The Learning Process
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Individual Differences in Athletes

      Individual genetic differences can influence athletes' capabilities to be successful in sports. An assessment of a gross and fine motor abilities can help coaches understand each athlete's potential. There may be multiple ways to execute a particular motor skill. Technical sports skills are in a constant state of change as our perception of individual constraints are broken. For example - the four minute mile.

      The physical conditioning, form/movement, and outcomes in sports are determined by goals that are continually changing as physical and mental barriers are revised. Researchers, coaches, and trainers are applying a new paradigm for incorporating more empowerment and decision-making responsibilities into learning motor skills with Ecological Task Analysis and Movement (ETS) model. The ETA model offers strategies for replacing authoritarian practices by substituting student choice designed to empower each individual to accept more responsibility in achieving their goal of becoming an elite athlete.

      The debate about nature verses nurture is on going without a decisive conclusion. Many factors contribute to an athlete's performance. Psychology and motor behavioral scientists work to modify individual differences of athletes and convert negatives into stable, enduring qualities that contribute to successful athletic performances.

Abilities verses Skills
      A Motor Skill is the capability of performing a task with maximum certainty, minimum energy, or minimum time. Such proficiency is developed through long hours of practice.  An athlete's general motor skill potential may be inherited along with height, body types, and other physical traits. However, no objective research has been published that supports an individual's parents sports abilities are a predictor of their children's sports performance.

     Many specific motor skill patterns have been identified, grouped, and Categorized to simplify the process of comparing and contrasting ideas/options for learners. A Developmental Task Analysis represents several variables that influence performance of a motor skill, and a way to state the degree of difficulty within each variable. Examples include:
  • Bilateral/Multi-limb coordination,
  • Precision control,
  • Aiming/targeting,
  • Explosive strength,
  • Bursts of speed,
  • Dynamic flexibility,
  • Speed of limb movement,
  • Rhythmic Movement,
  • Control of force/presssure,
  • Peripheral vision.
      It is desirable to analyze a specific sport's skill requirements by identifying the specific gross and fine motor abilities necessary to excel in the sport. A productive use of a coaches time is spent developing a sport skill task analysis. This information can develop a generic outline of a training plan for beginners through elite athletes develop enhanced sport skills, enhanced in problem solving abilities, and ways to mitigate weaknesses while mastering positive attributes.

      All athletes should have an Individual Education Program (IEP) plan that outlines academic goals and the method to obtain these goals. Athletes should also have an Individual Education Program (IEP) plan that outlines their sports goals.  A comparison of these two assessments allows for potential conflicts to be identified and provides an opportunity to resolve the problems at an early stage of childhood development.

The influence of Coaching on Sport Performance
      It is very important to have an objective observer who controls/manages a training program. Coaches and trainers can be supportive, but they lose their objectiveness if they become involved in the personal lives of their athletes. Athletes should be referred to professional resources for physiological and addiction problems. Under most circumstances this role should not be filled by a coach or trainer unless they have the necessary credentials. Unfortunately some parents attempt to fill this role which almost always leads to considerable physical and emotional stress and conflict for the athlete. A qualified and licensed professional should be consulted because they have the training and are an objective third party who can better resolve emotionally charges issues.

      A coach with professional credentials should be qualified to perform the following tasks:
  • Conduct tests of motor abilities inherent in specific sport skills and include them in team or partner try outs.
  • An initial practice session should never be used to prediction an individual's potential future in figure skating. Some skaters who do poorly on their first session may have traits that are not apparent until after they become familiar with the other skaters and the tempo of the session.

  • A short term training program may, because of the constraint of a limited time schedule, concentrate on enhancing a athlete's stronger abilities while compensate for weaker ones. This is not an effective long term strategy.
  • Grouping motor skill abilities should be an important criteria when designing sport training plan.  An effective plan matches conditioning and strengthening activities with the skill demands of the skating discipline.
  • An athlete with general motor skill abilities and a positive work ethic may quickly acquire basic skating skills.
  • An individualize sports training programs should take into considerations differences in motor abilities,  gender, personality attitudes, level of motivation, medical history, previous experience, and other factors that affect physical, mental, and emotional characteristics.
Recommended Reading:

Principles of Training Athletes:

Developing Course Materials:

Motor Skills


Sport Psychology, Motivation and Performance  Activities, such as wrestling and gymnastics, Sport psychology has also examined the effects of sport participation on personality ... Individual sport... And most of the gender differences that are apparent in sport behavior are based on ...

Individual differences, perceived control  Individual differences, perceived control and competitive trait anxiety. Effects of sport context and birth order on state anxiety.

Individual differences, perceived control and competitive   Although the importance of individual differences within Jones' model, ... main effects) between individual differences and different stressors.

The Effect of Individual Differences as Moderator Variables on   The published research in the area of individual differences as ... It has long been accepted that anxiety impairs sport performance.

Exercise and Fatigue Is Neuroendocrinology Important  Due to these effects of caffeine on exercise performance,  It is intriguing to consider, however, that individual differences in exercise endurance. - information and education for coaches   Collins, D. (1999) In the Event: how does anxiety affect performance?

Relationships Between Life Stress And Performance In Sports:   Individual differences in such factors as self-confidence and self-efficacy expectations have also been shown to influence performance in sports.

Individual Differences  Articles concerned with individual differences among athletes.


The following internet links have been gleaned from personal communications
combined with information from public institutions and athletic organizations/
associations that have a web presence with information concerning team and
individual sports programs:

Mental Training for Athletes:

All materials are copy protected. 
The limited use of the materials for education purposes is allowed providing
credit is given for the source of the materials.

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