A question of skill in sport — learning vs. acquisition & development

Is learning facts the same process as developing a new skill?

If it is, then (perhaps) academic pedagogical principles transfer to sports coaching.

But if skill development is a different type of “learning”, does the coach need other techniques?

Now, I currently have little to base this feeling beyond my own experience of learning. And I have to admit that my own learning might well have been sub-optimal!

But learning facts (school, university) always felt very different to developing a new (sport) skill.

Academic learning

I would listen to a lecture and take notes, then re-write the notes, refer to a text book for clarification, perhaps, then re-write and refine my notes to capture just the essential facts.

Facts for reproduction (e.g. in an exam) were reduced to the minimum, and stored, mentally, for retrieval. A set of virtual cue cards, perhaps.

(Back in the days when I had to give formal presentations, I’d do exactly the same — draft a speech, then reduce it to headlines & bullet points on actual, physical, cue cards; my headlines might double as the text for a PowerPoint slide deck.)

Skill development

A new skill would inspire me to practice it, perhaps mentally, first, then in private, then in the nets — if the skill was robust enough, I’d try it in a match, then develop it further, or drop it, depending on how well it worked.

“Skills” expand to fit the context. The basic movements (the “facts”) are only the beginning of application.

So closer to the model of learning proposed by Whitehead — romance (discovering a new skill and wanting to learn it), precision (learning how it works), generalisation (putting that skill into the matchday repertoire.

Is learning facts the same as developing a (movement) skill?

Maybe this starts to crystallise my question about the applicability of “academic” learning studies to sports learning.

For any study, ask “what is the experimental end-point?” Is it short-term reproduction of facts, or long-term understanding?

For sport skill acquisition, the latter seems preferable. So I am wary of the relevance to skill development of an academic study that reports on short-term retention of facts.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

Join the Conversation


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Nice one!
    First we need to define “learning”. If it is shallow or strategic learning (i.e. just to pass a test by regurgitating factoids), well, then there is not much else than plain memorization needed https://notesfromnina.com/2017/08/19/deep-learning/.
    However, if we need to deep learn something (i.e. to be used in our profession or otherwise), then we also need to understand it well enough to know how to apply it, analyze and evaluate its usefulness in different situations, and so on. (btw, this the the basics of Bloom’s taxonomy https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/). While the learning process may be somewhat different for skill building that “book learning”, I am afraid that too often we have too simple view of learning process.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts on this.
      I do recognise some of the steps implicit in Bloom’s taxonomy (thanks for the link!), but I do wonder if the applicability to skill development is more apparent than real.
      I was very taken by some recent research on skill acquisition in hunter-gatherer communities — learning through imitation and play rather than instruction.

      Much more reading (and learning”) required!

      1. Ah, yes, learning from peers is important for all children (wonderful article, thanks!!!), and we don’t give enough credit for all the informal learning that happens outside of shcool. Also, all too often we seem to fall into the thinking trap of imaging teaching and learning being the same (just one) process, or two sides of the same coin. They are not. Everyone learns without teaching. Most people learn better when taught. Yet, learning is so individual that we shouldn’t assume that what was taught was also learned. https://notesfromnina.com/2012/09/30/is-learning-a-product-or-a-process/

        Play (especially free play) has always been the most important way for children to learn. With school learning we would do much better if we followed the natural flow of learning patterns and allowed students to learn from each other in real life contexts (instead of forcing students to sit down and listen for hours and hours). And life-long learning combines the theoretical and skill acquisition parts of learning process (I think!).

%d bloggers like this: