Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition
Posted by Dean Holden at July 7th, 2012
By A. MARK WILLIAMS* & NICOLA J. HODGES
Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK
(Accepted 24 July 2004)
Journal of Sport Sciences
Full document link here
The acquisition of soccer skills is fundamental to our enjoyment of the game and is essential to the attainment of expertise. Players spend most of their time in practice with the intention of improving technical skills. However, there is a lack of scientific research relating to the effective acquisition of soccer skills, especially when compared with the extensive research base on physiological aspects of performance. Current coaching practice is therefore based on tradition, intuition and emulation rather than empirical evidence. The aim of this review is to question some of the popular beliefs that guide current practice and instruction in soccer. Empirical evidence is presented to dispel many of these beliefs as myths, thereby challenging coaches to self-reflect and critically evaluate contemporary doctrine. The review should inform sports scientists and practitioners as to the important role that those interested in skill acquisition can play in enhancing performance at all levels of the game.
Keywords: coaching, expertise, motor learning, performance
Practice and instruction: The key determining factors in attaining excellence
Myth 1: Demonstrations are always effective in conveying information to the learner
Myth 2: Specific, blocked practice of a single skill is essential for skill learning
Myth 3: Augmented feedback from a coach should be frequent, detailed and provided as soon as possible after the skill has been performed
Myth 4: Prescriptive coaching is always better for skill acquisition than instructional approaches based on learning by guided discovery
Myth 5: Game intelligence skills are not amenable to practice and instruction
Summary and conclusions
The aim of this review has been to summarize contemporary research on motor learning, particularly as it relates to the acquisition of soccer skills. We wished to highlight several potential myths about practice and instruction that have permeated coaching doctrine in soccer. Initially, we highlighted the important role that practice plays in the acquisition of expertise. The motivation to succeed and the commitment to practice are perhaps the most important attributes to possess on the road to excellence.
A model of instruction was then presented and used as a framework for much of the ensuing discussion. The traditional belief that demonstrations are essential for effective instruction was questioned. We identified the conditions under which demonstrations may be detrimental to skill acquisition and highlighted the need to direct attention to the action effects, rather than the actual bodily consequences. Next, we highlighted the importance of variable and random practice conditions and argued that coaches may be too conservative when structuring practice, preferring the stability and security of grid and drill practices over more dynamic small-sided games. The importance of encouraging players to take responsibility for their learning by developing effective problem solving skills was highlighted. A variety of techniques were identified that may help coaches ‘‘fade out’’ the importance of augmented feedback early in learning. The merits of the traditional, prescriptive approach to coaching were then considered and evidence was presented to illustrate how a more ‘‘hands-off’’, less prescriptive approach based on learning through guided discovery may offer several advantages in developing ‘‘smarter’’ players. Various examples of how to manipulate the constraints evident within the learning environment so that the desired behaviour emerges through guided discovery were illustrated. Finally, we presented evidence to demonstrate that ‘‘game intelligence’’, skills such as anticipation and decision-making, are amenable to practice and instruction and suggested that such interventions should be routinely used in the talent development process.
Popular coaching beliefs have been challenged to highlight the important role that sport scientists with a background in skill acquisition can play in developing elite players. The material presented should encourage coaches to reflect on their current beliefs and appreciate the need to embrace a culture where ‘‘evidence-based’’ practice permeates all aspects of the profession. At the very least, the discussion should provide ‘‘food for thought’’ and encourage coaches to integrate and apply some of the principles outlined in developing future generations of elite performers.