Developing Specialized Skills for Sports

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we will explore motor skills and the different ways they translate into sports skills. In addition, we explore the different categories of movements that sports skills.


Knowledge is a good thing. Throughout our lives, we gain a great deal of knowledge in numerous subjects, be it in math, science, history, or any range of topics. But just having that knowledge does little for us. Knowledge is best when we know how to apply it--how to use what we have learned to make our lives better and accomplish greater things.

The same can be said for motor skills. Just having them is terrific and incredibly important to our well-being, but they truly show their worth when we apply them in another activity. In this lesson, we'll explore just what motor skills are and how they can be best applied to sports.

Motor Skills

Motor skills refer to the basic physical movements of our bodies and the coordination of multiple limbs and appendages. Motor skills cover a wide range of movements and activities, ranging from the simple to the complex.

Motor skills are generally broken down into two categories: gross skills and fine skills. Gross skills involve the coordination of large or many parts of the body to perform one action. Walking, for example, is a gross motor skill. To walk a person must be able to coordinate several muscle groups to put one foot in front of another, all the while positioning other parts of the body to maintain balance. Other gross motor skills include jumping, sliding, or running.

Fine skills, on the other hand, involve controlling small or local groups of muscles to perform tasks. Though these may require less coordination, these skills often require a greater degree of precision and control. Typing, for example, is a fine motor skill. Just to get to this lesson you had to type in the website URL and type in your login information. That's probably around 50 keystrokes, minimum, all which required your brain to control your fingers with finesse and precision to type each key separately by striking the keyboard at a very specific spot--pretty impressive when you think about it! Most other fine motor skills involve manipulating objects with your fingers (like throwing a curve ball) or toes.

Translating to Sport Skills

Basic motor skills are the building blocks upon which students can develop sports skills; think of motor skills like letters, and sport skills like words! Just as you could not have words without letters, it's impossible for students to develop sports skills without having basic motor skills first. Translating motor skills to sports depends heavily on the sport. For example, being able to manipulate a ball with your hand is not essential for most soccer players. Below, we break down categories of sports activities that utilize motor skills and help develop sports skills.

Closed skills

These skills involve applying a student's motor skills to one specific task that is not dependent on environment. These activities are not performed as part of a team and thus, allow a student to refine his/her motor skills on one specific task. Included in this category is weight training, which builds strength, a key component of sports aptitude. Most sports drills, like practicing free throws, rely on closed skills to help improve a player's performance outside of a game situation. In these skills, motor skills come together and are refined until they perfect one particular skill or task.

Discrete skills

Discrete skills are sports skills which are isolated tasks. They have a beginning, middle, and end and cannot be done repetitively without first resetting the body to the beginning position. Examples of tasks like these are swinging a golf club or hitting a tennis serve. Discrete skills like these tend to require multiple motor skills to come together in one instant or motion to complete the task.

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