Expertise Instructions Practice Design

A model for refining or regaining technique in skilled athletes

A question that most coaches want to know is: what is the best strategy to modify a skilled performer’s technique? 

Surprisingly (and unfortunately) there have been very few attempts to collect empirical data on this issue.

When attempting to modify a person’s technique, typically a coach will face one of two scenarios:

  1. The performer wants to refine their technique in an attempt to improve performance.
  2. The performer has developed a bad habit in their technique and this has led to a decline in performance. Consequently the performer wants to revert to (or regain) a previous technique.

Howie Carson and Dave Collins proposed a model – named the “Five A Model” – to guide coaches and sports scientists when planning to refine or regain an athlete’s technique.

The 5 steps in the model are outlined below.

1. Analysis

AIM: “Provide an individualised diagnosis and prescription to the problem.”

Identifying the technical component to change should be an individualised process. The authors emphasise that coaches should avoid changing technique simply so that it looks like the textbook technique. Coaches need to be sure that the technical component to be changed is the cause of the error in performance. Athlete involvement in this process is encouraged.

2. Awareness

AIM: “Call into consciousness the current technique vs. the desired new technique.”

To change technique, it is important to introduce noise into the movement system to destabilise the current technique. This can be achieved by asking the performer to adopt the new technique directly after adopting the old technique during simplified tasks. This type of practice is also referred to as “old way/new way”. The coach can then ask the performer to identify if each performance correctly adopted the intended technique, thereby raising awareness of the technical change.

3. Adjustment

AIM: “Modify and correct the flaw in technique.”

The aim during this stage is to gradually return to normal task conditions. The athlete should still engage in “old way/new way” practice, but with a greater emphasis on the new way. The coach should also begin to introduce variability into practice as this will help the athlete learn to functionally adapt the new technique to a range of situations.

4. (Re) Automation

AIM: “Internalise the change to the extent that it is no longer in consciousness”.

Performing a skill without consciously attending to the technical components of the skill is thought to improve the ability to perform under pressure. Hence, the aim during this stage is to facilitate the process of performing the skill automatically. Strategies to achieve this include heightening variability during practice, performing the skill when fatigued, and providing holistic cues to focus on.

5. Assurance

AIM: “Achieve a state whereby the athlete and coach do not require further need for additional modification.”

It is important that the athlete feels confident in performing the new technique in competition. To heighten confidence, the coach (or another expert) can demonstrate the robustness of the new technique by showing video feedback (or, even better, a 3D analysis) of performance in competition or simulated competition. This feedback should be provided at multiple time points post the technical change.

Final Comment

The authors propose a number of coaching strategies that can be adopted during each stage of the process. I encourage anyone interested in this model to read the full article.

Reference

Carson, H. J., & Collins, D. (2011). Refining and regaining skills in fixation/diversification stage performers: The Five-A Model. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology4(2), 146-167.

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