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Understanding Skill Acquisition

Apply skill acquisition principles to develop long-term improvements in participant performance

In this theme of the Coach Learning Framework, you will find resources on:

  • Nonlinear development. Learn about the different factors that influence development and how you can adapt and modify your practice appropriately.
  • Athletic development and fundamental movement skills. Find out about the importance of holistic coaching and preparing individuals for an active life.
  • Practice design that meets the individual's needs. Understand how to create the right balance of challenge and support for the people you coach.
  • Modifying, interacting and adapting your environment. Consider how you can plan your training to meet your participant's goals and the demands of competition.

Why is Understanding Skill Acquisition Important in Coaching?

Skill acquisition is a culmination of movement mechanics, physical literacy, biomechanics, athletics development, psychology and coaching practice.

The development of skill, and the ability to learn, improve and develop performance, is central to sport and physical activity. It plays an indispensable role in every individual’s journey in sport, irrespective of their previous experiences and goals for the future.

To prioritise skill acquisition during your sessions, you need to consider and change the lens you look through to adapt, refine and adjust your practice to meet the needs of your individuals, while ensuring that they are both supported and challenged appropriately.

Through the pillars below, find resources to help you on your journey to understanding skill acquisition.

Nonlinear Development

Every interaction opens the possibility of a new future.

Learning and development is a personal journey, and individuals progress based on a number of intertwined factors and dynamic relationships. 

Several factors can influence individual development, including physical, psychological, biological and emotional factors. You will also need to take the environment, socio-cultural influences, and each situation, practice and competition into account.

These can all impact on perceptions, decision-making, actions selected, and choices in learning, practice and performance contexts.

Creating a holistic, learner-oriented and interleaved experience for participants is crucial to their growth and development. Importantly, you also need to recognise the need for practice that can help them revisit, adapt and continually modify skill development through ongoing developmental changes and challenge.

Athletic Development and Fundamental Movement Skills

Can’t move, can’t play!

The fundamentals of skill development are based on a participant's ability to pick up information from their environment, make sense of this and coordinate their actions more appropriately.

An holistic programme including athletic development will provide the foundations that progressively move from general to sport-specific skills, enabling the development of a wide range of movements. Through increased movement capacity and coordination, participants progress their journey to becoming physically literate. This provides individuals with the confidence and competence to be physically active throughout life.

Explore how you can design progressive activities for your participants as they learn and develop. It will be useful to develop a wide range of skills and physical tools to enable your participants to learn to solve the puzzles, and find solutions through sport and physical activity.

Practice Design to Meet the Individual's Needs

Your participants will only be as good as the challenges that they interact with. 

Understanding the motivations, goals and current competencies of those you coach will support you to create the activities, puzzles and games that challenge the individual to improve and are integral to practice design.

Make sure to explore the components that build an effective practice environment, and understand how to design, develop and deliver to meet the needs of your teams, groups and individuals within them.

It will also be valuable to explore concepts and experiment with how to design practice activities that will support long-term learning and translate from practice to the competition environment.

Modifying, Interacting and Adapting the Environment

You can’t adapt to an environment that you don’t inhabit.

Discover how to create activities and practices that challenge your participants through adjusting, manipulating, and tweaking activities to enhance the learning environment.

You will need to consider how to adapt your environment to create safe uncertainty, representative practice, and optimal levels of challenge and support that replicate the pressure and conditions of the performance environment. It will also be valuable to dscover how you can plan your skills training to match the ongoing practice and competition goals of your participants, ensuring that their needs are met.

    • Sport and the Law: Risk Assessments

    • Understanding Planning for Development

    • Understanding Holistic Coaching

    • Coaching People with Autism

    • The STEP Model Explained

    • Understanding the Activity Inclusion Model

    • The STEP Model Explained

    • Coaching People with Autism

    • Coaching People with ADHD


Free Resource Picks




Skill Acquisition with Ed Coughlan and Stuart Lancaster

UK Coaching's Learning Experience Manager Chris Chapman is joined by Ed Coughlan, Sports Science Lecturer at the Cork Institute, and Stuart Lancaster, Senior Coach at Leinster Rugby and former Head Coach of the England National Rugby Union team, for a discussion of skill acquisition




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Introduction to Think Aloud

Think Aloud is a tool that can help participants, coaches and coach developers to understand and reflect on their own thought processes. Sport Psychologist Dr Amy Whitehead shares her Think Aloud approach


Expert Opinion 


If the Game is the Coach, What is My Role Now?

Advice on using a games-based approach in your coaching sessions, including how to be an active observer, when to intervene, what type of questions you should ask when you do to support participants’ learning and suggestions for how to adapt games




Making Decisions at Key Moments

It can be difficult to make decisions in time-constrained and challenging situations. Evidence-based advice emphasises the need to think of it as a cognitive process

Coach Learning Framework

The Coach Learning Framework has been created to help you design memorable and engaging great coaching experiences that meet the needs of all your participants, regardless of your sport or physical activity.

Understanding Skill Acquisition is one of nine themes that comprise this insight-based framework.

Continue your journey through the framework to learn more about the other eight themes and the key attributes of high-quality coaching environments, and how you can demonstrate the skills, qualities and behaviours that will empower the people you coach to achieve their personal goals.