Sport Skills and Motor Learning

Sport skills are voluntary, coordinated tasks with sport-specific goals. Learning basic movement skills is the first step toward learning sport-specific skills for athletic performance. Understanding these basic movements helps coaches make good training decisions for proficiency as well as for fitness and strength and conditioning.

The field of motor (movement) learning classifies sport skills into different categories so that they can be more easily studied and applied to coaching. Coaches who understand such groupings have an advantage for developing appropriate instructional (how to teach) and training activities (what athletes do). These classifications are also used in the fields of childhood development, special education, and physical therapy.

Classifications of Sport Skills

Desciptions of the Precision of Movement:

Gross movements are those that involve large muscle coordinaton. Running, jumping, and sliding are examples. These movements can be reinforced through fitness training. Transfer of learning among activities with common gross movements is greater due to the similarities between them.

Fine movements involve precise control of small muscles. Tasks such as writing or piano playing are examples. While most tasks fall on the gross motor end of the continuum, finger dexterity for controlling a ball arguably requires some level of fine, specific coordinations.

The Environment or Competitive Situation:

Open tasks are performed when the athlete has to react to activities in the environment. For example, tennis players respond to the movements of an opponent, the speed, and direction of an oncoming ball. Attentional focus, reactions, and decision-making are keys to success for these tasks. Very often, athletes must develop power to improve performance.

Closed tasks do not require athletes to focus on outside forces. The environment is stable, so the athlete can concentrate on executing the movement rather than opponents. In basketball, the free throw is a closed task. Weight training exercises are closed.

Beginning and Ending Points:

Discrete tasks have distinct beginning and ending points. Batting a baseball, throwing a javelin, and kicking a soccer ball are examples.

Serial tasks consist of a string of discrete skills performed in sequence. Floor exercise routines in gymnastics are serial tasks.

Continuous tasks have arbitrary beginning and end points. Swimming and running are examples. In this case, endurance fitness and a high aerobic capacity are usually important.


Topic throughout this website offer tips related to these groupings. Other topics under Motor Learning:

Coaching Feedback

Individual Differences

Mental Practice

Sport Memory

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