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.

  1. Provide the opportunity for the greatest number of practice-trials-with-feedback possible.

  2. 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.

  3. 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 improvements.

    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.

  4. "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. 95)

  5. 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).

  6. 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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