Training Movement Skills

Training movement skills in young athletes can help set them up for a lifetime of participation and activity in sport and exercise. Research has shown that young people who lack good movement skills, or physical literacy are often more likely to withdraw from physical activity and sport (Kirk,2005). In contrast, developing a range of basic human movements, fundamental skills and foundational sport skills gives young people the tools to engage in healthy and active lifestyles (Ellerton,2018).

Developing fundamental movement skills appears in almost all long-term athlete development models. We must understand for the development of these skills that young athletes and children all mature and develop at different rates, although they follow the same sequences and phases of learning, they should only progress through stages of developing a skill when appropriate.

Including creative, varied, challenging and fun exercise regressions and progressions can help develop these skills appropriately for each individual. Two young athletes of the same age may be at completely different levels of movement competency based on a number of factors. In these situations, exploring the correct level of movement to be performed at that stage for each individual is essential to lay the foundations for progressively more challenging variations of that skill or exercise as they mature

See below some of exercise variations and progressions in the AMAT Performance System Training App for a number of common fundamental movement patterns.



Influence of Maturation on Youth Sport Development Programmes

The majority of talent identification and elite youth sport development programmes often group players based on their chronological age for training and competition (Baxter-Jones, 1995). However, large individual differences exist between chronological age and the biological age of these youth athletes. Each individual’s path to maturity differs, following patterns of non-linear growth and differing in terms of timing, tempo and magnitude. Often around the time of peak height velocity (maximum rate of growth) this creates a disturbance in motor function and co-ordination, and an increased risk of injury as athletes adjust to changes in their bodies.

These inter-individual differences in maturation can have a profound effect on many factors of an athlete’s involvement and progression in elite youth development programmes. Through the research we have been involved in we have identified that peak height velocity (PHV) and maturity substantially effect Functional Movement Screen (FMS) scores in favour of more mature players (Portas et al., 2015), that maturation can cause an unnecessary bias on playing position allocation within youth football with taller heavier players being allocated more defensive roles/positions (Towlson et al., 2017) and that physical attributes and characteristics display distinctly different rates of development based on the individual influences of maturation (Towlson et al., 2018). Finally, our data has displayed a strong relative age effect (RAE) bias in football development programmes, particularly around the time of PHV (Lovell et al., 2015).

The research we have been involved in suggests that development programmes should consider differences in maturation status between individuals and its influences on movement skills, technical competence, positional characteristics, and physical development and their implications, to avoid unnecessary drop-out and de-selection of players within youth development programmes.

For this reason, it is key that these development programmes assess their youth athletes’ maturation status. Budget constraints at the majority of youth development programmes prevent “gold standard” x-ray assessments of skeletal age and so anthropometric variables and sex-specific regression equations (Mirwald et al., 2002, Khamis-Roche, 1994, Moore et al., 2015, Fransen et al., 2017) are a more popular alternative method to predict somatic maturity.

In light of this, as a new feature and addition to our AMAT Performance System we have now developed software that allows us to quickly, accurately and reliably collect anthropometric variables through 3D motion tracking technology. This information can automatically provide individual maturation assessments for each athlete, negating the need for you or your staff to do time-consuming manual measurements on a regular basis.

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Adolescent Awkwardness

During puberty a rapid increase in limb length will occur as a result of the adolescent growth spurt. The muscles grow slower compared to the extremities, the person will need to get accustomed to their new body. The temporary decline in performance or a disruption of motor coordination is called the period of “adolescent awkwardness” (Philippaerts et al., 2006). As a result of the accelerated growth there is a need for more attention towards nutritional and physical interventions to adjust to the new demands of the body. With the extremities growing faster mobility and coordination challenges are common to occur (Malina et al., 2004).

The decline of mobility and coordination could also transfer down to fundamental skills. Fundamental movement skills, which were comfortable before might now seem difficult. Ryan and colleagues (2018) demonstrated that young soccer players during growth spurts performed worse during functional movements compared to players who had already gone through their growth spurt. As an example a person prior to the onset of puberty might have performed a full range squat with ease. Now with restrictions to joint areas relevant to squatting performance (e.g., ankle, hip) due to the changes in the body, the individual may now struggle to perform the squat to full depth as previously.  

