Developing a motor PERFormance and physical FITness test battery for low resourced communities

Prof Dr. B.C.M Smits-Engelsman.
Cape Town, South Africa, 2018



The absence of standardized motor and fitness assessment for children with motor deficits in low resourced areas, which has well-defined measurement properties, limits the determination of prevalence and early detection of children in this vulnerable group. Therefore we have developed a protocol for standardized motor and fitness assessment battery for children in low resourced areas.

Why measure motor performance and fitness in children?
Physical activity has known benefits in improving cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength and endurance, and other health outcomes for school-age youth. In addition, children who are active and fit tend to achieve better academic performance than inactive peers (Chomitz et al., 2009; Singh, Uijtdewilligen, Twisk, van Mechelen, & Chinapaw, 2012). Despite these benefits, physical activity and fitness levels are low in children and adolescents (Ortega et al., 2011). Early identification of deficits in motor skills and physical fitness is crucial given that it is essential for healthy lifestyles. Hence it is important to measure motor skills and physical fitness at an early age and influence behavior of children at risk while still in school. Prioritizing the promotion of physical fitness alongside motor skills development may reduce of coronary vascular diseases, diabetes, improve balance, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem and confidence, improve participation in sports and recreational activities (Aertssen et al., 2018).

Why develop another motor performance and motor fitness test?

Low resourced communities provide less adequate conditions for child development, are associated with the lack of motor learning experiences, which affects children's motor skills development negatively (Logan et al, 2012). Moreover, opportunities for motor acquisition and appropriate sports-oriented practices are precarious leading to lower fitness levels. It is therefore important to investigate potential factors that are associated with poor motor skills during key time periods where children should be developing these skills and if necessary one can develop targeted physical activity interventions. Currently none of the available tests have norms for developing countries and/or low resourced communities. Importantly, even without the appropriate norms, these tests are very expensive for therapists working in low resourced areas. Therefore the PERF-FIT test battery is being developed to provide a set of valid, reliable, feasible, and cheap field-based motor performance items for the assessment of health-related physical fitness in children in low resourced communities.

Justification of item selection

Based on extensive knowledge available in the literature and years of experience in testing children in many areas, a selection of items was made by the expert group. Items were chosen if they were expected to measure motor performance (whole body coordination, agility, anaerobic capacity) in elementary school children in a valid way with a minimum of materials. We also tried to increase task difficulties per measured outcome to avoid floor and ceiling effects in a wide range of the skills and to be suitable for a large age range (elementary schools). Content

 PERF-FIT has two subscales: the Motor Performance subscale (5 Skill Item Series) and Agility and Power subscale (5 items).

A. Motor Performance Subscale
This subscale assesses 5 different motor skill categories. Each category has several sub-tests, of increasing difficulty.

Skills Item Series (SIS)
A. Bounce and catch (5)
B. Throw and catch (5)
C. Jump (4)
D. Hopping (4 for each leg)
E. Balance (2 static balance and 3 dynamic balance for each leg)

For the Skills Item Series (SIS) tests all children start at the easiest level of the series with two trials available for each task. If they perform the first trial with no mistakes, no second trial is given but they proceed to next level of the task.

If the child is not able to score more than half of the maximum points in either 2 trials for a SIS items then that series is discontinued.

B. Agility and Power Subscale
This subscale  contains 5 anaerobic capacity and strength test items: Running, Stepping, Long Jump, Overhand Throw, Side Jump.

The Agility and Power items are done by children of all age groups, always completing 2 trials. Children get 15 seconds rest between those two trials.

Psychometric properties of the PERF-FIT battery
In the development of this test battery the most important psychometric properties will be examined using the COSMIN guidelines. After the pilot studies for steps 1-2, we started collecting data for reliability, validity and the age norms.

Time schedule for the development of the PERF-FIT
1. Evaluating the content validity including face validity; (First half year Jan –June 2019) (Finished)

2. Evaluating the perceived practical feasibility; (First half year Jan –June 2019) (Finished).

3. Assessment of the reliability, containing the measurement properties internal consistency, reliability, and measurement error; (June 2019 till December 2020)(Finished).

4. Assessment of remaining kinds of the validity, criterion validity, and construct validity (including structural validity, hypotheses testing, and cross-cultural validity); (June 2019 till December 2021).

5. Calculating norms for the subscales and total scale per age group and finishing the manual and sets of material for the test (Jan 2021-December 2021).


Smits-Engelsman BCM, Bonney E, Neto JLC, Jelsma DL. Feasibility and content validity of the PERF-FIT test battery to assess movement skills, agility and power among children in low-resource settings. BMC Public Health. 2020 Jul 20;20(1):1139. doi: 10.1186/s12889-020-09236-w. PMID: 32690079; PMCID: PMC7372755.

Smits-Engelsman B, Cavalcante Neto JL, Draghi TTG, Rohr LA, Jelsma D. Construct validity of the PERF-FIT, a test of motor skill-related fitness for children in low resource areas. Res Dev Disabil. 2020 Jul;102:103663. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2020.103663. Epub 2020 May 11. PMID: 32408212.

Smits-Engelsman BCM, Smit E, Doe-Asinyo RX, Lawerteh SE, Aertssen W, Ferguson G, Jelsma DL. Inter-rater reliability and test-retest reliability of the Performance and Fitness (PERF-FIT) test battery for children: a test for motor skill related fitness. BMC Pediatr. 2021 Mar 11;21(1):119. doi: 10.1186/s12887-021-02589-0. PMID: 33706742; PMCID: PMC7948346.

Verbecque, E., Klingels,K.,  Rameckers, E., Ferguson, G., Smits-Engelsman, BCM.The construct of balance control in primary school-aged children: Unidimensional and task-specific. Human Movement Science,Volume 79, 2021,

PERF-FIT is a project initiated by Bouwien Smits-Engelsman affiliated the University of Cape Town (Department of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences Faculty of Health Sciences) and in collaboration with North-West University (Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation (PhASRec), Faculty of Health Sciences, Potchefstroom Campus, Potchefstroom, South Africa), Bahia State University (UNEB), Brazil and University of Sao Paulo (School of Physical Education and Sport, LACOM, GEADI) Brazil.


Students have given their commitment to help collect data in following countries: South Africa (6), Ghana (2), Sudan (2), Nigeria (2), Tunisia (1) Brazil (2).

Other nations will be invited if they subscribe our goals. If you are interested in assisting in this project please contact me at

Do you want training in administering the PERF-FIT?

Requests for the manual and instruction videos should also be addressed to the author .