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A-Level PE (AQA) Revision Website



Our brilliant new revision website contains key information, tasks and exam-style questions and mark-schemes on the following topics:

AS Applied Physiology

  • Cardiac function
  • Pulmonary function
  • Transport of blood gases
  • Analysis of specified movements
  • Levers
  • Nutrition
  • Health, exercise and fitness
  • Applied Exercise Physiology in practical situations

AS Skill Acquisition

  • Information processing – input and memory
  • Information processing – decision-making and reaction-time
  • Information processing – Motor programmes and sub-routines
  • Learning – stages, plateaus and motivation
  • Learning theories
  • Transfer and goals
  • Classification of skill
  • Skill Acquisition in practical situations

AS Opportunities for participation

  • Concepts and definitions
  • Role of public schools and rational recreation
  • State school P.E. history and NCPE
  • Current developments to increase participation
  • Current sector provision
  • Barriers to participation

A2 Applied Physiology to optimise performance

  • Energy systems
  • Muscles
  • Specialised training
  • Mechanics of movement
  • Sports supplements
  • Sports injuries

 A2 Psychological aspects that optimise performance

  • Group success
  • Leadership
  • Personality
  • Arousal
  • Controlling Anxiety
  • Attitudes

A2 Evaluating contemporary influences

  • World Games
  • Olympic Ideal
  • Deviance in sport
  • Commercialisation


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Learning - Stages, plateaus and motivation


In this section we will look at the performer in terms of the effects of learning on performance.

Learning is defined as a permanent change in behaviour that often occurs as a result of practice.

Actual performance is more temporary and can fluctuate at different times. According to the psychologists Fitts and Posner there are three stages of learning that a performer can show when they play sport, reflecting the level of performance achieved.

These three stages are described below.

Stage 1 The cognitive phase

The cognitive phase of learning is mainly used by a beginner. Motor programmes are not yet evident. This first phase is characterised by trial-and-error learning when all the attention at the performer’s disposal is given to mastering the task. Movements may lack fine control and appear uncoordinated. The performer tries to understand the requirements of the task and work out the sub-routines that are needed to perform the skill. The performer may have to think and concentrate hard on the task to work out the necessary movements. An example of a performer in the cognitive phase of learning is a beginner watching a demonstration of a pass and noting the required elements of that skill.

Stage 2: The associative phase

In this phase, the performer compares, or associates, her current level of performance with the expert demonstrations she has seen from her coach or other players. The process of comparing current with expected performance is called ‘modelling’. Lots of practice is needed to make up the deficiencies between current performance and that of the expert. The performer may use more trial and error to overcome such deficiencies.

The associative phase is a long phase during which lengthy periods of practice may help to lay the foundations of future motor programmes, which start to form in this phase. The performance is more smooth and flowing. An example of a performer in the associative phase of learning is a games player practising passing techniques in training with improved confidence and efficiency.


Stage 3: The autonomous phase

The final phase of learning occurs when the performer has reached an expert level of competence due to lengthy practice, and the motor programme now fully developed. The motor programme is used to control movements. The performance is therefore smooth and efficient and can be triggered by one stimulus, leaving lots of attention for use on the finer elements of the skill. The performer can concentrate on detail but to maintain such high levels of performance, continued practice is needed. An example of a performer in the autonomous stage of learning is a professional games player executing a pass with skill and efficiency. To remain in the autonomous phase of learning practice should continue and the performer should develop mental practice techniques. The constant use of feedback helps the performer to remain in the autonomous phase.



 TASK  1. Study the characteristics of each of the phases of learning described above. Then describe how the movements and performance characteristics of a gymnast attempting to perform a routine on the balance beam would change as they progress through the three stages of learning.


The Learning Curve and the Plateau

A learning curve is a graphic illustration that shows how the rate of learning of a performer doing a closed skill over a period of time can vary. A typical learning curve looks like the one shown below and it can be divided into four stages.

At stage A the rate of learning is slow and performance level is poor because the performer is new to the task and is in the cognitive stage of learning working out the required sub routines of the task and possibly using trial and error learning.

At stage B there is a rapid acceleration in the rate of learning because the performer has begun to master the task and gain some success providing reinforcement and motivation.

