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Concept: Base decisions about practicing skills as wholes or in parts on the complexity and organization characteristics of the skills.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define the terms complexity and organization as they relate to the relationships among the parts or components of a complex motor skill

  • Describe ways to apply the part-practice methods of fractionization and segmentation to the practice of motor skills

  • Describe several ways to apply simplification methods to the practice of motor skills


An important decision you must make when you teach any motor skill concerns whether it is better to have the learner practice the skill in its entirety or by parts. Consider the following sport skill instruction situation as an example. Suppose you are teaching a beginning tennis class. You are preparing to teach the serve. Most tennis instruction books break down the serve into six or seven parts: the grip, stance, backswing, ball toss, forward swing, ball contact, and follow-through. You must decide whether to have the students practice all of these parts together as a whole or to have them practice each component or group of components separately.

The question of whether to use whole or part practice also confronts professionals in a rehabilitation setting. For example, when a patient needs to learn the task of getting out of bed and getting into a wheelchair, this decision comes into play. Although this task has distinct and identifiable parts, the therapist must determine whether to have the patient practice each part separately or always practice the whole sequence.

There are other situations in which the whole–part practice decision must be made. For example, a person may need to learn to perform a skill that requires the asymmetric use of both hands, which is common for playing many musical instruments, such as the piano, guitar, or drums, or performing many activities of daily living, such as opening or closing the lid of a jar. Other skills involve the use of either hand, or foot, but only one at a time, such as dribbling a basketball and kicking a soccer ball. In these skills, proficiency with either hand or foot is important for highly skilled performance.

In all the skill learning situations, the practitioner will need to decide whether to begin practice sessions with instruction that engages people in practicing the whole skill or parts of the skill. And if the latter option is chosen, a decision must be made about what kind of part practice. In the following discussion, we will consider these issues in a way that should provide a basis for making these decisions.

Application Problem to Solve Think about the various motor skills that you perform daily or for recreational purposes. If you had to teach each of these skills to someone, how would you decide whether ...

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