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Motor Programmes and Schema Theory

  • The aim of this lesson is to learn about the way in which our brains control our movements (Equivalent to UK A Level Physical Education)

Motor Programmes

Motor programmes are the way in which our brains control our movements. There are two theories concerning this topic:

Open Loop Theory

This theory states the following:

  • Decisions are made in the brain
  • All information for one movement is sent in a single message
  • The message is received by the muscles which perform the movement
  • Feedback may or may not be available but it doesn't control the action

This theory accounts well for fast continuous movements (e.g. a golf swing), although it does not work so well for slower movements which may involve reactions and repositioning (such as a gymnast on the balance beam).

Closed Loop Theory

On the other hand, this theory explains slow movements well but not fast movements.

  • Decisions are made in the brain
  • Not all of the information is sent together
  • Information is received by the muscles to initiate the movement
  • Feedback is always available and is vital to correct movement patterns and adjust to changing needs


Schema Theory


Schema: All of the information needed to make a movement decision. It is stored in the brain as a long-term memory.


The schema theory challenges the open and closed loop theories and was developed by Schmidt in 1977. He suggested that motor programmes can be clustered and are changeable to respond to the situation. He also stated that the larger the motor programme that is achieved through practice, the easier it can be adapted to new situations.

Recall Schema

This occurs before a movement is initiated and includes the following information which the performer must know to form a schema:

Initial Conditions:

  1. Where is the: Goal; Opposition; Team mates
  2. What is the environment like?: Grass; Astro turf; Wet or dry; Wind
  3. What condition am I in?: Fresh; Tired; Injured

Response Specification

  1. How fast do I need to go?
  2. Where do I pass the ball to?
  3. How hard do I need to kick the ball?
  4. Which techniques will produce the best results?

Recognition Schema

In order to correct or alter a response, the athlete needs to know:

Movement Outcomes:

From knowledge of results (KR): Success / Failure

Sensory Consequence:

From knowledge of performance (KP): How did it look (extrinsic feedback) / how did it feel (intrinsic feedback)



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