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Skill and Ability. Learning objectives.

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Skill and Ability

Learning objectives

To be able to describe the difference between skill and ability.

To understand the characteristics of skill.

To be able to describe the different types of skill.

To be able to categorise skills based on different criteria.


Ability and Skill

The terms skill and ability are sometimes confused in sport.

Abilities are the building blocks of skill. A group of abilities are usually associated to a specific skill.

e.g. a sprint start in athletics requires a combination of the following abilities:

Power, Coordination and Speed.

Ability definition: an innate characteristic that lays the foundation of skill.



We inherit natural abilities from our parents and while these abilities can be enhanced, you either have it or you do not.

Abilities are enduring.

You born with them and they remain with you.

A performer with natural speed will retain that ability for life and be able to call upon it when required.



Perceptual Ability:

It is the ability to sense and interpret information.

e.g. a netball player may have to assess how far away another player is before deciding the type and strength of pass to execute.



Psychomotor Ability:

Is the ability to processinformation once you have sensed it. It involves the ability to make decisions during a game situation.

e.g. having sensed how far away your team mate is and in turn then deciding on the best type of pass to use.



Gross motor ability:

It is the characteristic required to perform large muscle group movements.

e.g. strength needed to make a rugby tackle using the muscles in the back and shoulder.



Skill differs from ability in that it is not innate, skills are learnt.

They are developed from ability after a period of practice.

To produce a skilled performance, the player must practise so that the required abilities are enhanced.


Characteristics of a skilful performance

  • Skilled performances:
  • Are learned. On the basis of existing abilities, the practising of skills and drills in some form of training will help to produce a skilful movement.
  • Are consistent. A skilled player is able to perform the task to the same high level time after time.
  • Are goal-directed. A player will practise skills with an aim in mind. e.g. Improving shooting skills in order to score more goals.

Characteristics of a skilful performance

  • Are aesthetic. They look good. A top-class dance routine is pleasing to watch.
  • Are controlled. The skilful performer is in charge, controlling the rate and timing of the skill.
  • Are efficient and smooth. The skill is performed without any wasted energy and seem to flow.

A skilful performance

  • A skilful performance has two elements:
  • a cognitive part
  • a motor part

The cognitive part of the skill requires thought before action.

The motor part requires control and efficient movement.


The skill/ability relationship

The abilities we are born with are the foundations upon which skills are developed.

Abilities develop into fundamental or foundation skills.

These include running, throwing, catching, kicking, balancing, jumping and hitting.

They are the basic movements from which more advanced (sport-specific) skills are developed.


Skill Classification

Skills are usually classified on a sliding scale called a continuum. This is a visual guide to indicate where a skill fits into a specific category.


Skill Classification - Environmental Influence

An open skill is one that is affected by the sporting environment. The performer has to make decisions in response to their surroundings. Open skills are usually externally paced.

A closed skill involves less decision making because it has a predictable environment. The performer can take their time to execute the skill and they know exactly what they should be doing.



Can you name other skills and where would they fit on the continuum?


Skill Classification - Continuity

A discrete skill has a short time span and a clear beginning and end.

A continuous skill has no clear beginning or end.



Can you name other skills and where they would fit on the continuum?


Skill Classification - Pacing

A self-paced skill is at the control of the performer. The rate of execution is decided before execution.

Decision making before the execution is called pro-action.

An externally paced skill is controlled by factors out of the control of the performer, who may have to react to external conditions.



Can you name other skills and where they would fit on the continuum?


Skill Classification - Organisation

A low organised skill can be broken down into parts, or subroutines.

A highly organised skill is hard to break down since it is fast in its execution.



Can you name other skills and where they would fit on the continuum?


Skill Classification – Muscular Involvement

A fine skill has small, delicate muscle movements.

A gross skill uses large muscle group movements.



Can you name other skills and where they would fit on the continuum?


Skill Classification – Decision Making

A complex skill involves a high level of decision making and has a large cognitive or thinking element to it.

Simple skills have a limited amount of information to process. The skill has a smaller cognitive element.



Can you name other skills and where they would fit on the continuum?



Exam Style Questions.

1. Define what is meant by the open/closed continuum in skill classification. Classify a skill on this continuum and give two points to justify its placement.

(4 marks)

2. Describe the main characteristics of skilful movement and ability, identifying the differences between the two. (4 marks)