Movement Performance or Movement Learning?

Recently my line manager came to observe me coaching as part of my performance management review as Director of Sport. The session he decided to choose to watch was an U12 cricket training session after school. The focus of the session was around the principles of play for the fielding side, specifically working on developing the motor skills of stopping, catching and throwing with decision making whilst under pressure. I had adapted a game that Ian Renshaw wrote about in Non-Linear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition called the double play game.

My version of the game (called Double out) is this:

It is a pairs game for 8 players. 2 players bat, 2 players feed the ball and act as a wicket keeper and 4 others field. The ball is fed, under arm, one bounce to the batsman who has to hit it forward of the wicket. The batting pair must run two runs when the ball is hit and for the fielding side to get the batting pair out they must either run both batters out or run one batter out twice (at both ends). Being bowled, caught out or hitting the ball behind the wicket meant the batting pair lost a run and the batters swapped ends, but stayed in batting. On top of this there was a boundary and the batters were not allowed to hit the ball out of the boundary. This again would result in a run being lost and batters swapping ends. The feeding/wicket keeper pair both feed the ball for an over each and then swap with another fielding pair.





Key for the Double Out Game:

B1 and B2 = Batting Pair

FD = Feeder

WK = Wicketkeeper

F1, F2, F3, F4 = Fielders




The game was demonstrated to the players and they were allowed to ask any questions. They were then sent off into their groups to start playing the game as quickly as possible. To begin with I just observed the children playing the game and working what was needed out. I only stepped in if the rules needed clarification. The standard of the fielding techniques and decision making were poor to begin with. After 10 minutes I started to coach. I did this mainly in three ways:

  1. I withdrew an individual to work with them on a specific skill and give them explicit instruction and feedback, with lots of repetition. For example one child was struggling to throw over arm and we worked on that together. In a very short space of time he was able to get 25 repetitions in with me, then I put him back into the game as quickly as possible.
  2. I withdrew an individual from the game to observe with me and ask them to describe what they saw. From that we had a dialogue, through asking open ended questions, on how things might be changed or improved.
  3. I would stop the game when I feel there was a teachable moment ask the fielders a question related to what had happened and how they might change or improve the outcome.

I wanted at one point to stop an entire group and drill them on picking up a rolling ball as they were all struggling with this. I decided against it, but felt at the time (and still on reflection) it might have had merit for the development of individuals within that group. I also intermittently asked groups to stop playing and to pair, discuss and share reasons why the fielders were being successful/unsuccessful in running the batters out. Over the course of the session the standard and success of the fielders improved dramatically. The accuracy of the throwing had improved. The fielders were attacking the ball, communicated clearly with each other, backing up to prevent over throws and making better decision under pressure.

A successful session where learning has occurred, right? My line manager obviously thought so and said so in his debrief. However I challenged that assumption and responded what we have observed was not movement learning, but movement performance. Movement performance is the ability to execute a movement skill. Movement learning is the process of changing the movement performance, through instruction, practice or experience. Movement performance can be an indicator of movement learning, but they aren’t one and the same thing. We often get mixed up between the two, simply because that movement performance is much easier to observe and assess, especially if there observation is a one off.

Movement learning is much harder to see. It doesn’t usually take place in one session. If it happens at all it will usually take place much later on. We can see movement learning when there is retention or transfer. The key questions to ask would be can the children replicate that movement at a later date? Can they replicate or adapt in an different environment or under pressure in a house or school fixture? Can we see them use these types of stops, catches and throws when playing another striking and fielding activity such as softball? If movement learning has taken place then the children should hopefully possess a longer lasting and more durable performance change that can be positively used in a number of different activities and environments.

What we usually observe through our teaching and coaching is an improvement of movement performance. If a week, a month, term or year down the line the child is unable to replicate that movement then learning has not occurred. It is important to be aware of the difference between movement learning and movement performance. It affects our feedback, our practices, our assessment and how we interact with children in physical activity and youth sport. It impacts our entire approach, especially patience. As coaches of youth sport and teachers of PE, one of our key responsibilities (if not the key) is to elicit a long lasting movement learning change in children where we can, not just to improve their movement performance. This in turn builds the child’s competency leading to higher levels of confidence and a better chance of engaging in purposeful physical activity well beyond our classrooms and their time with us at school.

I asked my line manager to return when we played house cricket in the last week of term and judge whether movement learning had occurred then.

6 thoughts on “Movement Performance or Movement Learning?

    1. Hi Ivan. To answer your question – no I haven’t. This is our current assessment framework but it is more based around a dialogical conversation about goals and achieving goals. What we would need would be a proper movement based assessment and I haven’t investigated ones that would be appropriate, manageable and give us the data we require to make sound judgements. Have you come across anything you could recommend?


  1. This reminds me of the situation, often seen in coaching track & field, when a young athlete can perform drills well, but executes the whole movement poorly. Drills have their place, but are they facilitating real learning if they are not leading to the improvement of the whole skill? For example, I have seen athletes who can perform a hurdles trail leg drill immaculately whilst stepping slowly over a hurdle, but their trail leg action is poor when running fast over the hurdle. Similarly, I have seen many athletes perform a triple jump with excellent rhythm and technique off a short 5-step approach; but their rhythm and technique falls apart when subject to the forces created by a full-length run-up. No useful learning has occurred if a youngster performs drills spectacularly but the whole skill poorly. The learning from the drill needs to be lead to the better performance of the whole skill.


    1. Hi Darren. You give a very good example. I think for me performance, of a student or athlete, is the only thing, we as teachers or coaches, can observe. However performance isn’t learning. We can’t see learning, we can only infer it from one point of time to another if something has been retained. When we mix up performance with learning it leads to practices, which you describe, which might be effective for short term increases in performance but not so effective for long term increases in learning. It’s good that we always try to challenge our assumptions on these things.

      Liked by 1 person

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