Closed Motor Skills vs. Open Motor Skills

Updated on March 30, 2018
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Qualified Fitness instructor and Football Coach and very big on Nutrition. Studying Football Science at University in Liverpool.

This article will take a close look at the differences between open and closed motor skills, while also providing photographic examples of what each of these skills looks like. We all use these skills in one way or another throughout our lives. The better we know our bodies, the better we'll be at succeeding in numerous aspects of our lives.

This article addresses four questions regarding motor skills:

  1. What is an open motor skill?
  2. What is a closed motor skill?
  3. What sports use open and closed motor skills?
  4. What do these two skills look like/how can I tell the difference?

1. What Is an Open Motor Skill?

Definition: An open motor skill is a skill which is performed in an unstable environment, where the start point is determined by the environment.

  • Explanation: In other words, the performer of the skill is not the one who chooses when the skill and movement actions need to be performed and executed. This is decided by other people or the environment. In team-based sports, this is most commonly determined by the movements and actions of both the members of your team and the members of the opposition team, with some influence from environmental factors. In individual sports, it is more likely to be determined by such environmental factors as wind speed and terrain.

2. What Is a Closed Motor Skill?

Definition: A closed motor skill is a skill which is performed in a stationary environment, where the performer chooses when to start the skill.

  • Explanation: This is typically a skill which is performed individually in a non-team based situation. The performer is able to dictate when they choose to perform the skill and execute the actions required to produce the movement and they aren't required to take environmental factors into account when performing the skill.

    Closed motor skills are typically easier to perform as they involve less variability and complexity of factors to be accounted for. It may be a good strategy to reduce a Sporting situations complexity, in order to make it a Closed motor skill, allow the performer to become accustomed to the skill and movement in a Closed environment first and then progressing the skill by introducing environmental factors and things which the performer must respond via their feedback senses and then alter their movement patterns to fit the new situation/variation applied by the environment.

3. Baseball Uses Both Skills

Baseball is a good example of both open and closed motors skills. There are many things to consider when playing a sport as complex as baseball. The intricacies of the sport are what make it such a great example for explaining these skills.

How Does Baseball Use Closed Motor Skills?

  • Swinging a bat requires you to learn a sequence of small movements.
  • Swinging a bat requires the coordination of several limbs.

The skill of swinging the bat in order to hit the baseball may be extremely basic and easy to a professional or even most people who have ever played Baseball recreationally; however, for a child first encountering this skill and situation, it is not so routine. They must learn the sequence of movements of the individual limbs required. As if this wasn't complicated enough, when they've never done it before, they also have to judge the flight of the ball and learn how to time the swing, so that the bat makes contact with it, is another layer of complexity, take it further and the ability to strike the ball correctly and at the correct time is not necessarily sufficient to succeed within the sport of baseball.

How Does Baseball Use Open Motor Skills?

  • Presence of opposition players influences the way that you approach the execution of the skill.
  • You adjust your swing to ensure that the ball does not go towards the opposition player.

The opposition player who is fielding, then it will be classified as a failure in relation to your goals to hit as many points as possible and the outcome goal of winning the game, likewise if the ball doesn't have the required velocity to prevent it being caught or reach the desired distance to score higher, then it may be short of requirements.

4. Photographic Examples of Motor Skills

Below are four photographs. Each picture illustrates a situation that a baseball player might find him or herself in. These photos display the skills mentioned above. Some use closed motor skills and some use open motor skills. If you're looking to teach anyone else about these skills, just remember that baseball makes for a great example!

Photo #1: Batter Hitting a Ball Off a Tee

Closed motor skill: If we assume that there is no team or oppositional players in the environment at all and that the surface and conditions are stable, then this is a Closed motor skill, as the batter chooses when they swing for the ball and don't have to time the swing in relation to their perceptual feedback of the flight of a ball being pitched from an oppositional player. This is a Closed Motor Skill!

Photo #2: Batter Hitting Balls Pitched by a Machine

Open motor skill: Here, the batter still has no oppositional players, but this does not mean that this is also a closed motor skill, as with the first example. In this instance, the balls are being pitched to the performer by the machine; therefore, the performer must use his perceptual feedback, primarily from his vision, to instruct him of where the ball is while it is in motion, and then he must time the swing correctly in relation to this.

Photo #3: Batter Hitting a Ball Off a Tee in Competition

Open motor skill: Once again we have the performer batting from a stable stand, he is able to choose when he hits the ball as with example 1, however this does NOT mean that this is also a Closed Motor Skill, as you can see that there is still oppositional fielders, which means that he must react and potentially modify the execution of his skill to the actions of the oppositional players, should all the fielders position themselves on the right hand side, then the performer of the skill may choose to shape his body and the bat itself facing towards the left-hand side, to make the ball's trajectory go to the left, where he will have a greater chance of success, in relation to the goal of scoring points and winning the game.

Photo #4: Batter Preparing to Swing at a Pitch During Competition

Open motor skill: All in-game situations are classified as requiring open motor skills. Although you cannot see them in this picture, the batter is up against an entire major league team. Therefore, the batter must make large decisions about how he will need to adjust his swing to avoid having the ball get caught by the opposing team.

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