Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Skill Acquisition Specialists, Coaches and Athletes: The Current State of Play?

Academic journal article Journal of Sport Behavior

Skill Acquisition Specialists, Coaches and Athletes: The Current State of Play?

Article excerpt

In recent times there has been an increase in the utilization of sport and exercise scientists within the sports community in Australia, which has been aided by the establishment of sports institutes, increased tertiary training and the creation of governing bodies such as Exercise and Sport Science Australia (ESSA). A recent ESSA review (2011) reported a membership of over 3200 individuals predominantly in the area of exercise physiology (1910) and exercise science (691). Only sixteen members were accredited and registered as sport scientists (motor learning and control [skill acquisition], biomechanics, strength science). Further, a study by Williams and Kendall (2007) which investigated the interaction of coaches and sport scientists mentioned physiology, biomechanics, nutrition and psychology as important areas of scientific support, though did not acknowledge the areas of skill acquisition or performance analysis. This omission is reflective of current community trends (universities, health consultancy) whereby exercise physiology dominates as a course of study or service compared to others. This trend does not recognize the importance of disciplines such as skill acquisition and performance analysis in the holistic development of individuals participating in physical activity or competitive sport.

Of specific interest in this study was the sport science sub-discipline of skill acquisition. This is the science that underpins movement learning and execution and is more commonly termed motor learning and control (Williams & Ford, 2009), and are components of the science of motor behavior. The domain of motor behavior has its genesis in research conducted in experimental psychology by such individuals as James Gibson (Gibson, 1966), Franklin Henry (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2004) and Stanley Stevens (Stevens, 1951). These early researchers amongst others investigated the processes involved in the learning of movement skills that included instruction, practice, feedback and perception (Fairbrother, 2010), in addition to neurological, mechanical, and behavioral aspects of movement control (Magill, 2009). Furthermore many investigations have also explored the development of motor behavior across a lifespan (Gabbard, 2011). Motor behavior is an integral area of knowledge and application within human performance and is a core unit of study within human movement degrees, though paradoxically rarely afforded more than a single unit over the course of a degree program compared to other sport science disciples.

Researchers in the area of skill acquisition have found that the development of expertise requires over ten years or 10,000 hours of experience (Ericsson & Lehman, 1996) and is influenced by several factors including instruction, practice, feedback and decision-making (Magill, 2009). From an instructional point of view, studies by Masters and colleagues (Masters, Law, & Maxwell, 2002; Masters & Maxwell, 2004; Maxwell, Masters, & Eves, 2000) have shown that implicit methods (analogy, errorless, and discovery learning) are effective for both retention and performance. Implicit methods have been associated with decreased performance anxiety, thus increasing levels of performance, paradoxically few coaches employ implicit methods. In addition practice type and amount have significant impacts on performance level. 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 with the aim of improving performance rather than gaining immediate social gains, i.e., practice should be work-like (Farrow, Baker, & MacMahon, 2008).

A model of performance development that has its foundations in deliberate practice is the long-term athlete development (LTAD) pathway which emphasizes the need for this type of practice when addressing skill acquisition (Lang & Light, 2010). …

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