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Introduction to Motor Learning and Control

Chapter 1

How do people acquire motor skills?

Motor learning is the study of the processes people go through as they acquire and refine motor skills. One must also consider the variables that promote or inhibit the acquisition of these skills. What variables might promote or inhibit acquisition?

Once acquired, what is motor control?

Motor control is the neural, physical, and behavioral aspects of human movement

Does the brain integrate all sensory messages? Does arousal influence performance? Why do we sometimes forget how to do something? Why do we know how to do something even when we havent done it in a long time?

How do people move?

Movement is the function of the interaction of three elements:

The learner The task The environment

Foundational knowledge


Do they possess underlying abilities to perform? Is the task developmentally appropriate? Were there previous similar experiences? Are they motivated? Might individual differences influence acquisition of this task?

Foundational Knowledge


Is there a high perceptual component to the task? Is object manipulation required? What body movements are required? Must the task be performed under a variety of conditions or under the same condition each time?

Foundational Knowledge


In what context will the task be performed? Is that context predictable or unpredictable? Is there a time limitation?

When assessing performance and making instructional decisions, you must remember that none of these elements exists in isolation

What is learning?

Learning is a relatively permanent change in a persons ability to execute a motor skill as a result of practice or experience doing the skill

We cant see learning because the internal processes cant be directly observed So how does a facilitator of learning know if the client/athlete/student learned?

Role of performance in learning

While we cant see learning, we can see performance

Performance is the execution of a skill

Through repeated observations of a persons performance, we infer whether a person has learned a skill

Inferences must be based on changes that occur over time

Inferences must be accurate

If a person is anxious, tired, experiencing equipment problems, does impaired performance mean a loss of capability to do the skill? Could a person be ON one day during practice, and then revert back to previous levels of ability the next time out?

Practical Application

Nondominant hand juggling Two tennis balls in nondominant hand Toss upward and when reaches peak, toss second tennis ball; catch first, then toss, catch second then toss Continue this pattern for 10 minutes Record the highest number of successful catches you make


Can you conclude that you learned how to juggle two tennis balls with your non-dominant hand? Why?/ Why not? If up until the 9 minute mark you only caught the ball twice, then you suddenly caught 6, does that mean you learned how to juggle? Why? / Why not? What is learning? What learner, task and environmental factors affected your performance and learning?

Answers to these questions due on Friday

Motor Skill

Goal-oriented Body and limb movements required to accomplish goal Voluntary Must be learned or re-learned

Which are motor skills?

Grasping a bottled water Keyboarding Drawing back after touching a hot iron Sewing a button Playing the drums The startle reflex

Ways to classify motor skills

Identify skill characteristics that are similar Divide into two categories, which represent extreme ends of a continuum One dimensional systems

Size of primary musculature required; precision of movement Nature of movement organization; Specificity of where actions begin or end Predictability/ Stability of the environment

Precision of Movement

Fine motor skill

Involving very precise movements normally accomplished using smaller musculature

Gross motor skill

Places less emphasis on precision and is typically the result of multi-limb movements

Precision of Movement



Nature of Movement Organization


Beginning and end points are clearly defined


Composed of a number of discrete skills whose integrated performance is crucial for goal achievement


Beginning and ending points are arbitrary

Predictability of the Environment



Open/closed classification system

Closed skill

Environmental context is stable & predictable (does not change from trial to trial) Consistency is the objective Technique refinement is emphasized

Open skill

Performer must adapt performance to the ever changing environment Practice should emphasize responding to the changing demands

Classify the following motor skills

CLOSED.TO.OPEN Unpredictable Predictable Semi-Predictable

Walking a tightrope Mowing the lawn Downhill skiing Swimming in a pool Playing a video game Typing Crossing the street

Gentiles Multidimensional Classification System

Environmental demands

Regulatory conditions

Environmental factors that specify the movement characteristics necessary to successfully perform a skill

1. Is the environmental context stable or in motion?

1. Swimming in an empty pool lane vs. playing water polo

2. From trial to trial, do the regulatory conditions remain fixed or do they change?
1. Does a pitched ball come in high and inside, then low and away? Or down the middle with a pitching machine?

Gentiles Multidimensional Classification System

Action requirements
1. Is the performer required to change locations or maintain body position when performing the skill? 2. Does the task require the performer to manipulate an object or opponent or not?

