The mediating role of neurocognitive functions in the relation between physical competencies and academic achievement of primary school children

Anne G.M. de Bruijn*, Anna Meijer, Marsh Königs, Jaap Oosterlaan, Joanne Smith, Esther Hartman

*Corresponding author for this work

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Previous studies into associations between physical, neurocognitive and academic skills have reported inconsistent results. This study aimed to get more insight into these relations by examining all three domains simultaneously, testing a complete mediational model including measures of physical competencies (cardiovascular fitness and motor skills), neurocognitive skills (attention, information processing, and core executive functions), and academic achievement (reading, mathematics, and spelling). Dutch primary school students (n = 891, 440 boys, mean age 9.17 years) were assessed on the Shuttle Run Test (cardiovascular fitness), items of the Körperkoordinationstest für Kinder and Bruininks-Oseretsky Test-II (fundamental motor skills), computerized neurocognitive tests, and standardized academic achievement tests. A multilevel structural equation model showed that physical competencies were only indirectly related to academic achievement, via specific neurocognitive functions depending on the academic domain involved. Results provide important implications, highlighting the importance of well-developed physical competencies in children.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102390
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Publication statusPublished - May-2023


  • Academic performance
  • Cognition
  • Executive functions
  • Fundamental motor skills
  • Physical fitness
  • Primary school

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