Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Novice-Expert Differences

From UBC Wiki
Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Novice-expert differences is a significant topic to study; it is important to know the skills, barriers, and circumstances at each level in order to progress the athlete further along their athletic career. Not only are there differences among each athletic stage, but individual differences also occur. Thus it is important to consider the needs of every athlete and facilitate their athletic development in an individualized manner. However, no matter what level they are in, it is critical that children remain actively engaged throughout the day to prevent health illnesses. Although children can be active through various kinds of activities, sport participation is a popular method of getting them fit and moving. Therefore, successfully identifying the needs that are appropriate to each level will help build their athletic development and encourage further sport participation.


Statistics in Sport Participation

Gulbin, Weissensteiner, Oldenziel, & Gagne (2013) illustrate an Athlete Development Triangle (ADT) model which comprises five levels of athlete development from a beginner to expert status. The ADT starts off with leisure and play at the Level 0 Nil Competition, then progresses to competing at clubs and schools at Level 1 Basic Competition, and then to Level 2 Advanced Competition which includes competition at the provincial level, and then to competing at the national rank at Level 3 Pre-elite Competition, and finally reaches the Level 4 Elite Competition, playing at the Olympic and World level (Gulbin et al., 2013). Gulbin et al. (2013) surveyed expert athletes and obtained the results of their developmental patterns. They found that 71% of expert athletes claimed to undergo all five levels of the ADT, as 22% had skipped level 0, and 7% had skipped either level 1, 2, or 3 (Gulbin et al., 2013). The average age of entering into a sport at level 0, which was the most common entrance level, was 9.1years old, and 89.4% of the players had advanced to the next level by the average age of 10.76 years (Gulbin et al., 2013). Seventeen percent of athletes had begun their sport involvement at level 1 at the average age of 10.76, and only 4.3% had directly started their athletic career at level 2, when they were 15.6 years old on average (Gulbin et al., 2013). There seems to be no clear path to the development of an elite athlete, as every player has unique characteristics and circumstances.

Novice vs. Expert Athlete

Araujo, Neves, & Mesquitta (2012) suggest that 10 years of experience in a particular sport is the average gap between a novice and an expert athlete; thus a novice athlete is one who lacks adequate experience and an expert athlete is one who has profound experiences in a particular sport. However, experience is not the only factor that differentiates the two. Beginner athletes are thought to participate in deliberate play, which is an involvement in an unstructured and playful environment, with an emphasis on fun and enjoyment (Cote, 1999). Progression into an elite athlete requires many years of deliberate practice, which involves setting specific and skilled goals, structured practices, participating in non-motivating tasks, building awareness of one’s performance through self-monitoring, and receiving constructive feedback (Ericsson et al., 1993; Cleary & Zimmerman, 2001; Lopez, Del Campo, Hernandez, Gonzales-Villora, & Webb, 2010). Moreover, Lopez et al. (2010) propose that in order to become an expert, athletes must excel in the physiological, technical, cognitive and emotional aspects of their sport. Aglioti, Cesari, Romani, & Urgesi (2008) suggest that an elite athlete should have the skill set to perform a series of complex actions, in which knowledge and decision making is critical at the elite level because expert players are expected to make the right actions and keep their composure in high pressured environments (Aglioti et al., 2008; Araujo et al., 2012). Beginners and experts are typically compared based on age, amount of experience, amount of competitive experience, and ranking (Araujo et al., 2012). However, comparisons such as psychomotor differences and other factors can differentiate between a beginner and expert status.

Psychomotor Differences Between Novice and Expert Athletes

Action Anticipation and Prediction

Cognitive functioning and perceptual processing can separate more advanced players and less advanced players. Aglioti et al. (2008) present a study that compares elite basketball players, elite coaches and journalists, and novice basketball players in their ability to predict the outcome of a free throw shot as either in, out, or unknown. Aglioti et al. (2008) declare that fast predictions translated into readiness and greater anticipation, but are risky, especially in open skilled sports where situations are less foreseeable. On the other hand, slow predictions led to more accurate results, but lacked preparation and anticipation for the opposition’s behaviour (Aglioti et al., 2008). Their findings suggest that elite athletes use body cues of the person observed to determine their action and therefore elite athletes tend to be more rapid in deciding the outcome of the shot compared to novice athletes (Aglioti et al., 2008). Not only did elite players have less uncertainty of the outcome, but better accuracy in perceptual anticipation as well (Aglioti et al., 2008). Good anticipatory skills seem necessary to have at an elite level because competition often appears faster, stronger, more strategic, and versatile than lower levels of sport. Aglioti et al., 2008 found that novice athletes were less certain of the outcome of the free throw shot until after watching the trajectory of the ball, which suggests that beginner athletes lack the ability to read kinematic cues of their opponent’s movements. This agrees with Goulet, Bard, & Fleury’s (1989) study, which analyzed oculomotor motions and eye fixations when returning a serve in tennis, and found that experts directed attentional cues to the movement of the server’s arm or racquet, whereas beginners focussed more on the motion of the tennis ball.

