Defining and Classifying Skill in Sport

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When explaining or defining a skill, the explanation or definition must contain the following key words and ideas:

A learned ability - the basketball player has to learn how to perform a lay-up shot.

Pre-determined results - the basketball player sets out to put the ball in the basket.

Maximum certainty - the basketball player expects to put the ball into the basket every time.

Maximum efficiency - the basketball player will appear to make the lay-up look effortless, with little energy required and apparently lots of time to do it.

A suitable quote to put these four ideas into was written by Barbara Knapp in 1963 and states that:

"A skill is the learned ability to bring about pre-determined results with maximum certainty; often with the minimum outlay of time or energy or both."

Skills can be sub-divided into two categories:

Also known as motor skills form the basis of all sports and can in tern be sub-divided into two types:

Simple motor skills that require very little intricate body movement and are similar in most sports. Examples are running, jumping, throwing, catching and hitting.

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Complex motor skills that require intricate body movements with finer control of many body parts. An example of this is the lay-up shot in basketball.

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Most performances in sport require some form of mental activity. The simple motor skills require little mental input, whereas activities such as orienteering require the performer to mentally assess the situation before making a decision about the next move.

Mental input is required to 'read the game' knowing when to smash in badminton as opposed to playing a drop shot.

Working out why errors occurred during a performance before repeating that performance requires a high level of mental input.

Top performers will therefore, have as high a level of mental agility as physical.

The learning of one skill may help in the learning of another skill sometimes in a different activity. This is known as positive transfer.

An example of this is learning a chest pass in netball and learning the chest pass in basketball.

A previously learned skill may hinder the learning and the way in which another skill in a different activity is performed. This is known as negative transfer.

An example of this is the basic racket action of a squash shot as opposed to the basic racket action of a tennis shot.

There are several ways of classifying skills, three of the most regularly used methods are discussed below:

Open and closed skills

The environment, for example, wind and rain or the terrain can affect the performance of a skill. Skills affected by the environment are known as open skills.

They are also found in sports that involve where there is an opposing player or team.

Wherever there is an element of unpredictability then the skills can be classified as open.

In sports where an opponents actions play very little or no part in the performance of a skill and skills where the athlete is in almost total control of their performance, then these skills are known as closed skills.

The physical environment does not affect closed skills either.

Some skills will fall between these extremes and therefore there is what is known as a continuum between open skills and closed skills.

Using your knowledge of sports, drag the following sport into their appropriate position on the continuum:

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The pacing continuum

Like the open and closed continuum, this continuum is based on the amount of control the athlete has based upon when the performance takes place or when the skill in executed.

At either end of the continuum there is external pacing and self-pacing.

External pacing is when external factors determine when the skill or performance is carried out, for example, a shot at goal and when the goalkeeper makes the save.

Self-pacing is when the performer decides when they are going to perform the skill, for example, hitting a golf ball.

Using your knowledge of sports, drag the following sport into their appropriate position on the continuum:

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The serial continuum

This continuum describes skills that range from continuous to discrete.

Continuous skills describe activities such as cycling and walking.

Discrete skills describe those skills that have a distinct start and finish such as a high dive.

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