9 Steps to Mastering a Skill

Mastering a Skill is one of the more interesting topics coaches will have an opportunity to discuss while they are developing their coaching philosophy. Many coaches start by visualising how athletes under their own direction have developed and progressed from the “green” beginner to expert performer. It is not difficult to associate within the mastering a skill different stages or standards that a player must reach prior to advancing onto competence. However, for a philosophy to be truly functional it must be suitable across a wide range of sports and their different contexts.


The Steps involved in Mastering a Skill are important to recognise as they help a coach and player set meaningful goals and targets to stay focused and on track (Photo Source: Tim Green)
The Steps involved in Mastering a Skill are important to recognise as they help a coach and player set meaningful goals and targets to stay focused and on track (Photo Source: Tim Green)

There are many different philosophies on athlete development from junior to senior or participative to elite. There are just as many sports organisations and teams that have developed their own philosophy in regards to development of individuals or teams. For this reason, there can be a lot of variation between philosophies and the strategies that can be utilised.


Having a look at what successful programs are employing is a useful strategy for determining what principles are good, practical and proven. Another important aspect to consider however for many grassroots and development programs is the efficiency of a program. Not all programs have an endless supply of resources or willing participants, so being able to get the most out of every person involved in a program will also be a high priority.


Functional Basketball Coaching has developed a number of different stages associated with skill development pathway that can be used as a guide for athletes development and progression into a skilful player. These steps have not been associated in this instance with an age group or standardised with regards to performance. The Functional Basketball Coaching 9 Steps to Mastering a Skill examines purely the process of development.


Introduction of the Skill; Knowledge and Awareness


The first stage is where in mastering a skill that the fundamental technique is taught, explained and defined. During this stage an athlete will often be performing the skill in isolation, free of pressure (defence) and not burdened by the requirement of game paced performance. For many athletes this is a brief stage of development, but one in which the instruction of the skill needs to be to a high quality so right from the start the athlete is making the most of their time in practice and attainment of excellence or perfection.


It is vital that the athlete have access to a to a knowledge coach so this stage is implemented quickly and efficiently with the end result of the learning instruction results in a understanding of what the right skill performance looks like.


Skill Performed to Competent Standard


Within this stage, the skill development the athlete performs the skill with the correct technique and at the pace required to meet the needs of the standard of competition. This means to compete at the elite levels of any sport the requirement is obviously higher at this stage.


Game pace is an important term as it helps define what the level of competence the technique needs to be performed at. This will help an athlete refine their skill set further and further so they can meet the speed at which the training and game is played at.


As this level, players will also start to become more compete with the linking of skills together so they become more and more suitable for training and game situations.


Individual Technical Performance of Skill Mastered


When players master a skill to this level they really do not benefit significantly from further use of non-competitive based drills. These types of drills can be used during specific focus on technique breakdowns, but should be gradually replaced with competitive based activities that add elements of pressure and tactical awareness to the spectrum of the skill performance.


Just because a player’s technique is not perfect, does not necessarily mean they have not mastered a skill. In some instances such as injury or poor instruction initially a player may never obtain a “textbook” quality technique. However, they might be able to perform the desired skills in a modified state that meets and exceeds the standard of play required.


Skill Performed within Competitive Training Situations


Within this phase of development, the player takes their technique and game paced performance and now challenges this through competitive drills and activities in a training environment. At this stage, a player is working to just use the skills as they are intended tactically, in game like situations practiced during training sessions.


Initially the challenge will lie in a player making the right choice at the right time to use the various skills they possess. Secondly, the development moves onto being able to use those skills proficiently to gain the maximum effect from the technique for the individual or the team as a whole.


Skill Rehearsed and Refined under Fatigue Conditions in Training Situations


Within this phase of development a player has satisfactorily been able to perform the skills at the required pace to meet the demands of the level of competition. A player now practices performing these skills in fatigued situations or to the point where automated responses start to take effect. In essence this is where the player develops good habits, which take precedence over cutting corners when on the court and playing tired.


Skill Mastered in Breakdown and Team Training Situations


The final phase with a training session focus is when mastering a skill sees the player now becoming competent or above competence in rehearsal and performance of the skill within all types of training session situations. Within this phase a player starts to be able to bring all of the demands require to excel at using a skill onto the floor. Technique, speed, consistency of performance in the right context is to a high standard and is constantly being refined to always improve.


Skill Performed within Game Situations


The first phase within the range of game focused steps sees a player utilise the skill during game situations. Just using the skill however is only the start. The player will be able to perform the skill technically proficient and at game pace. This will mean that the skill is able to be performed to meet the standard of competition.


In this phase, the player is able to utilise the skill with effect during games. This may also be represented by linking the fundamental skill with others so the performance becomes more effective in game situations. The performance in this phase of the skill during a game will be inconsistent, as the player requires game knowledge and experience.


Skill Rehearsed and Refined under Fatigue Conditions in Game Situations


The ability to work within fatigued situations to still perform the desired skill technical and at the game pace required to be successful defines this phase of development. At this point, a player is able to consistently perform the skill even in the closing stages of competition with a high degree of proficiency.


Skill Mastered in Pressure and Fatigue Game Situations

The final stage of mastering a skill sees the player able to perform the skill at the required level or above the standard of competition consistently. All aspects of technique, speed of performance, consistency under fatigue are all affirmative consistently.


The steps involved in mastering a skill will be extensive and should take time for a player to move through. Initially at the outset of an athlete’s progress along this pathway to mastering a skill the steps will be quick to progress through. However once moving towards the end of the training and into the game phases, a player’s progress will be slower and less frequent. Requiring a higher level of commitment and effort to become competent to the required level at performing the skill within the described context.

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Coach Riches has been working within the sport, business and education industries for many years. During this time he has built an extensive number of formal and informal qualifications. A firm believer in training and development designed to help people reach their full potential, relevant o their needs and functional to their industry environment.

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