How do we learn new skills? When you are training, how much feedback do you give? If you want to show the new skill, do you perform the new skill yourself, do you let your best player set an example or the player with the poorest skill level?

All good questions which I will try to address on this part of my website. Of course there are lots of interested links and articles to download.

How do we learn?

You are responsible for learning new skills to your players or improving their existing skill level. But how? You need to know about the learning process involved. Some examples:

"Whole" Practice

In the ideal situation a skill should be taught as a whole. The player can appreciate the complete movement and execution of the skill. This "whole" method can sometimes mean the player having to handle complex movements e.g. the whole hit the tackle - go to ground - post ball technique.

"Part" Instruction

When a skill is complex (a sequence of steps like the tackle), then it is more appropriate to breakdown the complex movement into its elements. The elements can then be taught separately and then linked together to develop the final skill.

Focus on the mechanics of movement.

When 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

A sort of combination of the two where the learning process becomes a more iterative cycle: try the whole skill, break down in elements and train these. Finally, bring it all back together again. You as the coach, has to now where to break down the skill.

Example: Pierre Villepreux strongly believes in the appraoch: learn the game by playing it in an environment controlled by the coach.

How to choose?

There is no preferred method but here are some pointers:

Problem is of course that difficulty is again a relative thing. You will have to observe and assess the players progress in training to get a better understanding of this. As an example at some point in time I found that each ruck training with my team had to start with hitting the rucking pads without involving the ball.

Types of skill

Why are some skills so difficult? Another way to categorised skills:

When learning a new skill you have to look at learning as a phased approach:

So think how to break down the skill, select an appropriate method and use feedback to shape and polish them into a smooth action. Built your own catalogue of exercises and make proper selections based on observing and analysing your players performance. Also try adapting the practise conditions (grid size, number of players, ...)

Most of the time, players are lazy thinkers during practice. On some days, much of the practice seems to be conducted on autopilot. What are the consequences of this type of practice? Very little is learned!

When you have a better understanding of the cognitive processes, you can develop your practises and get a much better result from all the work on the field.

Model Skill Level and Observational Learning

Demonstrating a new technique or motor skill is one of the fundamental tools in teaching. Research has shown that demonstrating a new skill by the experienced players is not the most effective way to learn, seeing a new player trying to perform a new skill seems to involve the observing players in the thought processes of the demonstrating player. Thus getting mentally prepared for the skill.

The Guiding Influence of Augmented Feedback

Feedback improves the performance. Several types of feedback exist, augmented feedback refers to information that a player does not receive directly from his senses. For example, a goal kicker will know that his kick was not good because he will see that the ball did not go over. However, the exact reason for this result my not be obvious. Augmented feedback refers to making explicit something that might be difficult, if not impossible, to know implicitly. (usually this information is augmented by a coach using verbal statements). How much? When? Again some questions :

The answers:

Instructions for coaches

A very blocked drill, using set starting point and a limited amount of different options/skills might give you the impression that the motor skills have improved, but the retention time of the new skill is very poor. So choose your exercises wisely and work towards the broader game related situation.

Think also about the perspective of the player, it may take longer than sometimes is thought of to acquire new skills. It is very important to discuss the role of feedback to your players! (teach the learner about learning......)

Remember, your goal is for the player to become independent of you, the coach.

Reflection on Grids

With grids we made the training situation much more controllable. We have more influences on that specific element of the game we want to improve. Always remember it is nothing more than that. Move to different grids - mark other starting points and combine exercises. The danger of grids is that when you have set up something like Player A runs from X to Y and passes to Player B who started at Z...... You exercise will surely run smoothly but in an environment that is too much controlled: a blocked drill.

Again, I have adapted Pierre Villipreux's method of teaching rugby and sometimes I only use four markers and a couple of balls......

Reflections on plays

Training on a set-play is a good example of a blocked exercise with the risk of your players becoming robots performing a trick rather than players who understand the task and performing the required skill.
(See more on Plays)

Motivational Climate

Allow your players to experiment and the freedom of mind to try and find newly acquired skills. At my training sessions nobody has to apologise for mistakes because we all work hard to improve yourself. Even stronger: if players do not make mistakes they are not learning!
(See more on how to create a good motivational climate)

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