Motor Control Skills

What are motor control skills (MCS)?

MCS refer to your ability to produce intricate bodily movements with finer control. Examples include: a layup shot in basketball, throwing/catching, a snooker shot and co-ordinating multiple movements.

Importance of motor control skills

Perceptual skills such as: anticipation, memory and pattern recognition play a significant role in elite performance. Your ability to anticipate direction and movement could be the difference between saving a penalty for the world cup trophy and missing an opportunity to save a penalty for the world cup trophy. Searching and recognising patterns is essential for tactical awareness and will provide more helpful information for your own decisions during competition. You can develop your motor control skills by understanding each component.

The diagram demonstrates the significance of perceptual and cognitive ability to perform motor skills necessary for performance.

  • The process begins with a ‘visual search’, using your eyes to analyse your environment.
  • Your perceptual skills are then activated and you try to recognise any potential patterns and advance cues which may help you to predict the next move of the opposition.
  • Your cognitive skills help you to understand your options and make a decision about the movement you are going to carry out.
  • Based on the information obtained through visual search, use of perceptual and cognitive skills you make execute your movement/skill.

Visual search is, simply, the process of using your sight to observe your environment and process visual information. Sport psychology research has shown that more skilled athletes spend less time fixating on locations e.g. defenders, the ball but are able to process more information

Search RateSkilledLess skilled
No. of fixations12.936.77
No. of fixation locations6.933.40
Fixation duration (ms)369780

Eye movement data

The table shows the differences between skilled and less skilled participants of this study.

Read full paper

What is anticipation?

Anticipation is your ability to predict movement and events based on your visual search and awareness of tactical play. Sport psychology research shows that elite performers are skilled in anticipating movement, actions and strategy. Hall of fame Ice Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky summarised the skill of anticipation when he said “a good player plays where the puck is, a great player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Anticipation skills are reliant on your working memory. When a situation arises during performance you are given certain cues. These cues allow access to your working memory to retrieve information that can lead to you anticipating your opponents next move.

For example, a centre forward is running at his defender, 1 v 1 with the ball in his left foot. This situation brings about cues for the defender, triggering his working memory to search information that can help his next move. The defender knows that the forward is right footed and does not have a good scoring record with his left foot. He uses this information to anticipate the forward switching the ball to his right foot and travelling inside as he approaches the 18 yard box. The defender adapts his body position to prevent this and force the forward to continue using his left foot and run toward the wing, unable to cut inside and shoot. This is a classic example of anticipation in sport performance.

Training Anticipation

Advanced Cue Utilisation

Where athletes identify signals that they can use to predict action e.g. hip placement and other body language


Still images of the athletes’ field of vision (usually on their opponent) taken at different time periods to train anticipation


Removing different features of the event or person to train anticipation based on minimal visual data

Temporal Occlusion Example. Taken from
Spatial Occlusion Example. Taken from Hagemann et al (2010)

What is recognition?

Pattern recognition is an aspect of anticipation skill. Your ability to recognise patterns depends on your memory. For example, a specific sporting situation will provide a cue. This cue provokes your memory to access information stored in your brain, relating to this cue. The retrieved information gives you the answer for your next movement. Pattern recognition research in sport has highlighted that more skilled athletes make decisions faster and have greater response accuracy, compared to less skilled athletes (see table; read full paper

References, Resources and Reading

Farrow, D., Abernethy, B., & Jackson, R. C. (2005). Probing expert anticipation with the temporal occlusion paradigm: Experimental investigations of some methodological issues. Motor control9(3), 330-349.

Hagemann, N., Schorer, J., Cañal-Bruland, R., Lotz, S., & Strauss, B. (2010). Visual perception in fencing: Do the eye movements of fencers represent their information pickup?. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics72(8), 2204-2214.

Hanvey, T. (1999). Advanced cue utilization of soccer goalkeepers during penalty kicks (Doctoral dissertation, University of British Columbia).

Stone, J. A., Maynard, I. W., North, J. S., Panchuk, D., & Davids, K. (2017). Temporal and spatial occlusion of advanced visual information constrains movement (re) organization in one-handed catching behaviors. Acta psychologica174, 80-88.