Brian Mackenzie examines the various ways an athlete can be taught a new skill.
As a coach, you will be required to facilitate the learning of new technical skills by your athletes. To achieve this, you will need to develop your knowledge of the learning process and the various coaching methods.
Ideally, a skill should be taught as a whole as the athlete can appreciate the complete movement and execution of a skill. The whole method of instruction can sometimes mean the athlete having to handle complex movements e.g. the whole high jump technique.
When a skill is complex or there is considered to be an element of danger for the athlete then it is more appropriate to break down the complex movement into its constituent parts. The parts can then be taught and then linked together to develop the final skill. When a part instruction is used it is important that the athlete is demonstrated the whole skill so that they can appreciate the end product and understand how the set of parts will develop the skill.
Whole - Part - Whole Instruction
Initially, the athlete attempts the whole skill and the coach monitors to identify those parts of the skill that the athlete is not executing correctly. Part instruction can then be used to address the limitations and then the athlete can repeat the whole skill with the coach monitoring for any further limitations.
No one method is suitable to all occasions, but studies have shown that:
An Eastern European Approach
Consideration must be given to the approach adopted by the former Eastern Bloc countries to technique training. The aim is to identify the most fundamental version of a technique, one that is basic and essential to more advanced techniques. Example for the shot - basic model would be the stand and throw, more advanced would be the step and throw and finally followed by the rotation method.
This fundamental component is taught first and established as the basis for all further progressions. Deriving from the fundamental component are exercises that directly reinforce the required movement patterns. These exercises are known as first degree derivatives. They contain no variations of movement that may confuse the learner.
Second-degree derivatives are exercises that only coincide in part with the fundamental component, and therefore could lead to confusion while learning is taking place. These should not be included in the program until the learning of the fundamental component has completely stabilised.
Types of Practice
There are four types of practice:
Distributed practice is considered to be the most effective.
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About the Author
Brian Mackenzie is a British Athletics level 4 performance coach and a coach tutor/assessor. He has been coaching sprint, middle distance and combined event athletes for the past 30+ years and has 45+ years' experience as an endurance athlete.
The following Sports Coach pages provide additional information on this topic: