How does the acquisition of skill affect performance?

Skill acquisition refers to the process that athletes use to learn or acquire a new skill. A skill can be defined as an act or task such as typing or drawing, or in the instance of sport, catching, throwing, and running.

Skill acquisition is a gradual developmental process that requires our cognitive (thinking) processes to work with our physical abilities to learn how to perform movements that we were previously unfamiliar with. For performers and coaches to produce peak performance, it is essential that they understand how the level of skill acquisition can affect performance. This includes an understanding of the learning process, analysis of how well it is performed and identification of how the performance of this skill can be improved.

Learning can occur in three ways:

When learning physical skills motor learning is of greatest importance.

Stages of skill acquisition
Skill learning is a continuous and dynamic process. When the learner acquires a skill certain changes can be seen in their performance as they move through stages of learning from a beginner through to a skilled performer. These changes can be analysed in three stages, as developed by   
Paul Fitts and Michael Posner in Description: external website)1967   These stages are known as the cognitive, associative and autonomous stages of skill acquisition.

Characteristics of the learner
Each individual brings unique qualities, characteristics and experiences to the learning environment. These experiences and characteristics influence the capacity of the learner to acquire skills. These include inherited, social and emotional factors, and are the reason why individuals develop skills at different rates even though they may be exposed to the same training.

The learning environment
In addition to the characteristics a learner brings to the situation, everything outside the learner needs to be considered in terms of the impact on the learning process. This includes the nature, or complexity of the skill to be learnt, the performance elements, the types of practice to be used, the surrounding environment and the nature of feedback.

Assessment of skill and performance
In order to improve performance, an athlete's performance needs to be analysed. In some sports and activities such as Olympic gymnastic, an assessment of skill and performance is used to determine competition results. There are a number of processes we can use to distinguish between a skilled and unskilled performer. The development of objective and subjective performance measures are two ways in which appraisal and evaluation of a performance can be done.

View the following video from the Australian Institute of Sport about the concepts involved in skill acquisition. {C}{C}{C}{C}Description: external website){C}{C}