Aglioti et al. (2008) describe mirror neurons as neural mechanisms that fire during self-execution or observation of others doing a particular movement, especially if that movement is familiar to the observer. Through transcranial magnetic stimulation studies, Aglioti et al. (2008) suggest that mirror neurons of elite athletes fire more activity than novice athletes during self-execution or observation. This could be due to the fact that since elite athletes already have a profound motor repertoire for their sport, by observing others, their brain will undergo greater activation than those athletes who have not yet developed these motor skills. This finding relates to Starke’s (2000) study that elite athletes focus more on well-developed skills rather than practicing new skills. Higher level drills that work on repetitive motions can be tiresome, but it requires a lot of attention and complex sensorimotor skills to detect errors and correct them.

Selective Attention and Execution of Complex Sensorimotor Skills

Gray (2004) suggests that novice athletes execute their actions in a more “step-by-step fashion,” which tends to be “slow, non-fluent, and error-prone” (p. 42). In his first experiment, which looked at a batting task in baseball, he analyzed errors with adding an additional secondary task (Gray, 2004). He found that introducing a secondary task will often off-set the motor performance of a novice athlete but not the performance of an expert, as novice learners rely more on visual feedback (Gray, 2004). He also found that high-level competing athletes are able to identify visual cues indirectly related to their specific task, but are important for achieving success in their sport (Gray, 2004). Overall, his findings suggest that attentional cues are considered a major difference in the execution of a sensorimotor skill between novice and expert athletes; elite athletes tend to react faster, more efficiently, and automatic as information is held more readily available in their cognitive processing (Gray, 2004). Quick decision making is necessary to perform at a high level, as it is crucial to develop domain-specific knowledge.

Procedural, Declarative, and Strategic Knowledge

Araujo et al. (2012) illustrate three types of knowledge in the psychomotor domain: declarative, procedural, and strategic knowledge. Declarative knowledge is knowing what to do by recalling factual information stored in the athlete’s memory (Araujo et al., 2012). On the other hand, procedural knowledge touches on how to select, process and execute a motor response that is appropriate for a particular game situation (Araujo et al., 2012). Lastly, strategic knowledge is knowing when to do an action and the reason for doing it (Araujo et al., 2012). All of the previously described types of knowledge are very important because some players have the cognitive ability to make the right decisions, but may lack the physical ability to carry out that movement and vice versa. Araujo et al. (2012) state that elite athletes have higher levels of knowledge in all three domains in comparison to beginner athletes. Furthermore, in their study, Lopez et al. (2010) depict that procedural knowledge is significantly different at the national level; the international and national teams showed similar trends, the provincial and regional teams showed similar patterns to one another, and lastly the recreation team had much lower levels of procedural knowledge. Contradictory to other studies, Lopez et al. (2010) state that all athletes from the same competitive level possess the same procedural knowledge regardless of their position. However, many sports vary, and different tactics depend on specific sports and player positions. Beginner and expert athletes differ in their psychomotor abilities, but there are other factors such as genetics and environmental aspects that distinguish between the two levels.

Determining Factors that Differentiate a Novice and an Elite Athlete

There are many determining factors that differentiate between an athlete in the beginner phase and an athlete in the more advanced phase. Genetics plays a role in differentiating between the two extreme levels; however, it is uncontrollable to a certain degree (Baker, Horton, Robertson-Wilson, & Wall, 2003). What are changeable are the environmental factors that underlie the main comparisons between an expert athlete and a rookie.

Training Factors

Cleary & Zimmerman (2001) claim that expert athletes typically spend 25 to 30 hours of practice devoted to their specific sport. The structure practice plan of an elite hockey level utilizes 77% of practice on active drills (Starkes, 2000). On the other hand, the practice structure of lower levels in hockey comprises 22% on instruction, 30% on active movement, and 48% without much activity (Starkes, 2000). Previous research indicating that elite athletes possess higher procedural knowledge, seem to be the reason why elite players receive less instruction and more active movement. As mentioned earlier, Starkes (2000) suggest that elite athletes are more likely found using practice time to work on well learnt skills instead of developing new skills, as they felt it was crucial to establish certain skills in their motor repertoire. Such practice structures are determined by the coach of the team.

