The roots of the KidsMove program and its methods start with Steve Nash, the retired Canadian basketball legend.

Shouts and laughter fill a large gym in the Vancouver suburbs as some 50 kids in Grades 5 to 7 are put through their paces, from swings of a baseball bat to wobbling while standing on one leg on foam squares. Before and after the swirls of activity, there are talks about the value of sleep and a discussion of passion and purpose in one’s life.

“Stay awesome!” offers 11-year-old Justice Smith, as instructor Akriti Sharma tallies the kids’ ideas of purpose on an easel board.

Welcome to KidsMove, a new program based in Burnaby that seeks to teach “physical literacy” to children ages nine through 12. The core idea behind KidsMove is that gym class is as valuable in life as math or English – taking a fun yet scientific approach to physical education that treats learning how a body moves and works with the same seriousness as schools treat algebra or reading fiction. A driving motivation for the program is the challenging backdrop of health issues affecting Canadian children, everything from inactivity to sugar and obesity. KidsMove is at the starting line right now, but its founders and backers believe it could become a template of physical literacy among kids across North America.

The roots of the program and its methods start with Steve Nash, the retired Canadian basketball legend, and his work with B.C. physiotherapist Rick Celebrini. With the help of Celebrini, Nash, as a young professional player, overcame a wonky back, a condition called spondylolisthesis that causes vertebral slippage. On the court, Nash was one of the best passers and shooters in National Basketball Association history – but it was made possible off-court by careful, grinding physical drills to make sure his back and body held up to the physical pounding of professional basketball.

Early in his career, Nash connected with Celebrini and the two came to work closely together. The key period was when Nash had turned 30. It was 2004, and he was about to join the Phoenix Suns, where his career would really take off. Nash and Celebrini spent the summer working at the University of British Columbia, on the court, in the weight gym, on forested trails and in the ocean. They devised a series of exercises, focused around core strength, that fortified Nash and his back.

A decade later, in 2014, Celebrini started on a plan to bring his elite-level work with Nash to children, the genesis of KidsMove.

Celebrini brought in local colleagues who worked with the National Hockey League’s Vancouver Canucks and Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, as well as Olympic athletes, with specialties in physiology, psychology and strength and conditioning. For one winter, the group developed their program with an Atom hockey team that Celebrini’s sons played on. Nash heard of what Celebrini was up to and got his own foundation – whose main focus is healthy kids – involved.

“Steve embodies the things we’re trying to teach,” said Celebrini, who also works with the Canucks and Whitecaps. “He’s a super-active kid, really, at 43. That’s the way he’ll always live his life.”

The Fortius Sport and Health centre in Burnaby has become the home for the small but growing KidsMove program. Fortius staff help run KidsMove and the facility hosts groups of children in its big gym. The first KidsMove sessions were staged at Fortius in July, 2016, for kids from the region. This fall, KidsMove expanded to host its first school group, a 10-week program for the 50 or so students from Grandview Elementary, a school in East Vancouver where the majority of pupils are Indigenous.

The Globe and Mail, November 17, 2017