Just like a plant needs certain elements to grow (e.g. water, sunlight), a player needs certain elements to effectively develop a skill.
Wheelan provides a simple equation to clarify the skill development process (1990, p. 97):
If we can create a process that incorporates each of these elements, players can maximize their potential as individuals and as a team. Of course there are other elements that play a significant role in the development of players, like goal-setting, creating a mastery climate, and team development, but those are discussed in another post.
Based on my personal experience as a player, a lot coaches do a nice job of ensuring players have time to practice a skill and provide the necessary support. In addition, many coaches are great at teaching a skill to enhance a player’s learning, but this will obviously vary depending on the coach/trainer’s teaching ability. The element I believe we can all improve upon is modeling. Read the descriptions below and ask yourself which element you can improve to enhance your players’ skills.
Learning: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught. In the context of a player learning skills from a coach or trainer, we are referring to the "being taught" part of the definition. One important factor to consider when teaching a player (especially youth players) new skills is to communicate the what, how, and why. As a coach/trainer, it's so easy to assume that the players know why a certain drill is important and how it transfers to a real game situation. In addition, we should verbally label specific parts of a complex skill so the players can accurately communicate and refer to them. Lastly, the use of metaphors are extremely effective when teaching complex skills or concepts to players.
Modeling: a method used to enhance a player’s understanding and self-awareness of a skill whereby the player learns by imitating the coach (or trainer). Rather than simply telling a player how to execute a skill, the player will watch the coach perform the skill exactly how it should be done. If the coach/trainer cannot optimally execute the skill, then showing the player video clips is another good option. Modeling is so effective because of three unique reasons: (1) it taps into a different learning styles (i.e. promoting implicit & visual learning instead of explicit & auditory), (2) it provides the “big picture” view instead of just parts of the skill that the coach describes to the player, and (3) it eliminates misunderstandings as a result of poor communication. If you are interested in a non-traditional method for teaching and learning how to develop skills and maximize performance, check out the classic book by Tim Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance. Modeling is one of the methods Gallwey has promoted as an instructor to help people learn tennis faster and more effectively.
Practicing: to repeatedly execute a skill or activity in order to improves one's proficiency. All players and coaches know the meaning of practice. But it's important that we do not confuse "practice" with deliberate practice. If we are trying to improve our shooting ability, we cannot go to practice and assume that we are going to become a better shooter by simply participating in "practice". To clarify, practicing with the purpose of improving a skill is more accurately defined as deliberate practice. A player may participate in a bunch of shooting drills at practice, yet never reach the state of deliberate practice. "Getting shots up" does not qualify as deliberate practice if the player is not intentionally trying to improve specific parts of their shot (i.e. working on their set point, up flow, release, or extension; players can learn about our SURE Shot System).
Support: this element consists of the strategies used to motivate a player through all the ups and downs of their skill development journey. Skill development can be a frustrating journey because a player may put in the time and effort initially, yet not see any significant improvement for a while. Therefore, part of our responsibility is to help the player "stay on track" and keep working to improve their craft. Ultimately, we want to enable the player to take ownership and accountability of their skill development. To do so, we must give them freedom to choose the specific skills they want to improve, support them when they get down on themselves, and challenge them to constantly master their craft. Simple things such as acknowledging the time and effort they have dedicated, or the progress they have made can go a long way.
Let us know what you think about these elements for skill development. What would you add (or change) to the equation?
Wheelan, S. (1990). Facilitating training groups. New York: Praeger.