This formed the second part of my MSc literature review. The first part can be found here.
While physical training has very often utilised periodisation principles to plan and monitor progress over acute and longitudinal timeframes, skill acquisition has very rarely done so. While skill acquisition literature identifies a range of principles to guide skill development, there have been very few studies that have analysed how to apply these skill development principles in professional sport. To date, there have been two studies that have used a systematic approach to plan and monitor skill acquisition within a professional programme.
Skill Acquisition Periodisation (Farrow and Robertson, 2016)
Within this Skill Acquisition Periodisation framework, the SPORT framework was used from a skill acquisition point of view to detail how skill acquisition planning and monitoring could fit into a high-performance programme.
Henry (1968) defined specificity as how accurately training demands reflect that of competition. Proteau et al. (1992) identified that much of the literature investigating specificity has been based around specific sensory information like vision, and how this information guides action.
This definition has strong parallels to the definition of representative practice design above. The practice environment needs to show some level of representativeness to the playing environment, so the performer can become more attuned to affordances in the environment. The constraints used in training should aim to be representative of the constraints used in a game to allow for specificity in training (training is specific to the game). Pinder et al. (2011) categorised constraints into individual, environmental and task. Individual constraints refer to a player’s characteristics – speed, strength, power, endurance. Environmental constraints refer to the weather conditions, or the surface conditions, while task constraints refer to rules of the game or varying equipment.
Progression in skill training can be defined as improvements in skill performance or enhanced skill training load tolerance. A useful concept in this principle is the optimal challenge point hypothesis (Guadagnoli and Lee, 2004). This describes the effect of practice and feedback conditions on motor learning. There is an optimal point of challenge for each athlete depending on their level to promote optimal motor learning.
While monitoring of physical training load has received much attention in the literature, many similar principles can be applied to skill training. Load, as in the volume of practice accumulated, can easily be accounted for. Another important aspect of load is the cognitive effort of skill practice. Cognitive effort can be defined as the mental work involved in making movement decisions (Lee et al., 1994).
Reversibility refers to the loss of beneficial effects of training upon the cessation of training, or the loss of negative effects of detraining, when training is resumed (Grout and Long, 2009). Alongside the coaching eye to assess skill improvements, regular retention tests can be useful to identify the rate of reversibility (Magill, 2006). An alternative to a retention test is a transfer test, and competition performance is the ultimate test of transfer for any player – is there training transferring to competition?
If training becomes tedious due to the monotonous nature of the programme, this will be detrimental to the benefits of the training programme. Magill et al. (2006) stated that the manipulation of one or more training variables will provide an optimal training stimulus. A key concept in skill acquisition that fits this principle is Bernstein’s repetition without repetition (1967). This phrase describes Bernstein’s theory of motor learning, that due to the complex nature of movements, alongside the complex systems performing them (humans can be described as complex adaptive systems), no two movements are the same.
Periodisation of Skill Training (Otte et al., 2019)
The periodisation of skill training (PoST) framework is based on the work of Newell (1985), which proposed three stages of learning – skill coordination stage, skill control stage, skill optimisation stage. Combining the constraints led approach, with this framework of Newell, the PoST framework also contains three stages: coordination training, skill adaptability training and performance training.
The first stage of the model is about allowing the athlete to explore coordination patterns within the training environment. The task complexity and the variability of the environment should be relatively low, to allow for basic movement patterns to develop. This should be done through task simplification rather than task decomposition. Task decomposition strategies are commonly used by coaches to make complex tasks more manageable (McGill, 2001), to reduce the attentional demands on players. An alternative approach to this is task simplification, which originates from James Gibson’s insights on ED. Task simplification aims to keep the coupling of an athlete’s perception and motor performance intact, to continue to strengthen the perception-action relationship (Davids et al., 2003).
Skill adaptability training
A simple progression from stage one (coordination training) to stage 2 (skill adaptability training) is the progression of the environmental variability. The aim of stage two is to enhance robustness and adaptability of skills through the disruptions of a more dynamic training environment. This stage is further categorised into 3 substages – movement variability training, complex training, and team-based training.
- Movement variability training (individual)
The aim here is to adapt movements in response to dynamic environments. There are only one or two players involved, so the representative level of the task is low, but the focus of this stage is “within skill variability”, as players are only executing one skill in any given activity.
- Complex training (small group)
Complex training adds further complexity to the training environment, as players are required to perform several skills in any given activity. Within complex training, the task difficulty can progress from low to high to ensure players are achieving a training stimulus.
- Team-based training (large group)
The final stage aims to maximise game representative interactions between players, tasks, and environment. Due to the greater number of players involved, coaches can more easily create representative training environments, strengthening player’s bonds between ability to perceiving affordances and actions.
The final stage of the PoST model is a step away from Newell’s model on which the PoST framework is based, and a step towards maximising efficiency. In this stage, skill development may not be the primary aim. Close to games for example, building player confidence through movement stabilisation in highly representative tasks may be a more worthwhile investment in training time and energy.
Typically, skill acquisition and periodisation are exclusive from each other. These areas tend to lie independently within training planning and organisation. The high-performance strategic plan will aim to bridge this gap. Two potential advantages of this plan will be the enhanced skill development, and the alignment of all training sessions within a week. The physical preparation and skill development will exist in an undulated periodised plan, with numerous physical qualities and technical skills being trained simultaneously throughout a training week.