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Concept: Classifying skills into general categories helps us to understand the demands those skills place on the performer/learner.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define and distinguish the terms actions, movements, and neuromotor processes, and give examples of each

  • Describe the one common motor skill characteristic for each of three motor skill classification systems, the two categories of skills in each system, and examples of motor skills in each category of each system

  • Describe the two dimensions used to classify skills in the Gentile taxonomy of motor skills and the classification characteristic included within each dimension

  • Discuss ways to use the Gentile taxonomy of motor skills in physical rehabilitation or physical education and sport contexts


We are born to move, but learn to move skillfully. When people run, walk with an artificial limb, throw a baseball, hit a tennis ball, play the piano, dance, or operate a wood lathe, they are engaged in the performance of motor skills. Every motor skill in our repertoire is the product of a long and often arduous process of acquisition. We delight in watching young children acquire the basic skills of sitting, standing, crawling, walking, reaching, and grasping that permit ever-increasing control over the environment. We’re enthralled by the elite athlete and the professional musician and dancer who perform feats of movement control that defy the imagination. We’re equally impressed by the surgeon and bomb disposal technician who can maintain a steady hand and dexterous coordination under the most intense pressure. Sometimes we even marvel at our own ability to find new and better ways to perform activities of daily living, and when we stop to think, we’re often surprised by just how efficiently we’re able to perform tasks that once seemed impossible to master. On the other hand, we lament the loss of coordination and control that follow injury, disease, and disability. Such losses help us to realize just how important skill is to our sense of control over the world around us.

These simple observations highlight how dependent we are on our capacity to learn and perform motor skills. Skill, when viewed broadly as a capacity to control our bodies and the world around us, is a biological necessity. The degree of skill we possess is expressed through our use of movements to deal with the myriad problems we encounter on a daily basis. Without some degree of skill to escape from predators, to find food, to find or build shelter, and to procreate, animals would quickly perish. Humans are unrivaled in their capacity for acquiring skill, as witnessed by the incredible feats of the professional athlete, dancer, and musician, but also the young child who can ride a bicycle or the patient relearning to walk after an accident. We are capable of a degree of resourcefulness and adaptability that far exceeds the capabilities of other animals. These ...

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