Stages of movement skill competence

Three stages of skill competence are commonly used in assessing movement skills.

Gallahue & Donnelly (2007) described:

  • A beginner stage of competence in the fundamental movement skills.
  • An intermediate stage of competence in the fundamental movement skills.
  • A mature stage of competence in the fundamental movement skills.

The beginner stage of competence is thought to correspond with a 2-3-year-old child, the intermediate stage is thought to correspond to the level of competence expected in a 3-5-year-old child and the mature stage is thought to correspond with children of 5 to 7 years old (Gallahue & Donnelly, 2007). It should be noted that these age ranges are theoretical and it is assumed that the child is practicing or training the FMS. Interestingly, it has been reported that many adults may only be at the intermediate stage in fundamental skills such as catching, throwing, kicking and striking objects. They have progressed to this stage primarily through maturation but because of insufficient practice, encouragement, and instruction they have failed to achieve the mature stage.

At the initial or beginner level of developing a fundamental skill, the child or young player makes their first observable and purposeful attempts at performing the task. This is a stage characterised by relatively crude, uncoordinated movements. The action of catching a rugby ball, for example, may seem awkward at this stage. The child at the initial stage of skill competence in catching will attempt to catch a large ball in a sweeping or clapping motion. The ball may bounce from the arms / fall through the arms of the child or the child may be relatively successful in clasping the ball with a wide sweep of the arms. Execution of the movement is not rhythmically coordinated.

The intermediate stage appears to depend primarily on maturation and on the extent to which the child has been exposed to the various tasks of locomotion, manipulation, and coordination. In this transitional period between the initial and mature stages, coordination and rhythmical performances improve, and the young child gains greater control over his or her movements. However, movements at this stage still appear somewhat awkward and lacking in fluidity. When catching a rugby ball, the child will now be able to thrust his or her arms forwards and display greater fluidity in reaching for the ball as opposed to moving them in a clapping type action. With practice the child will become more competent at cradling the thrown ball during the catch.

The mature level of development is characterised by a smooth, effortless movement sequence, the integration of all the parts of a pattern of movement into a well-coordinated, mechanically correct, and efficient act. While this is proposed to relate to a child of 5-7 years old, some players may never reach the mature stage of movement skill development. To reach the mature stage it requires deliberate practice of the movement skill. Maturation and growth will improve FMS to a certain extent but efficient and effective movement associated with the mature stage require practice and training to develop the smooth motor pattern within the body.

One very important point to remember during any FMS development programme is that children or young athletes will benefit from making mistakes. Research has shown that making mistakes will help the young player to refine and improve a given skill. This is best done with guidance through cues and key coaching points. Praise should be given when a young athlete has done well but also when they have shown effort. Coaches should aim to giving one helpful cue the athlete can focus on to refine the technique or pattern that requires attention.