Besides challenges with mobility and coordination the adolescents during their growth spurt might also be prone to more injuries. The growth plates at the end of the long bones are not yet fully ossified and need to be protected for normal growth. Careful physical load monitoring, the development of mobility, coordination and fundamental movement skills would help in guiding a young athlete through the “adolescent awkwardness” period safely.

The youth physical development model states that fundamental movement skill development should be part of physical development programmes at all ages during childhood and adolescence (Lloyd and Oliver 2012). Developing fundamental movement skills could help against adolescent awkwardness. Our AMAT Performance system provides individualised, maturation-specific, fundamental movement skill programmes for each young athlete to address any maturity related challenges in movement skills and to attempt to protect from injury.

Measuring Movement

Movement skills are said to be the building blocks that provide a foundation for specialised and sport-specific skills that are required in a variety of physical activities. The decision on how we measure these movement skills will be dictated by the purpose of what we are assessing them for. What information are we wanting to gather and why? The purpose may be to group a set of individuals, to identify those at risk of injury, to create educational or development programmes, to monitor changes in movement skills over time, to provide feedback to the performer or to predict performance in the future (Burton & Miller, 1998).

To measure movement skill from a quantitative perspective, usually involves assigning an outcome score to the movement. Categorical arbitrary units are often used but can lack context relating to the movement, objective meaningful scores are usually preferred such as distances, or times. These scores or results can then be used to compare against a normative group, this information can allow for comparison of an individual against their chronological or biological peers and can help identify and distinguish those with difficulty in certain movement patterns (Hands, 2002).


In measuring these skills we must try and take into account all three constructs of fundamental movement skills: locomotion, object control and stability (Rudd et al., 2015). Measuring movements in each of these gives us a more representative view of an individual’s overall movement ability. In addition to this, as is discussed in the study by Clark et al., (2016), three dimensional kinematic variables can differ in individuals by up to 65%. So whilst overall activity and scores may be similar, individual movement profiles and characteristics in children are highly variable.

During the development and future additions to our product we have tried  and continue to account for many of the factors mentioned above. We want to assess movement skills using AMAT Performance to provide individual feedback, to monitor changes in movement over time, to create effective and educational movement development programmes, to potentially identify those at risk of injury, and to allow comparison of results within and between different groups.

In order to do this we developed our product to automatically provide quantitative performance scores of movement, with additional 3D biomechanical analysis being made available for practitioners and coaches to understand the variability in each movement between individuals. For more information on our product, please visit our website

Overhead Squat

Movement in sport is dynamic, complex and random in nature. To evaluate how movement might transfer from a practice setting to an applied sport setting we must assess full-body, complex movement patterns that include the entire kinetic chain. One such exercise, the overhead squat, is commonly used in well-established screening methods. Assessing movement quality through the overhead squat challenges key structures from a mobility and stability perspective such as the ankles, hips and thoracic spine (Bishop et al., 2015).


Good technique during the overhead squat is said to require the following physical capacities (Cook, 2010):


  • Talo-crural joint mobility
  • Knee Stability
  • Hip mobility
  • Lumbo-pelvic control
  • Thoraric mobility
  • Gleno-humeral joint stability


Through utilising such tests and examining the entire kinetic chain we can not only identify and attempt to correct movement compensations for full-body complex movements such as the squat, but also correct compensations that may affect more acute movements and skills at each joint. For example, thoracic spine and shoulder health is key in sports that require overhead movement and equally throwing/catching skills and events. Research also shows that the overhead squat further challenges the anterior abdominal muscles to a greater extent than a more regressed squat variation such as the back squat (Aspe and Swinton, 2014).


For this reason, the overhead squat not only gives us insight into an individual’s ability to effectively produce and transfer force (see previous blog), but may also give us examples of movement compensations at various parts of the kinetic chain.


During our overhead squat assessment on the AMAT Performance system an individual’s technique is automatically and accurately assessed via bar position (shoulder rotation and bar displacement anterior to the body), trunk position (trunk angle in the sagittal plane, centre of mass within the base of support) and lower-limb analysis of tibia angles in both the sagittal and frontal plane to assess medial knee displacement and ankle mobility. This gives us a full picture of an individual’s movement patterning for complex, fully-body movements that are applicable to many specific sporting skills.



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