001) after controlling for multiple effects, including dependent samples and small sample sizes in the quantitative synthesis. Additionally, age was a small significant positive moderator of the effect size.

Conclusions and Implications

The findings provide support for a moderate to large positive relationship between motor competence and physical fitness that strengthens with increasing age. However, the results also indicate that there may be an overlap in content between motor competence and physical fitness assessments, which warrants further investigation. More research is also needed to assess similarities and differences in terms of the construct structures.



We would like to thank Jan Beck and David Niehues for their help in the data screening process.

Authors’ contributions

Dr. Till Utesch conceptualized the study, coordinated and supervised data collection, carried out the data analyses, drafted and revised the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Dr. Farid Bardid conceptualized the study, contributed to drafting and revising the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Prof. Dr. Dirk Büsch critically conceptualized the study, critically reviewed the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted. Prof. Dr. Bernd Strauss conceptualized the study, critically reviewed the manuscript, and approved the final manuscript as submitted.

Compliance with ethical standards

Data Availability Statement

The data that support the findings of this study are available on the Open Science Framework (OSF) ( or This includes the final data file and R script used to conduct the meta-analysis, and the BibTex files that cover all records retrieved from the literature search.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


No financial support was received for the conduct of this review or preparation of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sport PsychologyUniversity of MünsterMünsterGermany
  2. 2.School of EducationUniversity of StrathclydeGlasgowScotland, UK
  3. 3.Department of Movement and Sports SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  4. 4.Arbeitsbereich Sport und TrainingCarl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, Institut für SportwissenschaftOldenburgGermany

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