At C there is no improvement in the rate of learning and the performance has reached a “plateau”. The performance maintains the same level. The plateau effect could be due to the fact that the performer has reached the limit of their ability or has the achieved the maximum possible score under the present task. The performer may be beginning to suffer from fatigue and lose some of the initial motivation that was present at the start of the task.

The plateau could also be caused because of poor coaching when help to improve has not been given by the coach. By doing the same closed task over time the performer may become bored. The targets set by the performer or coach may be too low and not offering enough challenge to the player. To overcome the plateau the performer could consider some solutions to the above causes! The task could be extended so that a new challenge to test the performer is given and new targets or goals could be set to see if such task extensions are met. The player could find a new coach to raise performance levels and perhaps this coach could offer more praise and positive reinforcement to provide motivation. A rest could be taken to avoid fatigue and by adding more variety to the task boredom might be avoided. The concept of the plateau could be explained to the performer so that they do not take personal responsibility for their lack of improvement.

At stage D there is a drop in the rate of improvement and the performance may actually start to get worse, a concept called drive reduction. Drive reduction occurs because the performer has gained success on the task and the initial drive to succeed has been lost, the challenge of mastering the task has been overcome and a new challenge or extension to the task is needed to maintain motivation.

A typical learning curve showing the rate of improvement shown when attempting a closed skill over a twenty minute period.



Motivation is defined as the drive and desire needed for continued effort. It is the external stimuli and internal mechanisms that arouse and direct our behaviour. Motivation therefore has two parts to it: an inner drive, which comes from our own satisfaction and need to do the task, and the external rewards we want to achieve, such as our desire to win the cup or to be voted player of the match. Arousal in sport is defined as the degree to which we are activated and ready to perform the tasks ahead.

Types of motivation

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic motivation comes from an outside source and may be in two forms: Intangible, such as praise from our coach, or tangible, such as the incentive of winning a trophy, badge or certificate. The basic certificates given to young gymnasts or swimmers by the governing body are examples of extrinsic rewards. Intrinsic motivation comes from within and includes the pride and satisfaction we might experience if we have had a good game or the need we feel to learn to swim to avoid danger.

Intrinsic motivation can be promoted by achieving personal goals, such as a personal best time in athletics. The relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is important. Extrinsic rewards can lay the foundation for future motivation by attracting newcomers to the activity, but if rewards are given continually, then the performer might begin to perform just to get the reward and lose the enjoyment of the sport. Too much extrinsic motivation can cause cheating and unrest between players who strive to achieve the reward.

Some players may actually begin to lose motivation with exrinsic rewards because they may feel that they are unable to achieve the reward on offer. Coaches should start by offering simple rewards to encourage performers; however, as the performers gain in experience, coaches should promote intrinsic motivation by setting simple targets and promoting self-satisfaction to provide intrinsic motivation.

Ways of motivating

  • To motivate players under their control a coach could use some or all of the following tactics,
  • Offering rewards and incentives early on, such as a ‘player of the week’ award
  • Making the activity fun and enjoyable, perhaps by including mini-games and easier tasks to allow success
  • Pointing out the health benefits of doing the task
  • Breaking the skill down into parts, to allow success on each part
  • Pointing out role models to which the performer can aspire to
  • Making the performer feel responsible for any success achieved by giving praise
  • Attributing success internally, in other words telling the performer that a good result was down to them, they played well!
  • Setting goals or targets that are achievable by the performer.
  • Using feedback to inspire and correct errors



Can you spot any of the motivational methods in this speech:



Task 2Study the list of ways that a coach could use to motivate players in their chrage. Suggest which of the methods listed could be used for a novice and which could be used for a more advanced performer. 



TASK ANSWERS. Check your answers to tasks 1 and 2, click this link for the answers.


Exam Questions


1) Name the three stages of learning that that a sports performer experiences whilst developing their skills and describe the characteristics of the level of performance associated with each stage. (4 marks.)


2) When a sports performer continually practices a closed skill for a period of 20 minutes they may reach a stage when there is no improvement in their performance called a plateau. Suggest reasons why this plateau effect may have occurred. (4 marks). How could the plateau effect be overcome? (4 marks)


3) To achieve good results sports performers need to be motivated. Explain the different forms of motivation that may be available to help the sports performer succeed. (4 marks)




EXAM QUESTION ANSWERS. Check your answers to the exam questions by clicking here


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