FACTORS IN LEARNING SKILLED BEHAVIORS
Abernethy, B. (1991). Acquisition of motor skills. In F. S. Pyke
(Ed.), Better Coaching (pp. 69-98), Canberra, Australia:
Australian Coaching Council.
The following concepts should govern the structure of skill-development
experiences at sport practices.
- Provide the opportunity for the greatest number of practice-trials-with-feedback
- Massed practices that lead to high levels of fatigue and performance
deterioration, in the long-run, seem to be just as effective for
developing skills as well-spaced practice sessions which allow
recovery and the maintenance of good practice standards. However,
too much excessively massed practice can be detrimental to learning
and other factors associated with performance. It would be prudent
to err on the side of beneficially spaced practice and recovery
opportunities rather than excessive overloading.
- Varied practice activities contribute to developing a capacity
for adaptation to varying competitive demands and conditions.
Even in seemingly constant-performance sports (e.g., closed-activities,
for example, running, rowing, kayaking) some digression in practice
demands are necessary to accommodate the within-competition skill
variations (e.g., practicing within the range of paces likely
to be experienced, adapting to various competitive conditions
such as weather, water conditions, etc.). However, the development
of adaptability and response flexibility should not go outside
of the activity itself. It would be incorrect to assume that
improvements in cycling will somehow transfer to kayaking speed.
Even within a sport, it would be incorrect to assume that movement
patterns which would never arise in a competitive performance,
such as those developed by "drills," contribute to performance
The purpose of varied practice activities and drills should be
to allow the athlete to adapt to all conditions and performance
variations which could arise in a competitive experience.
- "The more specific the practice or training drills can
be to the sport [competitive settings and demands], the more effective
they will be in enhancing competitive performances. If transfer
of learning from the practice session to the game or competitive
situations is to be maximized, the demands of the practice session
should mimic as closely as possible the demands of the sport itself
(not only in terms of the movement execution requirements but
also in terms of the perceptual and decision-making aspects of
the performance). . . In general, motor skills are highly specific
and transfer of learning between different motor skills is quite
small. The best means of enhancing transfer is to maximize the
similarity between the practice and competition ('practice as
you play'). When practice drills that differ from competition
are used the purpose of the drills in terms of improved competitive
performance should be clearly explained [justified]." (p.
- When teaching new skills [or altering established skills] it
is common practice to break skills into component parts and "build"
the movement patterns. This "part-whole" approach is
most effective when the skill to be learned is complex and has
clearly defined natural breaks or components (e.g., a gymnastics
routine). Such an approach to learning [or modification] however,
may be of little to no value when the skill is essentially continuous
with no natural breaks (such as in running, swimming).
- Mental practice, when interspersed with physical practice,
under some circumstances assists in both immediate and long-term
sports performance improvements.
Implication. The experiences and dynamics of skills practice
differ between sports. The nature of the competitive situation
will usually dictate the scope and variations of activities that
have to be learned and trained. However, in all sports there
is a limitation on the extent of beneficial activities which will
affect competitive performances positively.
Practice activities would seem to be of questionable value if
they cannot be justified on the grounds of direct relevance and
transfer potential to competitive tasks and conditions.
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