Coaching Factors

Baker et al. (2003) argue that expert coaches were more explicit in their goals and objectives in practice, and spent more time planning practices that kept the players constantly active. In elite practices, coaches emphasize more game-like scenarios in different drills and also focus on the tactical elements of the sport; this is because fundamental skills are expected to be acquired beforehand or worked on independently outside of practice (Baker et al., 2003). Alternatively, beginner and intermediate level practices focus more on developing fundamental skills (Baker et al., 2003). Additionally, coaches at the expert level are much more precise and distinct in their assessment and feedback in comparison to novice coaches who tend to provide a more shallow analysis (Baker et al., 2003). It is important for a coach to understand the age, level, and diversity of their team. Along with the help of coaches, parents also have a role in their child’s athletic development.

Parental Factors

According to Baker et al. (2003) parents should acquire different roles throughout different stages of athletic development. Throughout the sampling years, which are ages 6 to 12, parents typically manifest a leadership role by encouraging sport involvement, providing and introducing various sporting opportunities, and some are directly involved in helping their child learn fundamental skills (Cote, 1999). However, during the specializing years, which are ages 13 to 15, parents tend to adapt to a facilitative role, helping with financial aid and transportation, as well as selecting better coaches, organizations, equipment, and so forth (Cote, 1999). Inversely, throughout the investment years, which are ages of 16 and above, parents incline to have an advisory and supportive role where they provide emotional care to help their child deal with anxiety and the stressful demands of the sporting environment (Cote, 1999). Parents have a big impact on their child’s decisions especially when they’re young, as their cultures also affect them to be involved in certain sports over others.

Cultural Factors

Success in sport is highly impacted by the popularity of that sport in an athlete’s country or social environment (Baker et al., 2003). Hockey is a prime example of a sport embedded in Canadian culture, as it has an effect on athletes to participate in a sport that brings them and their nation pride and joy (Baker et al., 2003).

High level and lower level athletes differentiate from each other in terms of experience, psychomotor factors, genetics, training, coaching atmospheres, parental environments, cultural influences, and other underlying factors. However, problems arise within differentiating between the two extreme levels.

Problems with Differentiating Between Novice and Elite Athletes

A few problems come up when distinguishing novice and expert differences at a young age. The first is that not only are there differences between levels of sport, but there are also differences within an elite stage and within a beginner stage. This leads to the second problem: the relative age effect. The relative age effect portrays the differences of athletic development and sport participation among children born within the same calendar year (Barnsley R., Thompson, & Barnsley P., 1985). The primary differences at a novice sport level are physical maturity, rate of learning, and previous experiences (Barnsley et al., 1985). This causes unfair advantages as those who are born in the early months are typically bigger, stronger, and faster than those born later in the year and are thus chosen to compete at higher levels, have more motivation, and receive more playing time and better instruction (Barnsley et al., 1985; Barnsley & Thompson, 1988). Some children quit because they may feel inadequate in a specific sport and may not realize that children have different developmental rates. This can cause a reduction in physical activity and can impose risks for future health issues. Furthermore, not being chosen may lower a child’s self-esteem and can potentially induce mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety. Therefore, a system where children are categorized according to chronological age can create inequity and fewer opportunities for younger children to be active, which is problematic (Barnsley et al., 1985). Other issues between the differences in athletic levels are economic status and income levels. A lower socioeconomic status and fewer resources can create barriers in the progression towards an elite level (Baker et al., 2003). With all these issues around differentiating between athletic levels, recommendations have been made to coaches and parents.

Recommendations for Coaches and Parents

Baker et al. (2003) suggest that it is important for parents to provide a nurturing and supportive environment for their child, in order to alleviate the stressful difficulties of training and game situations.

For coaches at the beginning level, it is critical to provide technical instruction in order for the athlete to acquire the proper basic skills of the sport (Baker et al., 2003). Young athletes also need a lot of support, encouragement and rewards to motivate and engage them in sport participation (Baker et al., 2003). Thus Bloom (1985) and Smith, Smoll, & Curtis (1979) stress that coaching a younger population requires being kind, enthusiastic, and caring towards the athlete. The crucial factor in the progression of an athlete towards an advanced level is to learn ways to modify higher training modalities and prevent any plateauing in performance (Ericsson, 1996). Therefore, it is important to analyze the uniqueness of each athlete, give them appropriate and specific tasks, gradually adjust their task difficulty, and provide coherent feedback and opportunities for repetition and correction of errors (Ericsson, 1996). Baker et al. (2003) express that the possession of a domain-specific knowledge in a sport, as well as excellent organization and planning of practice, is crucial in terms of being an elite coach. Moreover, Baker et al. (2003) suggest that practices should implement distributed learning rather than massed learning, as the power of law practice indicates that learning tends to increase at the start of practice, but will soon decline throughout the end of practice (Ericsson et al., 1993). Being able to distinguish whom the population you are working with is a critical element in being a good coach. Recalling from earlier, athletes in the beginner stage are recommended to participate in deliberate play, whereas higher levels are encouraged to partake in deliberate practice.


