Object Control Skills: Characteristics & Critical Elements

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we will review object control skills and manipulative skills. We will identify specific characteristics and crucial elements of the skills, as well.

Object Control and Manipulative Skills

Who has not been amazed by watching a world-class athlete make a spectacular throw or leap into the air to make a seemingly impossible catch? Object control skills are difficult, but they can be learned. Object control skills can be defined as those abilities that an athlete displays that move or receive an item with accuracy and control. Manipulative skills are related and can be defined as the ability to move an object with the feet, hands, or even the body. The two terms are often referred to synonymously. When we think of object control skills, our thoughts mainly turn to throwing and catching, but other movements, such as dribbling, striking, and kicking, apply as well.

Object Control

First Skills

To discuss the topics of object control skills and related manipulative skills, it is imperative that we literally start from the beginning. A baby's first skill is often the grasping of a parent's finger. Up until this point, most of the baby's actions were usually limited to smiles or slight body movements.

As the baby becomes a toddler, he learns to play with toys and building blocks. As the child readies for kindergarten, he learns to brush his teeth, dress, and tie his shoes. At some point, between the ages of two and five, the child may begin to learn sports involving a ball. Often a parent will buy a large plastic ball and roll it to the toddler while he sits up. Then the toddler will roll, or attempt to at least, the ball back to the parent. In some cases, two-year-olds can even hit a golf ball with a club or shoot a basketball or perform other adult sporting activities.

All of these are examples of the development of object control and manipulative skills. Learning object control and manipulative skills can lead to both improved fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are small movements, such as writing with a pencil, while gross motor skills are larger movements, such as jumping rope or kicking a ball.

Two Types of Skills

Object control skills can be generally classified into two broad groups, which are propulsive skills and receptive skills.

Propulsive skills are those that involve sending an object away from the body. Examples include throwing, kicking, or batting a ball.

Receptive skills involve receiving an object. Examples include catching a ball or receiving a shuttlecock from an opponent in the game of badminton.

There is some debate as to which skills, propulsive or receptive, are easier to learn. The perceptual and coordination abilities necessary for each are different. The perceptual requirements for receptive skills may be tougher because the athlete must use eye movements to track the object, while, at the same time, move his body. Many sports scientists believe that receptive skills are more difficult because they require athletes to have to coordinate and move their body in response to the object to receive it, whereas an athlete that throws a ball is in control of the movement.

Skills in Action

Let's take a look at some practical examples of object control skills.


Throwing a baseball seems somewhat similar to throwing a football, but upon closer inspection it is revealed that the mechanics are quite different. The ability to throw can be divided up into:

  • Static - throwing while standing still
  • Dynamic - throwing while on the move

A ball or object is usually thrown with one hand, although there are some exceptions, such as in basketball or soccer. A throw uses mainly the arms and the shoulders, but the lower body can provide power as well.

An object can be thrown for distance or for accuracy or for a combination of the two. A javelin is a spear that is thrown at an optimal angle for distance, whereas accuracy is not as much of a factor. Conversely, a dart is thrown at a board with accuracy being of utmost importance, but only requiring enough speed that the dart remains stuck in the board.

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