Movement Performance vs. Movement Learning

It is the first lesson of Year 7 Rugby. For many it will be their first experience of rugby. You decide to focus on developing their passing through a whole, part, whole approach. You play a small sided game which requires teams to pass in any direction a number of times to score. The quality and accurate replication of passing is very poor. After time in the game you teach the pupils the basics to passing. You take away the constraints from the game so they can practice in their own time. When pupils look comfortable you put them back into the game. The quality and accuracy of the passing has improved. A successful lesson where learning has occurred, right?

One of the key things we do in PE is try to get our pupils to learn new movements. We watch them try to replicate these movements such as a pass in rugby. If they are successful then I guess many of us would consider learning has taken place. However what we have observed is 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 pupil 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.

Movement learning is much harder to see. It doesn’t usually take place in one lesson. If it happens at all it usually takes place much later on. We can see movement learning when there is retention or transfer. Can our pupils who we have taught the rugby pass to successfully replicate it at a later date? Can they replicate in an different environment or under pressure? Can we see them use this type of pass when playing another activity such as basketball? If movement learning has taken place then our pupils should 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 in our teaching and instruction of our pupils is an improvement of movement performance. If a week, a month or a term down the line our pupil 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 our students. It impacts our entire approach. As Teachers of PE, one of our key responsibilities is to elicit a long lasting movement learning change in our pupils where we can, not just to improve their movement performance. This in turn builds our pupils competency leading to higher levels of confidence and a better chance of engaging in purposeful physical activity beyond our classrooms.


  1. Excellent, thanks! Nice to have some posts to refresh the ‘theory’ behind what we see and do every day. It can be frustrating when we come back next week and the pupils seem to have ‘forgotten’ what we ‘learned’ last week. It helps to understand this difference as it means we can reframe our frustration. There was in fact no ‘learned last week’ just ‘performed last week’. It needs constant practice in blocked, varied and random contexts over time, only then will we see true learning. Another top post from @imsporticus!


  2. Great to read this Sporticus – I agree that the transference of the movement is key. I have found that sometimes that ‘aha’ moment comes with some prompting or discussion about what is going on in the game or activity. I asked my students in our rugby drill (2 v 1) ‘when they pass the ball? What factors were influencing them? The list that we got included drawing in the defender – and when we played Turbo Touch and then Handball in the next weeks, we used our list based on this drill and it was great to see them transferring the skill (or not, and then talking about this too) as part of their learning about Invasion Games. I think the transference and the ability to know how movements are used in a variety of mediums lends to this idea of kids building a repertoire of movements that they are able to learn and pull out when the situation suits. Thanks for reminding us to ensure we aren’t robotically teaching a drill but a movement that has context in a game – there is surely a profound quote to add here, but I am not sure what it is… thanks for sharing.


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