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Concept: A variety of abilities underlie motor skill learning and performance success.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Define the term ability and distinguish it from the term skill

  • Explain the difference between the general motor ability hypothesis and the specificity of motor abilities hypothesis

  • Name and describe several motor ability categories and explain how researchers have identified the various motor ability categories

  • Describe how motor abilities relate to motor skill performance


Some people perform many different physical activities very well. Why is this the case? Are they born with some special “motor ability” that enables them to be successful at all they do? Have they had an abundance of good training and practice in a wide variety of activities? Are they really good at everything, or only at certain activities?

Also, people differ in how quickly and successfully they learn motor skills. If you observe a physical activity class for beginners, you will see various degrees of success and failure during the first few days. For example, in a beginning golf class, when the students first start to hit the ball, some will spend an inordinate amount of time simply trying to make contact with the ball. But some will be at the other extreme, able to hit the ball rather well. The remainder of the class usually will be distributed somewhere along the continuum of success between these two extremes. We can observe parallel differences in other physical activity situations such as dance classes, driving instruction classes, and physical therapy sessions.

The understanding of the role played by motor abilities in the learning and performance of motor skills can help explain some of the differences we observe in how well people perform skills. The benefit of this understanding for practitioners is that it can provide the basis for carrying out specific aspects of their work, such as interpreting skill performance assessments, developing effective methods to help people overcome performance deficits, acquire new skills, and enhance performance of well-learned skills.

Application Problem to Solve Select a motor skill that you perform for recreational or sports purposes. Other than for reasons related to the quality and amount of instruction or coaching and practice, why do some people perform this skill at a higher level than you and some perform it at a lower level?


In chapters 1 and 2, you were introduced to motor skills and the measurement of motor skill performance. Now, you will be introduced to a type of personal characteristic known as ability, which influences the way people perform and learn motor skills.


One of the difficulties in studying the concept of ability as it relates to motor skill performance is that the term ability...

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