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It's all in the Technique

Brian Mackenzie explains how we learn a new skill, how performance can be assessed, and how faults can be developed in that learning process.

When we choose to move, the action is controlled by the conscious brain using a collection of learned movements. For the movement to progress successfully, the athlete requires appropriate information feedback.

Types of skill

There are many different types of skills:

  • Cognitive - or intellectual skills that require thought processes
  • Perceptual - interpretation of the presented information
  • Motor - movement and muscle control
  • Perceptual-motor - involve the thought, interpretation, and movement skills

How do we teach a new skill?

The teaching of a new skill can be achieved through various methods:

  • Verbal instructions
  • Demonstration
  • Video
  • Diagrams
  • Photo sequences

The Learning Phases

There are three stages of learning a new skill and these are:

  • Cognitive phase - Identification and development of the parts of the skill
  • Associative phase - Linking the parts into a smooth action
  • Autonomous phase - Developing the learned skill so that it becomes automatic

The learning of physical skills requires the relevant movements to be assembled, component by component, using feedback to shape and polish them into a smooth action. Rehearsal of the skill must be done regularly and correctly.

Technique Drills

Appropriate drills should be identified for each athlete to improve specific aspects of technique or to correct faults. Drills should not be copied slavishly but should be selected to produce a specific effect e.g. Running Drills are used to develop important components of proper and economical running technique. Whichever drills are used they must be correct for the required action and should be the result of careful analysis and accurate observation.

How do we assess performance?

Initially, compare visual feedback from the athlete's movement with the technical model to be achieved. Athletes should be encouraged to evaluate their performance. In assessing the athlete's performance consider the following points:

  • Are the basics correct?
  • Is the direction of the movement correct?
  • Is the rhythm correct?

It is important to ask athletes to remember how it felt when correct examples of movement are demonstrated (kinaesthetic feedback). Appropriate checklists/notes can be used to assist the coach in the assessment of an athlete's technique.

How are faults caused?

Having assessed the performance and identified that there is a fault, you need to determine why this is happening. Faults can be caused by:

  • Incorrect understanding of the movement by the athlete
  • Poor physical abilities
  • Poor coordination of movement
  • Incorrect application of power
  • Lack of concentration
  • Inappropriate clothing or footwear
  • External factors e.g. weather conditions

Strategies and Tactics

Strategies are the plans we prepare in advance of a competition, which we hope will place an individual or team in a winning position. Tactics are how we put these strategies into action. Athletes in the associative phase of learning will not be able to cope with strategies, but the athlete in the autonomous phase should be able to apply strategies and tactics.

To develop strategies and tactics we need to know:

  • the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition
  • our strengths and weaknesses
  • environmental factors

Remember ---- Practice makes permanent, but not necessarily perfect.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) It's all in the technique. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 3 / July), p. 5-6

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) It's all in the technique [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

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 of experience as an endurance athlete.