Skill Development

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Third party apps of interest

Hudl technique is an app based analysis tool which allows you to capture video, play back at various speeds and annotate over the top.  You are also able to record feedback and voice overs to video before sharing with athletes and fellow coaches.  It provides a handy tool for the coach to review technical skills, analyse performance and encourage players to reflect, self-correct and give themselves feedback.  Give it a try today and let us know your thoughts.

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There are many ways of developing skills, one popular idea is that when learning, performers pass through three distinct stages. These are referred to as the Cognitive, Associative and Autonomous stages of skill acquisition (Fitts & Posner, 1967).


Cognitive Stage

The Cognitive stage is affiliated with a performer’s introduction to a skillset or activity and as such; awkwardness, errors and confusion/disorientation are to be expected. Beyond this, however, it is important for practitioners to recognize what types of exercises and coaching behaviours are most conducive to providing athletes’ with the best possible foundation for growth whilst embedded in this stage. Continuous feedback that is both informative and positive in nature is essential in facilitating both confidence in and an understanding of, a task.

Consideration also needs to be given to the performer’s ability to graduate out of this stage as there is perhaps no greater focus point than ensuring a platform of functional movement skills is appropriately provided. This can be achieved through engagement with a range of: tasks, sports, games and exercises.
Development of these skills cannot be underestimated.

Gabrielle Wolf and Rebecca Lewthwaite explain what attentional focus is and how this can help athletes improve their skill development. Focus the attention on external objects and target areas rather on an internal focus such as the elbow or knee position. This provides the opportunity for athletes to take responsibility for their own development, which increases their autonomy and decision making, which ultimately increases their confidence and ability and speed to learn.


Associative Stage

The Associative Stage of Skill Acquisition is the second step on the journey to expertise. The learner having acquired an understanding of what the skill is needs to repeat the movement to enhance the synchronization of their mind and muscles. This concept of myelination is fast becoming the most commonly associated difference between those that excel and those that do not.

Each time the brain completes a skill an impulse/message is sent between the brain and the functioning body part. The more purposeful this action and the more times it is repeated the thicker the layer of insulation (Myelin Sheath) surrounding the message is. The thicker the Myelin Sheath is – the faster an impulse travels from the brain to the moving muscle thus increasing the efficiency  and accuracy of the action and reducing the time taken for the skill to be completed (Coyle, 2009).

This phase can still embody some of the error strewn characteristics of the Cognitive stage however, these instances are now less frequent and importantly the value of feedback, reflection and adjustment should now be inherently apparent. The constant attention to detail and correction required to complete the skill efficiently and effectively is being learned and as such, the value of such specificity cannot be overlooked. In his research into the Development of Expertise, researcher Anders Ericsson offered the contention that it would take an athlete 10,000 hours of Deliberate Practice to achieve Excellence. The deliberate practice framework developed by Ericsson and colleagues suggested that it is not sufficient to simply practice skills. Engagement must also be characterized by effort and attention

The depth and detail of the feedback provided by coaches and the technical nature of the practices they put forth are essential.


Autonomous Stage

From a physical literacy perspective, athletes must be able to now combine the simple movements learned in the Cognitive stage into sport specific, often complex movement patterns fluently.

The highly specific technical points within a skill such as striking a soccer ball now must be unconsciously attended too. The transition to automaticity means that the performer is now able to effectively and efficiently execute the type of skill or action in a context and environment that now demands decisions to be proactively made (e.g. a game).

The focus and attention is now on a range of visual cues that will influence the decision. At this stage the transition between Expert and Elite is found.
Naturally, the types of activities a performer is engaged in, and exposed to at this level differ significantly from those offered at the introductory levels. It is expected that an performers investment in their chosen sport is now significant and as such the specificity of practice is essential.

Mark Upton, Sportsrelations explains the principles of skill development and learning within coaching practice:

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