Motor Competence Levels and Developmental Delay in Early Childhood: A Multicenter Cross-Sectional Study Conducted in the USA

  • Ali BrianEmail author
  • Adam Pennell
  • Sally Taunton
  • Angela Starrett
  • Candice Howard-Shaughnessy
  • Jacqueline D. Goodway
  • Danielle Wadsworth
  • Mary Rudisill
  • David Stodden
Original Research Article


Background and Objectives

Developmental delay in motor competence may limit a child’s ability to successfully participate in structured and informal learning/social opportunities that are critical to holistic development. Current motor competence levels in the USA are relatively unknown. The purposes of this study were to explore motor competence levels of US children aged 3–6 years, report percentages of children demonstrating developmental delay, and investigate both within and across childcare site predictors of motor competence, including sex, race, geographic region, socioeconomic status, and body mass index percentile classification. Potential implications from results could lead to a greater awareness of the number of children with developmental delay, the impetus for evidence-based interventions, and the creation of consistent qualification standards for all children so that those who need services are not missed.


Participants included children (N = 580, 296 girls) aged 3–6 years (Mage = 4.97, standard deviation = 0.75) from a multi-state sample. Motor competence was assessed using the Test of Gross Motor Development, Second Edition and the 25th and 5th percentiles were identified as developmental delay-related cutoffs.


For both Test of Gross Motor Development, Second Edition subscales, approximately 47% of the sample qualified as at risk for developmental delay (≤ 25th percentile) while around 30% had developmental delay (≤ 5th percentile). All groups (e.g., sex, race, socioeconomic status) were prone to developmental delay. Raw object control scores differed by sex.


Developmental delay in motor competence is an emerging epidemic that needs to be systematically acknowledged and addressed in the USA. By shifting norms based upon current data, there may be a lower standard of “typical development” that may have profound effects on factors that support long-term health.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


No financial support was received for the conduct of this study or preparation of this article.

Conflict of interest

Ali Brian, Adam Pennell, Sally Taunton, Angela Starrett, Candice Howard-Shaughnessy, Jacqueline D. Goodway, Danielle Wadsworth, Mary Rudisill, and David Stodden have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ali Brian
    • 1
    Email author
  • Adam Pennell
    • 2
  • Sally Taunton
    • 1
  • Angela Starrett
    • 3
  • Candice Howard-Shaughnessy
    • 4
  • Jacqueline D. Goodway
    • 5
  • Danielle Wadsworth
    • 6
  • Mary Rudisill
    • 6
  • David Stodden
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physical EducationUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  2. 2.Natural Science DivisionPepperdine UniversityMalibuUSA
  3. 3.Child Development Research CenterUniversity of South CarolinaColumbiaUSA
  4. 4.Department of Kinesiology and Health PromotionTroy UniversityTroyUSA
  5. 5.Department of Human SciencesThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  6. 6.School of KinesiologyAuburn UniversityAuburnUSA

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