Sports Skill Classifications

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Every sport has a unique set of skills, each possessing characteristics that change in different situations.

These classifications are based on three factors:

  • How precise a skill is.
  • If the skill has a clear beginning and end.
  • Whether the environment affects the performance of the skill.

Skill continuums

Because some sports have dynamic skills which may overlap, it is difficult to place them within definitive categories. Therefore, these skills are positioned on a series of continuums…

Gross & fine skills continuum
The movement precision of the skill.

Sports SKill 1

Gross skill example – Shot put throw
Fine skill example – Snooker put


Open & closed skills continuum
The effect of the environment on the skill.

Sports Skill 2

Open skill example – In-play hockey
Closed skill example – Basketball free throw


Simple & complex skills continuum
The amount of cognitive ability required to perform the skill.

Sports Skills 3

Simple skill example – Rowing
Complex skill example – Batting


Externally-paced & self-paced skills continuum
The timing of the movement skill.

Sports Skill 4

Externally-paced skill example – In-play football
Self-paced skill example – Javelin throw


Discrete, serial & continuous skills continuum
How well defined the beginning and the end of the skill is.

Sports Skill 5

Discrete skill example – Baseball pitch
Serial skill example – Triple jump
Continuous skill example – Cycling


Individual, coactive & interactive skills continuum
How athletes interact with each other.

Sports Skill 6

Individual skill example – High jump
Coactive skill example – 100m sprint
Interactive skill example – In-play rugby

Practice classifications

There are also classifications relating to different practice methods, with each aiming to produce a specific outcome.

Variable & fixed practice
Variable practice is training a skill using a variety of techniques. This is effective for developing skill and adaptability, and is vital for open & interactive skills.

Fixed practice is drilling a specific movement repeatedly, which allows the motor sequence to be perfected. Ideal for closed, interactive & coactive skills.

Massed & distributed practice
Massed practice is training a skill until it’s been fully learned, with no break. This is good for athletes possessing high levels of fitness, and is suited for fixed practice.

Distributed practice is training interspersed with rest, or another skill. This is more appropriate for athletes with lower fitness levels, and useful for variable practice.

Training programme design

Therefore, when designing training programmes, it’s important to gain a clear understanding of where your athletes’ sports (and their individual roles) are positioned on the skill classification continuums, in order to effectively tailor their sessions toward their specific competitive demands.

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