Skip to Main Content

We have a new app!

Take the Access library with you wherever you go—easy access to books, videos, images, podcasts, personalized features, and more.

Download the Access App here: iOS and Android. Learn more here!


Concept: Distinct performance and performer characteristics change during skill learning.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Describe characteristics of learners as they progress through the stages of learning as proposed by Fitts and Posner, Gentile, and Bernstein

  • Describe several performer- and performance-related changes that occur as a person progresses through the stages of learning a motor skill

  • Discuss several characteristics that distinguish an expert motor skill performer from a nonexpert


Have you ever noticed that people who are skilled at performing an activity often have difficulty teaching that activity to a beginner? This difficulty is due in part to the expert’s failure to understand how the beginner approaches performing the skill each time he or she tries it. In other words, the expert has difficulty behaving or thinking like a beginner. To facilitate successful skill acquisition, the teacher, coach, or therapist must consider the point of view of the student or patient and ensure that instructions, feedback, and practice conditions are in harmony with the person’s needs.

Think for a moment about a skill you are proficient in. Remember how you approached performing that skill when you first tried it as a beginner. For example, suppose you were learning the tennis serve. Undoubtedly you thought about a number of things, such as how you held the racquet, how high you were tossing the ball, whether you were transferring your weight properly at contact, and so on. Now, recall what you thought about after you had considerable practice and had become reasonably proficient at serving. You probably did not continue to think about all the specific elements each time you served.

In the rehabilitation clinic, imagine that you are a physical therapist working with a stroke patient and helping him or her regain locomotion function. Like the tennis pro, you are a skilled performer (here, of locomotion skills); the patient is like a beginner. Although there may be some differences between the sport and the rehab situations because the patient was skilled prior to the stroke, in both cases you must approach skill acquisition from the perspective of the beginner.

Application Problem to Solve Select a motor skill that you perform well for recreational or sports purposes. Think back to when you first learned to perform this skill. Try to remember how successful you were and what you had the most difficulty doing, as well as what you thought about while performing the skill and what was notable about your performance. Then recall how your performance and your approach to performing the skill changed as you became more skillful. What characteristics of your performance changed and how did they change?

Learning how to ski involves distinct stages of learning as one progresses from being a beginner to a highly skilled performer.

Getty Images USA, Inc.

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.