Task Examples for Gentiles Multidimensional System

ACTION REQUIREMENTS Neither body Object transport nor manipulation object only manipulation Body transport only Both body transport and object manipulation Shot put


Stationary and fixed

Doing a sit up

Moving a chess piece Round the clock in darts

Climbing a ladder

Stationary and variable

Writing ABCs with foot for ankle rehabilitation

Following a dance pattern that has been placed on the floor

With a partner, following a dance pattern that has been placed on the floor

Moving and fixed

Floating on a river in an inner tube


Running down a hill

Walking on crutches in a clear hallway

Moving and variable

Riding in a tube pulled by a speedboat

Playing Fooze Ball

Skating on a crowded ice rink

Skiing a downhill slalom course

How to apply this classification system

When you know the level of complexity of a skill, you can design learning experiences that build from simple to more complex Ultimately, you lead to practice conditions that simulate the conditions under which the skill will be performed

Practical Application

Determine a progression of learning experiences from simple to more complex within your area of study.

Because each learner is unique, not all instructional strategies are effective for all learners

Individual Differences

Individual differences are relatively stable and enduring characteristics that make each of us unique Examples:

Body configuration Physiological make-up Learning styles Type and amount of previous movement experience Developmental level Cultural background Psychological make-up


Genetic traits that are prerequisite to the development of skill proficiency Existence of a single, general motor ability?

Can a person be born an all around athlete?

Specificity hypothesis?

Do we develop specific abilities rather than all around abilities? Research does not support a single, general motor ability

Fleishmans Taxonomy

Groups motor abilities into two categories of fundamental abilities:

1. Perceptual motor abilities 2. Physical proficiency abilities
These abilities are stable and genetically determined

Perceptual Motor Abilities

Control precision Multi-limb coordination

Manual dexterity Finger dexterity

Response orientation
Reaction time Speed of limb movement

Arm-hand steadiness
Wrist finger speed Aiming

Rate control

Physical Proficiency Abilities

Static strength Dynamic strength

Dynamic flexibility Gross body coordination

Explosive strength
Trunk strength Extent flexibility

Gross body equilibrium


Thinking about your abilities

List three movement activities for which you feel particularly skilled. What abilities do you think you possess that allow you to perform these skills so well? Are any of these abilities important to the performance of more than one of the tasks listed?

See abilities on pp. 13 & 14

Motor Abilities

People tend to perform motor tasks well according to their motor abilities

Abilities limit the ultimate level of performance proficiency of an individual

For example, body type will influence the ability to become an elite sprinter or a sprinter wanna be However, avoid making final judgement on a person in early stages of practice. As experience and practice increase, performers may become more successful at using their underlying abilities to become more skilled

What should practitioners remember about abilities?

We should expect to see differences in patterns of abilities We should identify patterns before providing instructional assistance

One tennis player may demonstrate more consistent contact with ball while another player may cover the court better

Abilities of player one? Abilities of player two?

What should practitioners remember about abilities?

Create practice opportunities that challenge the person to work on those aspects of performance for which their abilities are not well suited

The challenge will come when the performer must work on their weakness, when they would rather work on things they do well

What should practitioners remember about abilities?

Abilities are not the only contributing factor

Previous experiences Body configuration Personal characteristics

Performance success will most likely result from a combination of factors: abilities, age, experience, practice, motivation, mood

A way to use abilities in motor performance

Task analysis approach to determine which movement components to emphasize during instruction

Task Analysis

The breaking down of a skill into its component parts and corresponding underlying abilities Through task analysis, we can understand skill requirements better

Then we can identify a learners strengths and weaknesses and modify instruction to help them acquire the skill

Task Analysis Example

Practical Application

For a skill of your choice, perform a task analysis to determine the critical elements of the task and the underlying abilities required for proficient performance

How would you use this information to design learning experiences?

Summary on abilities

People differ in their abilities Research supports fundamental abilities

There exists a number of independent fundamental abilities Different combinations of these abilities underly motor performance Some abilities play dominant roles in task performance while others are secondary Some abilities may be important for a number of different tasks

Putting it all together

Practitioners can:

Perform a task analysis to determine the requirements of a task

Then identify the important abilities necessary to meet the requirements

Design learning experiences to capitalize on strengths and practice activities to work on their weaknesses

Look at progression of skills according to the skill classification systems for appropriate difficulty

Practical Application

A frequent challenge is finding ways to assist people who must compensate for deficiencies in their abilities when they are learning or relearning a skill. What factors might be considered to assist each of the following?

A 10 year old who consistently misses a pitched ball A 60 year old with paralysis of the preferred hand caused by stroke who is trying to relearn the task of opening a bottle of wine A 30 year old with a loss of vision in one eye who is trying to learn how to play a musical keyboard

Exit Slip

What is the relationship between learning and performance? Briefly summarize each classification system. What role do motor abilities play in individual performance? What factors should practitioners be aware of when trying to predict someones future performance success?