Learning basic squat technique can be done within one training session with some athletes. The Clean & Jerk, however, can take weeks of practice in order to become proficient due to the coordination needed to perform the exercise at high speed. Of the two exercises, the Clean & Jerk is a much more difficult motor skill to learn, and whilst it would be unfair to compare the two exercises hand-in-hand, it does provide a clear example of movement complexity, skill acquisition, and the different times needed to learn certain movements.
Why is Neuroplasticity important for Sport?
To proficiently perform athletic movements the brain must coordinate with the necessary muscle groups to produce the action. Whether the athlete is throwing a baseball, kicking a football, or even sprinting, these all require complex inter- and intra-muscular coordination which starts from the brains motor cortex. Therefore, repetitive practice is needed for a motor skill to be performed effectively, and thus engrained.
In most sporting competitions, athletes are at a disadvantage if they need to think before moving. Many people use the term “muscle memory” when they perform a skill automatically and without much thought. While incorrect, it does imply that a certain motor pathway is so well-developed that less brain activity and neuron organisation with the muscles is needed to perform a skill which before felt unaccustomed and alien. This is the reason why some skills tend to look or feel effortless after repetitive practice.
Due to neuroplasticity, every time a skill is performed our brain refines that motor pathway, regardless of whether it was performed correctly or incorrectly. For this reason, it is important to have coaches that promote correct technique, whether it be for the sport or in the weight room. If a bad movement pattern is performed repeatedly, the technique will require more practice and time to fix/refine. While neuroplasticity for sporting skills are achievable throughout our lives, research indicates that there is an opportune time to do so .
Neuroplasticity and Age
Plasticity in the brain appears to peak in pre-pubescent children, therefore, it may be the opportune time to capitalise on teaching correct technique/movement/skills . By introducing multiple motor skills to young children, they have the unique advantage of maximising and enhancing muscular strength and fundamental sporting skills which may not be available as adults . Training and exercise for young athletes should be specifically focused on improving motor control  since their cognitive and motor capabilities are highly “plastic” .
It has been suggested that integrative neuromuscular training (INT) be introduced during the childhood and adolescent time-period to influence the plasticity of the motor cortex which will carry into adulthood [10, 13]. INT are exercises that expose children to a variety of movement patterns and challenges that promote cognitive and physical development [9, 13]. By properly introducing and implementing INT, this will allow for the physical, mental, and social development which will positively affect athleticism as the child grows . If an athlete is not exposed to a certain motor skill prior to full motor cortex maturation, they are still capable of developing that skill, however, the benefit and potential is diminished [14, 15].
Neuroplasticity with regards to motor skill is available during a human’s entire lifespan, but is best retained during all developmental stages (see Figure 1) . Professionals that work in sport must implement training that teaches and reinforces good movement, regardless of age or training level. Much like the SAID (specific adaptations to imposed demands) principle in training, the motor cortex adapts in a similar way. Athletes should always be improving or refining their motor skills to maximise performance in competition.