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Core 2: Factors affecting performance

How does the acquisition of skill affect performance?

The learning environment

Key Messages

  • The learning environment refers to conditions external to the learner, including the nature of the skill, performance elements, practice methods and feedback.
  • Open skills occur in an unpredictable and changing environment whereas closed skills occur in an environment that is stable and predictable.
  • Gross motor skills require the use of large muscle groups for execution whereas fine motor skills require the use of small muscle groups to perform the movement.
  • Discrete skills have a distinctive beginning and end. Serial skills involve a sequence of smaller movements that are assembled to make a recognisable skill; Continuous skills have no distinct beginning or end.
  • Self-paced skills are movements for which the performer determines the timing and speed of execution whereas externally paced skills are movements for which an external source controls the timing.
  • Performance elements are those factors that are required to perform the skill in a game setting and include game components such as decision making, strategic development and tactical development.
  • Practice method can be classified as massed or distributed which is determined by the length of practice and rest intervals.
  • Skills can be taught using either whole or part methods depending on the complexity of the skill or whether the skill can be broken down into smaller skills.
  • Feedback forms an important role in the learning process because it provides guidance and helps the performer eradicate movement error. The type of feedback given to an individual will change as the person develops their level of skill.
  • The many types of feedback include internal, external, concurrent, delayed, knowledge of performance and knowledge or results.

The learning environment can have a positive and negative impact on the learning process and is a major factor in the development of skills. The learning environment refers to everything outside the learner, including the weather, the skill itself, the situation it is practiced in, and information from coaches.

Nature of the skill
The nature of the skill can be classified by observable characteristics. These include factors such as whether the skill is an open or closed one, involves gross of fine motor skills, is a discrete, serial or continuous skill, or is self or externally paced.

The performance elements
For effective performance an athlete needs to practice in a learning environment that provides opportunities to develop the key elements of their skill performance under game-like settings, not just the skill fundamentals. These key elements include an athlete’s decision-making skills and their tactical and strategic development.

Practice method
To learn and improve skills, practice is required. There are a number of different ways in which skill practice sessions can be conducted such as massed or distributed, and whole or part. This section examines some of these practice methods.

Feedback is the process of providing a performer with information about the nature or result of their performance. The performer will receive information from internal and external sources which may be concurrent or delayed.

For further information on skill classification click on the following link: http://www.brianmac.co.uk/continuum.htm (external website)

Hand on mouseStudent activity
  1. Click on the follow link to view scenarios and answer the questions to check your understanding of the effect of the learning environment on the acquisition of skill.

    Check answer


Reflect on how the learning environment relates to performance, e.g.

  • Select a sport or physical activity and analyse how a learning environment could impact on performance in that activity.
  • Explore various styles of coaching and training and how these suit different athlete’s needs.
  • Design a suitable plan for teaching a skill from cognitive level through to autonomous level reflecting:
  • appropriate practice methods
  • integration of relevant performance elements
  • an awareness of how instruction may vary according to the characteristics of the learner
  • how feedback will be used as learners progress through the stages of skill acquisition.


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