Self regulation discriminates the best from the rest

Self regulated learning refers to processes such as planning, self monitoring, evaluation, reflection, effort and self-efficacy. Engaging in these processes is thought to facilitate the development of skill towards expert status.

Canadian researchers – Dora Bartulovic, Bradley Young and Joe Baker – set out to test this hypothesis by assessing a large cohort of athletes from a range of a skill levels.

The study

272 individual sport athletes participated in the study. Participants included  track and field athletes, cross country runners, swimmers, cyclists and  skiers. Skill level of the participants ranged from local to international standard. The authors categorised participants as either recreationally competitive, less-elite or elite.

All participants completed a questionnaire that assessed self regulated learning (see Table 1 for examples of the questions in the questionnaire). The questionnaire included 6 sub-sections that assessed each of the processes that are attributed to self regulated learning.

Self reg questions.png
Extracted from Bartulovic et al. (2017)

Key Finding

There were 3 key results:

  • Elite athletes scored higher on the questionnaire compared to less elite and recreation athletes when all sub-sections were tallied. This suggests that elite athletes self regulate their learning more than their less skilled counterparts.
  • The key process that discriminated elite athletes from the remainder of participants was self-monitoring. Self-monitoring is thought to enhance a learners awareness of their actions. It is the process of monitoring practice strategies and personal effort, which athletes can use to help achieve their goal.
  • Elite athletes also reported greater planning, effort and self-efficacy. However, these processes contributed much less to the discrimination between elite and less elite athletes compared to self-monitoring.

Avenue for future research

Cross-sectional studies have taught us much of what we know about the characteristics of expertise. However, there is a clear need for longitudinal research to assess the development of the factors that contribute to expertise. For instance, key questions stemming from this study are: How and when do people develop the ability to self-regulate learning?


Bartulovic, D., Young, B. W., & Baker, J. (2017). Self-regulated learning predicts skill group differences in developing athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 31, 61-69.

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