There is a difference between ability and skill. Our ability is predetermined based on genetics. Abilities include flexibility, coordination, agility, and strength. So, if you feel you lack in those areas, you can blame your parents, right? Well…let’s not go that far. The sorta’ good news is that these abilities stick with us for life, and are hard to change; however, with work, you can improve them.
Skills, on the other hand, are learned, and are indicative of our level of proficiency in the skills. For example, a figure skater or gymnast needs incredible strength and coordination of all limbs. As children, at about two to five years old, we begin developing our motor skills as we play on our own or with friends at school, or the backyard. Even earlier in life as infants, if you put your finger in your child’s hand, they naturally squeeze it, tickle a foot, and toes curl, touch their cheek, and they turn to you expecting food. These are all our most fundamental movements, and thoughts.
You can see younger kids spending time running, and jumping not only because it’s fun, but they are also mastering the basic skills, which are usually developed by the early elementary school age. As adults, we don’t remember much of these efforts, but it isn’t as easy as it looks for toddlers, because they can too easily fall over, and out of balance. At that young age concentrating on staying upright takes all their energy. Moms, and Dads, please don’t panic if your son or daughter is approaching five years of age, and is still not great at catching or throwing. Studies indicate that less than one-third of kids that age reach a level of efficiency that young.
Skills fall into one of three categories, and these can also apply to human behaviors:
- Motor or movement, and execution of necessary skills, and the proper range of motion.
- Cognitive or thinking, knowing, and understanding.
- Perceptual or interpretive, and feelings regarding mental attitude, preparedness, and the ability to manage stress.
While most kids don’t develop skill talents at the same pace, they generally do get them in the same sequence. It’s only natural for parents to want their kids to follow in their footsteps as athletes; however, studies show that putting footballs, basketballs or pompoms into baby hands doesn’t help develop sports-related skills. They just go to the mouth for chewing! If you allow your kids to play well supervised, yet unstructured, they explore and develop in their own time, and way. If you observe your kids naturally developing great coordination skills between sight, movements, and thoughts, then you may see an inherent skill set developing for a sport. As we all know, the key to excelling in any sport is skill. Every coach at every level in every sport is focused on developing, improving, and perfecting the skills needed to be competitive in their sport.
Seven Must-Haves for Every Sport
Remember that skill is defined as being able to perform well at any speed, under pressure consistently, and while fatigued in a competitive environment. The seven steps sound simple enough:
- Perform the skill and work drills that involve the skill under varied conditions. For example, catch a ball standing still, catch it running, catch it on the ground. You get the picture.
- Perform the skill well via practice, and get feedback from the coach so you can incorporate coaching tips into your practice. You can also watch a video or other movement analysis applications to observe your practice and make improvements as needed.
- Perform the skill well, and with the element of speed. Being technically proficient at a slow speed is an accomplishment; however, to become better, you need to practice it by adding increasing speeds. To compete, this is a must!
- Perform the skill well, with the element of speed, and while you are fatigued. It may be helpful for you to think about the last few minutes of your sport. You are likely very weary, potentially dehydrated, and your muscles ache. If you can still execute the skill well, you have the winning edge in any sport.
- Perform the skill well, with the element of speed, while you are fatigued, and under pressure. This may be a challenge to replicate, but if you can’t perform with the same skill, and agility when adding mental or emotional stress, you’ve missed the mark. Your training should be performed at this point in your development, under increasingly demanding pressure criteria.
- Add consistency to the formula!
- Some athletes operate under a competitive brain that they reserve for competitions.
- Those same athletes have a training brain that is accepting of sloppy, lazy or inaccuracy, believing that everything works perfectly in competition. Don’t let this brain take control of your training! Competitive brain always while training or playing!
- Perform the skill well, with the element of speed, while you are fatigued, under pressure, consistently in a competitive environment. Sounding like a broken record? Then, you have the formula for success. Practice alone does not make perfect!
If you’re a coach or a parent, be aware that everyone has their own style and ability. To provide the most meaningful help to your students or kids, here a few ideas:
- Determine the skill set needed for the sport, and test for those skills during team try-outs. If you’re a parent, you can help coach those skills with your kids by helping them practice, and offering constructive feedback.
- Try not to jump to any conclusions on anyone’s ability to perform well in the future. Some folks take longer to bring themselves up to par, while others may excel initially, then fade off later.
- Capitalize on strengths, and they can help to compensate for weaknesses. That doesn’t mean you should stop practicing weaknesses because you can improve them. You can also give them a hand up if you can praise them for their strengths. Most players, especially younger players find that motivating.
- Try to match abilities, and allow them to practice in a group drill designed to strengthen skills. Being on a level playing field is going to make everyone feel more comfortable, and less ostracized.
- If you have a player or student who has well-rounded skills, that’s great; however, be aware they may not be a match for every sport. We suggest you test them on the skills needed for the sport and see how they perform under those conditions. That provides you with a better indication of their propensity for the specific sport.
- When you can, individualize training to each player or a group of similarly skilled players. This is especially helpful for players of varied attitudes, genders, motivation, experience, and medical history. Each of these items can impact performance.
Have you helped anyone develop, and master a sports-related skill? Perhaps your children have been challenged with skill development, or have excelled, tell us your secrets of success, please! What is your personal story of trying out for different sports, and experiencing both failure, and success, and what things would you have done differently if you had the chance? Strength, flexibility, coordination, and endurance are the four major fundamentals, how has each of these impacted you or your child’s sports-related activities? We want to hear your stories! We’re finding ourselves thinking back to those old school days in physical education, and how we were first taught some of these skills during that class. What are your memories?