Teaching Technique - Laying the foundation for sporting excellence
Brian Grasso explains what coaches need to consider when they are helping an athlete develop a sport-specific skill.
Demonstrating good technique from a sporting perspective involves applying optimal movement ability to accomplish or solve a particular task effectively. A young athlete, for instance, demonstrates sound technical ability while running in getting from point A to point B in an effective manner.
The technical abilities demonstrated in a given sport can be categorized based on the rules or requirements of that sport:
How efficiently an athlete learns the technical skills of a sport, strength training exercise or movement is determined by several variables:
Critical to note within this topic is the methods being employed by the Coach/Trainer to teach new techniques. With the lack of stringent regulations at the youth sports coaching level and the youth training industry, it is certainly more than fair to consider the quality of instruction being given:
Developing sensory skills
The core of technique development or learning is in the action of achieving perfect sensory-motor habits. A sensory-motor habit is a "learned activity of sensory and motor processes intentionally practiced to the point of automatization". From a physiological perspective, this entails creating a permanent conditional reflex connection that enables the same motor reactions to respond to the same stimuli. The development of a sensory-motor habit occurs through many stages:
In sports involving closed sensory-motor habits, athletes practice precise and pre-programmed movements. The athletes learn via feedback from their bodies and are eventually able to detect minimal divergences from proper execution, divergences that would lead to a poor result or performance. Elite figure skaters or track and field throwing athletes, for example, will know immediately upon executing a jump or throw whether or not it was their best effort based on the feedback their bodies give them concerning an automatic understanding of what perfect execution feels like.
In sports relating to open sensory-motor habits, once the essence of the technique has been taught and perfected, the young athlete should be placed in constantly changing situations that will demand that the athlete learn to make quick reactive choices and maintain the ability to apply the learned technique in varying conditions. True aptness or perfection of open sensory-motor habits involves making them more plastic. This neurological reference means making these skills more adaptable to a variety of situations.
There are three phases in learning a technique:
1. Basic Learning
The learning of a new technique should be done at a slow pace. Especially with younger athletes, coaches must refrain from 'drilling' a new technique at 'normal time' rates. That is, showing or describing an exercise or technique once or twice and then asking young athletes to replicate what they have just learned at a quickened or 'game speed' tempo is counterproductive to learning that technique on an optimal level. Remember, when dealing with young athletes, QUALITY OF TECHNIQUE is inherently more important than performing a certain number of drills. I try to equate developing a young athlete to progressing through the academic levels of a school system; a teacher would not give an example of advanced calculus to a third-grade class and expect them to understand it nor be able to solve calculus-based problems. Essential addition, multiplication, subtraction and division are taught at a young age and progressed upon with advanced conceptual understandings of mathematics as the student progresses in both age and intelligence. The same should be promoted to developing a young athlete. In this example of 'Basic Learning', Coaches and Trainers should teach new techniques in a controlled manner, making sure that the athlete understands the concepts of body mechanics and angle of force, thereby increasing their awareness of movement economy
2. Controlled Application
Once the athlete understands the skill and can perform it at an increased pace during isolated practices (i.e. NOT game situations), the Coach should now incorporate 'opponents' into the next phase of skill/technique learning. This would entail controlled practices or scrimmages in which the techniques are practiced against another team or competitor. This phase of learning should also be based on the quality of repetition, again refraining from 'drilling'. By drilling, I am referring to the Coach or Trainer who uses the common phrase 'Do it again!' at regular intervals during a practice. Remember, learning a technique is a process of which this is phase two. The Coach or Trainer should continue to provide feedback and instruction that supports the athlete in learning and refining this technique to an optimal level.
3. General Application
The Coach has very little influence over this phase during the actual event/game itself. The athlete will react and succeed based on how well they were taught. Quality, positive and constructive feedback should still be offered to the athlete either after the game or at the next practice.
Technical ability in a sport is typically the underlying measure for potential success. Good athletes are more often than not technically sound athletes. This reality, however, does not start and stop with sport specific skills; this fact extends itself into the realm of general athletic development and the promotion or advancement of general movement abilities. The crux of athletic development as a science resides in the notion that before we create a sporting technician or specialist, we must first build the athlete by instilling competency in both basic and advanced movement abilities; this would include not only multi-directional movement skill but also the technical requirements of basic to advanced strength and power training exercises.
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About the Author
Brian Grasso is the President of Developing Athletics, which is a company dedicated to educating coaches, parents and youth sporting officials throughout the world on the concepts of athletic development. Brian can be contacted through his website at www.DevelopingAthletics.com