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Classifying Motor Skills

Stages of Motor Performance


Classifying Motor Skills

Magill (1998) identified three classifications into which motor skills could be categorized:

Precision of movement

Distinctiveness of beginning and end points of the movement

Stability of the environment


Precision of movement:

Within this classification there are two skills at each end of the spectrum. At one end we have Gross Motor Skills and the other we have Fine Motor Skills.

  • Gross Motor Skills

    - these skills require the use of large muscles groups


  • Fine Motor Skills

    - these skills require the use of small muscles such as in the fingers and toes


Distinctiveness of beginning and end points of the movement:

At one end of the spectrum in this classification we have Discrete Motor Skills and at the other Continuous Motor Skills.

  • Discrete Motor Skills

    - are skills that have a distinct beginning and end point


  • Continuous Motor Skills

    - are skills that do not have a definite beginning and end point


Stability of the environment:

The two ends of the spectrum in this classification contain Open Motor Skills and Closed Motor Skills. This class relates to the extent to which the task is predictable to the individual as s/he is performing it.

  • Closed Motor Skills

    - are skills performed in a stable environment where an individual can control their response/movement (eg. bowling a ball)


  • Open Motor Skills

    - are skills performed in an unstable environment where an individual loses control and their response/movement can not be predicted (e.g.. defending a pass pattern in football)




Stages of Motor Skill Development

In 1967 Fitts and Posner identified different stages of performance. These stages have no definite boundaries but can be identified as phases through which we pass when we practice a skill to help differentiate one level of performance from another (cited in Schmidt, 1975). Schmidt in 1982 further acknowledged the importance of these phases identifying them as stages of motor skill development (cited in Turner & Helms, 1995).


Cognitive Phase

- this occurs in the early part of learning a new motor skill

- the primary object here is to understand the motor skill/problem and what is required

- cognitive processing is essential here in developing strategies and remembering similar situations from the past

Associative Phase

- this stage is characterized by trial and error learning

- initial cognitive planning decreases and the necessary motor movements are refined

- performance errors are recognized and corrected

- the focus changes from what is required to how to do it

Autonomous Phase

- performance here is characterized by efficient responses and fewer errors

- this phase occurs at an extremely advanced level of performance after a great deal of practice

- responses appear at this stage to become automatic