When we choose to move, the action is controlled by the conscious brain using a collection of learned movements. For the movement to progress successfully, the athlete requires information feedback.

Types of skill

There are a number of different types of skills:

  • Cognitive – or intellectual skills that require thought processes
  • Perceptual – interpretation of presented information
  • Motor – movement and muscle control
  • Perceptual motor – involve the thought, interpretation and movement skills


How do we teach a new skill?

The teaching of a new skill can be achieved by various methods:

  • Verbal instructions
  • Demonstration
  • Video
  • Diagrams
  • Photo sequences

The Learning Phases – Fitts & Posner

Fitts and Posner (1967) suggested that the learning process is sequential and that we move through specific phases as we learn. There are three stages to learning a new skill:

  • Cognitive phase – Identification and development of the component parts of the skill – involves formation of a mental picture of the skill
  • Associative phase – Linking the component parts into a smooth action – involves practicing the skill and using feedback to perfect the skill
  • Autonomous phase – Developing the learned skill so that it becomes automatic – involves little or no conscious thought or attention whilst performing the skill – not all performers reach this stage

The leaning of physical skills requires the relevant movements to be assembled, component by component, using feedback to shape and polish them into a smooth action. Rehearsal of the skill must be done regularly and correctly.

Schmidt’s Schema Theory

Schmidt’s theory (1975) was based on the view that actions are not stored rather we refer to abstract relationships or rules about movement. Schmidt’s schema is based on the theory that that every time a movement is conducted four pieces of information are gathered:

  • the initial conditions – starting point
  • certain aspects of the motor action – how fast, how high
  • the results of the action – success or failure
  • the sensory consequences of the action – how it felt

Relationships between these items of information are used to construct a recall schema and a recognition schema. The Recall schema is based on initial conditions and the results and is used to generate a motor program to address a new goal. The recognition schema is based on sensory actions and the outcome.

Adam’s Closed Loop Theory

Adam’s theory (1971) has two elements:

  • Perceptual trace – a reference model acquired through practice
  • Memory trace – responsible for initiating the movement

The key feature of this theory is the role of feedback.

  • Analyse the reference model actions, the result of those actions and the desired goals
  • Refine the reference model to produce the required actions to achieve the desired goals

Transfer of learning

Transfer of learning can take place in the following ways:

  • Skill to skill
    • this is where a skill developed in one sport has an influence on a skill in another sport. If the influence is on a new skill being developed then this is said to be proactive and if the influence is on a previously learned skill then this is said to be retroactive
  • Theory to practice
    • the transfer of theoretical skills into practice
  • Training to competition
    • the transfer of skills developed in training into the competition situation

Effects of transfer of learning

The effects of transfer can be:

  • Negative
    • Where a skill developed in one sport hinders the performance of a skill in another sport
  • Zero
    • Where a skill in one sport has no impact on the learning of a new sport
  • Positive
    • Where a skill developed in one sport helps the performance of a skill in another sport
  • Direct
    • Where a skill can be taken directly from sport to another
  • Bilateral
    • Transfer of a skill from side of the body to the other – use left and right
  • Unequal
    • A skill developed in one sport helps another sport more than the reverse

How do we assess skill performance?

Initially, compare visual feedback from the athlete’s movement with the technical model to be achieved. Athletes should be encouraged to evaluate their own performance. In assessing the performance of an athlete, consider the following points:

  • Are the basics correct?
  • Is the direction of the movement correct?
  • Is the rhythm correct?

It is important to ask athletes to remember how it felt when correct examples of movement are demonstrated (kinaesthetic feedback).

Appropriate checklists/notes can be used to assist the coach in the assessment of an athlete’s technique. The following are some examples:


How are faults caused?

Having assessed the performance and identified that there is a fault then you need to determine why it is happening. Faults can be caused by:

  • Incorrect understanding of the movement by the athlete
  • Poor physical abilities
  • Poor co-ordination of movement
  • Incorrect application of power
  • Lack of concentration
  • Inappropriate clothing or footwear
  • External factors e.g. weather conditions

Strategies and Tactics

Strategies are the plans we prepare in advance of a competition, which we hope will place an individual or team in a winning position. Tactics are how we put these strategies into action. Athletes in the associative phase of learning will not be able to cope with strategies, but the athlete in the autonomous phase should be able to apply strategies and tactics.

To develop strategies and tactics we need to know:

  • the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition
  • our own strengths and weaknesses
  • environmental factors


Practice makes permanent, but not necessarily perfect.

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