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Friday, 16 April 2010

Research into Practice: Practice, practice, practice

A New Yorker is approached in the street near Carnegie Music Hall, and asked, "Pardon me sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" He replies, "Practice, practice, practice."

The ‘Amadeus Myth’ is the belief that exceptional performance is produced by mysterious powers or abilities limited to a special few. Obviously genetics makes a huge contribution to development, but does it explain such amazing achievements, or are there more important factors? What is the difference that makes the difference?

What does Research Tell Us?

Research has highlighted the vital role of practice in high-level performance. Some scientists have suggested that the apparent fact that some pick up skills at a faster rate than others is more best explained by sustained but unobserved practice, and this claim is supported by a many studies on elite performers’ lives. Interestingly, there is evidence of a distinct pattern in the time necessary to progress from beginner to expert: high performers in lots of different areas (music, poetry, science, mathematics and, of course, sport) have required at least ten years of concentrated practice in order to reach their high level of mastery. Of course, not all practices are equally valuable, and mere quantity of practice is unlikely to result in expert performance; quality of practice is also required. Some talk about ‘deliberative practice’ to refer to activities that are structured, goal-orientated, require effort and are not always inherently enjoyable. The type of sport is an important factor, too. Some sports (mainly new sports) will usually require less investment of time to make it to the top. Others (like golf, according to some recent research) can take as long as twenty years. But whatever variations exist, one thing seems absolutely clear: practice matters.

What does it mean for coaching?

1. Coaches need to allow enough practice time for their players to develop.

2. In most cases, this means structured practice, with good quality feedback, goal setting and support.

3. Since some of this practice may not be motivating in itself, it is important that players are taught the mental skills to deal with frustration and boredom if they arise.

Useful source of further information
Starkes, J.L. and Ericsson, K.A. (2003) Expert Performance in Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Friday, 19 March 2010


“Children who possess inadequate motor skills are often relegated to a life of exclusion from organised and free play experiences of their peers, and subsequently, to a lifetime of inactivity because of their frustration in early movement behaviour.” (Seefeldt, Haubensricke and Reuchslein)

Sports skills involve a dazzling array of specialist movements and actions. Yet, many sports coaches are encouraging their athletes/players to develop a broad foundation of ‘basic’ or “fundamental” movements and actions that are not only common to all sports but also underpin these specialist and more sport specific skills. So, fundamental movement skills (FMS) programmes are increasingly common in sports clubs and at schools. This trend is apparent from the proliferation of a wide range of “Fundamental” and “Multi-Skill” type programmes in school and community settings in recent years.

What does Research Tell Us?

There have been few long-term studies of the relationship between basic and specific movement skills in sport, and this is probably due to the difficulty of carrying out this type of research. However, there is a consensus among researchers that FMS are of great significance in terms of both early and later participation in sport and other activities. FMS are generally characterised in terms of movement, object manipulation and stability. It has been suggested that these skills make up the common actions of almost all later sports skills, and that a failure to develop a sound foundation will prevent young athlete/players from benefitting from physical play activities, and will leave weaknesses in their repertoire of movement skills throughout their sporting careers. In other words, FMS are the building blocks of sports participation and performance. This might explain why early specialisation is rarely an effective preparation for lifelong participation in sport. Early specialisation taken to the extreme has been shown to lead to what has been termed as “one-sided development” (i.e. mastery of only narrow base of skills) that in turn tends to lead to several negative consequences (see Section 2 – ‘Early Specialisation has its Dangers’).

What does it mean for coaching?

1. FMS should form a central part of all coaching programmes for young people, whatever their sport.

2. Coaches from different sports could profitably come together to share movement skill ideas in order to offer rich, varied and stimulating experiences for all young players.

3. Even within a particular sport, coaches should encourage the development of a wide range of skills as possible especially in the early years of participation. For example, in team games playing and learning the skills associated with different positions and in sports such as Swimming, Gymnastics, and Athletics children being exposed to a range of skills (e.g., variety of aquatic skills and all Swimming strokes; variety of Gymnastics disciplines/apparatus; variety of running, jumping the throwing skills).

Useful source of further information

Haywood, K and Gretchell, N. (2001) Life Span Motor Development, 3rd Edition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.