As mentioned previously, novice athletes normally begin their athletic development with deliberate play, a fun environment with no strict rules, refereeing, or clear goals. The emphasis on fun during the young athlete stage is important to motivate them to continue on in that sport.


Deliberate play activities that may enhance the athletic development for children include “prisoners of war,” “monkey in the middle,” “Simon says,” “grounders,” and “marco polo.” “Prisoners of war” is a game that incorporates offense and defence, just like many sports such as basketball, soccer, hockey, football, and so forth. The object of the game is to protect your base at one end and the first team to touch their opponent’s base wins. One way to protect your base is to tag the opposing team players, in which they must freeze at the spot where they are tagged, and only their team members can unfreeze them. “Monkey in the middle” is a game that targets passing and defence for the person who is in the middle; passing and defence are important components of various team sports. The aim of the offence is to pass to anyone who is not the “monkey” in the middle, and the aim of the defence is to intercept the thrown ball. Once the “monkey” in the middle has captured the pass, the passer now becomes the middle defensive player. “Simon says” is an important game for enhancing behavioural regulation and body awareness, which is necessary in almost every sport. The objective of the game is to obey whatever “Simon” (the leader) says and to disregard whatever he or she does not say. When the leader tells you to do something without initially saying “Simon says,” then the rule states that you should not perform the action. “Grounders” is a game that requires a playground type environment, in which all of the kids are either on a platform, the monkey bars, slide, or whatever surface in so that their feet are not touching the ground. The “it” person must close their eyes and redeem themselves by either tagging a person, or yelling out “grounders” whenever they think they hear someone’s feet running on the ground. Grounders is very similar to a game called “marco polo,” but the “it” person must yell out “marco,” and the rest of the players must respond back “polo.” The goal of “marco polo” is for the “it” person to listen to the sounds so that they can tag that person and not be “it” anymore. “Marco polo” helps to develop listening skills and perceptual processing. All previously mentioned games help to facilitate movement experiences in children in either the physical or psychomotor aspect, which are all important for the development of an athlete.

Most of the research relating to novice and expert differences has taken a qualitative and broad approach to the topic. In order to specify to a particular sport, further research is needed to distinguish the differences at each level.


Aglioti, S. M., Cesari, P., Romani, M., & Urgesi, C. (2008). Action anticipation and motor resonance in elite basketball players. Nature neuroscience, 11(9), 1109-1116. doi:10.1038/nn.2182

Araujo, R.M., Neves, J.A., & Mesquita, I.M. (2012). Procedural knowledge, decision making and performance in women’s volleyball according to age group and specific experience. The Open Sports Sciences Journal, 5, 167-173.

Baker, J., Horton, S., Robertson-Wilson, J., & Wall M. (2003). Nurturing sport expertise: factors influencing the development of elite athlete. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2(1), 1-9.

Barnsley, R.H., & Thompson, A.H. (1988). Birthdate and success in minor hockey: the key to the NHL. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 20, 167-176.

Barnsley, R.H., & Thompson, A.H., & Barnsley, P.E. (1985). Hockey, success, and birth date: the relative age effect. Canadian Association of Health, Physical Activity, Exercise and Recreation Journal, 51, 23-28.

Bloom, B.S. (1985). Developing talent in young people. New York, NY: Ballantine.

Cote, J. (1999). The influence of family in the development of talent in sports. The Sport Psychologist, 13, 395-417.

Cleary, T. J., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2001). Self-regulation differences during athletic practice by experts, non-experts, and novices. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 13(2), 185-206.

Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363-406.

Ericsson, K.A. (1996). The road to excellence: the acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports and games. Mahwa, NJ: Erlbaum.

Goulet, C., Bard, C., & Fleury, M. (1989). Expertise differences in preparing to return a tennis serve: A visual information processing approach. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 11, 382–398.

Gray, R. (2004). Attending to the execution of a complex sensorimotor skill: expertise differences, choking, and slumps. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 10(1), 42-54. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.10.1.42

Gulbin, J., Weissensteiner, J., Oldenziel, K., & Gagne, F. (2013). Patterns of performance development in elite athletes. European Journal of Sport Science, 13(6), 605-614. doi:10.1080/17461391.2012.756542

Lopez, L.M., Del Campo, D.G., Hernandez, J.A., Gonzales-Villora, S., & Webb, L.A. (2010). Expert-novice differences in procedural knowledge in young soccer players from local to international level. Journal of Human Sport & Exercise, 5(3), 444-452. doi:10.4100/jhse.2010.53.14

Smith, R.E., Smoll, F.L., & Curtis, B. (1979). Coach effectiveness training: a cognitive- behavioural approach to enhancing relationship skills in youth sport coaches. Journal in Sport Psychology, 1, 59-75.

Starkes, J.L. (2000). The road to expertise. Is practice the only determinant? International Journal of Sport Psychology, 31, 431-451.