Sports Coach Logo Sports Coach Training Principles Fitness Components


Skill Classification

There is a broad range of sporting activities, each requiring a skill set. Skills have many characteristics that can change in different situations, making classifying them difficult. Accepting that skills cannot be neatly labelled, we place them on a continuum.

Skill classification systems are based on the view that motor skills are affected by three factors:

  • how precise a movement is
  • whether the movement has a definite beginning and end
  • whether the environment affects the performance of the skill

The Gross and Fine Continuum (Davis 2000)[3]

This continuum is concerned with the precision of movement - gross and fine skills.

Gross skills: involve large muscle movements which are not very precise and include many fundamental movement patterns such as walking, running and jumping. The shot putt is an example of a primarily gross skill.

Fine skills: involve intricate, precise movements using small muscle groups and generally involve high hand-eye coordination levels. A snooker shot or playing the piano are examples of fine skills.

The Open and Closed Continuum (Galligan 2000)[2]

This continuum is concerned with the effects of the environment on skills (Knapp 1967)[1]

Open skills: sports such as Netball, Football, and Hockey involve open skills. Skills are predominantly perceptual and externally paced, for example, a pass in football. The environment is continually changing, so movements have to be often adapted.

Closed skills. These skills occur in a stable, predictable environment, and the performer knows what to do and when. Skills are not affected by the environment; movements follow set patterns and have a clear beginning and end. The skills tend to be self-paced, for example, a free throw in Basketball and serving in Squash or Tennis.

Knapp (1967)[1] suggests that skills can fit a continuum between open and closed.

The External and Internal Paced Continuum (Galligan 2000)[2]

This continuum is concerned with movements' timing (often used with the open-closed continuum) - internal and external paced skills.

Internally paced or self-paced skills: the performer controls the rate at which the skill is executed. These skills are usually closed skills. i.e. javelin throw, discus.

Externally paced skills: the environment, which may include opponents, controls the rate of performing the skill. The performer must pay attention to external events to control their movement speed. These skills involve reaction and are usually open skills. i.e. in ball games, the performer must time his actions with the actions of other players and the ball.

The Discrete, Serial and Continuous Continuum (Galligan 2000)[2]

This continuum is concerned with how well defined the beginning and end of the skill are - discrete, serial and continuous skills.

Discrete skills are brief, well-defined actions with a clear beginning and end. They are single, specific skills that make up the actions involved in various sports, such as hitting and throwing. i.e. Hockey. A penalty flick.

Serial Skills are a group of discrete skills to make a new and complex movement. i.e. the sequence of skills for the triple jump.

Continuous skills have no apparent beginning or end. The end of one cycle of movements is the beginning of the next, and the skill is repeated like a cycle. These skills could be stopped at any moment during the performance of the skill. i.e. Swimming, Running, Cycling.

Individual, Coactive and Interactive skills (Davis 2000)[3]

Individual skills are those performed in isolation. e.g. high jump.

Coactive skills are those performed at the same time as others but without confrontation. e.g. swimming.

Interactive skills are those performed where other performers are directly involved. e.g. rugby, netball.

Simple and Complex skills (Galligan 2000)[2]

A simple skill is straightforward and requires little concentration and cognitive ability.

A complex skill involves a large attention span because they are complicated and repeatedly practised to make it easier to perform in competition.

Low and High Organisation

A low organisation skill is easy and uncomplicated, like riding a bike. The phases that make up the skill are usually discrete and might be practised separately to improve your technique.

A high organisation skill has a complex number of phases involved which cannot be broken down and practised separately, as they are linked closely together. They require large amounts of attention.

Self and Externally paced skills (Davis 2000)[3]

Self-paced skills are initiated by the performer, and externally paced skills are those where the timing of the performance of the skill is not controlled by the performer, but by an outside influence.

Variable and Fixed Practice (Galligan 2000)[2]

A major factor influencing the development of a skill is the practice, of which there are two main types:

  • Variable - practising a skill in various contexts and experiencing the full range of situations in which the technique or tactic might be used in competition. The skill is applied to many different environments in practice, allowing the skill to develop and adapt to a range of possible situations. This is vital for open and interactive skills.
  • Fixed - a specific movement is practised repeatedly, often referred to as a drill. This type of practice is ideal for skills that are always performed similarly. Closed, interactive and coactive skills require fixed practice to allow the motor sequence to be perfected.

Massed and Distributed Practice (Galligan 2000)[2]

The organisation of a practice session will depend on those involved and the activity being practiced. Depending on the amount of experience, the skill level and the performer's fitness, the practice may be organised in two ways (Galligan 2000):

  • Massed - the skill is practised until learnt without taking a break. These sessions suit athletes with high fitness and experience and are suited to fixed practice.
  • Distributed - practice is interspersed with breaks that can be rest or another skill. These sessions suit athletes with lower fitness levels and experience and are suited to variable practice.


  1. KNAPP, B. (1967) Skill in Sport: The Attrainment of Proficiency. Routledge & Kegan Paul
  2. GALLIGAN, F. et al. (2000) Acquiring Skill In: GALLIGAN, F. et al., Advanced PE for Edexcel. 1st ed. Bath: Bath Press, p. 102-108
  3. DAVIS, B. et al. (2000) The Nature and classification of skill. In: DAVIS, B. et al. Physical Education and the study of sport. 4th ed. London: Harcourt Publishers, p. 284-285

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) Skill Classification [WWW] Available from: [Accessed