Skill Acquisition                 Assignment 4

Skill acquisition

Assignment 4

BTEC National Diploma in Sport and Exercise Science

Cara Dunsbee

Brief – “Skill is learned; knowledge of how learning occurs is important to coaches and teachers in order to modify a performer’s behaviour and produce the desired response. Investigate the proposed theories of learning and how they are used in the practical environment.”

“Learning can be considered a more or less permanent change in performance associated with experiences but excluding changes which occur through maturation and degeneration or through alternations in the receptor of Effector organs”

(Knapp 1973)

I am now going to give the main points of the different learning theories, and explain the differences between them, using examples from sport to describe how each of the theories can be used in a teaching or coaching action.  

Connectionist or Association Theories.

These theories rely on the learner linking a stimulus from the environment with a movement. This stimulus may take the form of a problem. For example in a water polo match the centre forward might be ball side of the centre back. In response to this the ball will get played in to the centre forward. The player defending at the top of the arc on position 3 would drop back to help. If this was found successful then this response becomes connected/ associated with the stimulus and stored in the long term memory. This type of connection is called a learning bond and can be recalled and repeated at any time if a similar situation should occur.

To learn like this a coach should

  1. Structure the situation in training, setting up an ark and telling the players exactly what the need to do.
  2. Apply reinforcement.
  3. Shape behaviour in small parts of steps.
  4. Use trial and error learning.

Strengths and weaknesses in this theory.

One of the weaknesses of this theory is that water polo is a game where the surroundings are constantly changing. If a coach dictates exactly what the team must do then in a match if the situation is not exactly the same the team will not feel confident doing it. However if the situation is not set up in training when it comes to a match the team will have no idea at all what to do. This theory also states that you should use trial and error learning as well. This would encourage learning more than setting up the positions and the coach dictating exactly what to do because the learners have to think about exactly what they are doing. Another strength of this theory is that you need to apply reinforcement and positive feedback if the skill is performed well. This encourages the skill to be performed again.

Cognitive theories of learning.

A group of psychologists (Koehler, Koffka, Lewin) Known as the Gestaltists proposed 2 principals.

  1. Learning can be accelerated by using insight or intuition to solve a problem. For example a water polo team may decide to play a 3, 3 man up attack. The defenders will experiment with different ways of defending this (trial and error) then they will suddenly come up with a solution – a moment of insight.
  2. “Learning is most effective when a problem is seen as a whole or when the whole pattern of the movement can be practiced. This enables the performer to understand all the issues and relationships which need to be considered.” (class notes) For example learners should practice eggbeater with the sculling arms as well and not break it down in to 2 different things, the eggbeater leg kick and the sculling arms.

This gestaltian view presents that learning is most effective when a whole problem is given to the learner who searches for an effective solution.


Strengths and weaknesses of this theory.

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A strength of this theory is it allows the learners to experiment and use there own intuition and knowledge to solve a problem they face. However if the learner has absolutely no idea what they are doing they will not improve or learn the skill until the coach tells / shows them exactly what they need to do. Another strength of this theory is that a learner should learn as whole and not just smaller parts of skills. This encourages the co-ordination needed do carry out the movement. However if a learner can not do a certain part of ...

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