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Skill, Technique & Ability

The difference between skill, technique, and ability is often asked. What is a skill?

Skill is an athlete's ability to choose and perform the proper techniques at the right time, successfully, regularly, and with minimal effort. Athletes use their skill to achieve athletic objectives, e.g. sprinting a 10.0 second 100 metres. Skill is acquired and therefore has to be learned.

Types of skills

  • Cognitive - involves thought processes
  • Perceptual - involves interpretation of information
  • Motor - involves movement

Psychologists have categorised human behaviour into three broad domains:

  • Cognitive skill (knowing) - know and understand the vital aspects of the sport
  • Affective behaviour (feeling) - success at the sport depends on mental attitude and developing psychological skills to cope with stress
  • Psychomotor skill (doing) - excellence in sport requires the execution of precise, fluent and effective movement patterns, which need the combination of perceptual and motor skills

What is a Technique?

Techniques are the basic movements of any sport or event, e.g. a block start in a 100 metres race. We combine several techniques into a movement pattern, e.g. triple jump - running and then the hop, step and jump phases.

What is an ability?

Ability is the make-up of an athlete that we inherit from our parents. Abilities underpin and contribute to skills. Abilities can be essentially perceptual, essentially motor or a combination of both. Most abilities to do with action are a combination and are referred to as psychomotor abilities. Now there is no definitive list of psychomotor abilities.

Stallings (1982)[1] identified the following psychomotor abilities: Muscular power and endurance, flexibility, balance, coordination and differential relaxation (selective adjustment of muscle tension).

Fleishman (1972)[1] identified the following nine psychomotor abilities (referred to as gross motor abilities): Extent flexibility, dynamic flexibility, explosive strength, static strength, dynamic strength, trunk strength, gross body coordination, gross body equilibrium and stamina.

If you are of average height, strong, have good coordination and have an abundance of fast-twitch fibres in your legs, then you have the natural ability to be a sprinter.

The relationship between skill, ability and technique



  1. STALLINGS, L. M. (1982) Motor Learning: From theory to Practice. USA: Mosby
  2. FLEISHMAN, E. A. (1972) The structure and measurement of psychomotor abilities. In: ROBERT, N. The psychomotor domain: Movement behaviors. Philadelphia: Lea and Febiger. p. 78-106

Page Reference

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

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