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UK Coaching Team
Organising and Planning

Guide to Understanding Skill Acquisition for the Development of Skilful Performance

With this comprehensive guide on the Coach Learning Framework's ‘Skill Acquisition’ theme – jam-packed with practical tips, ideas, and the key points you'll need to start putting what you learn into practice – you'll find the knowledge and tools to support you to apply skill acquisition principles to encourage long-term improvements in those you coach

Being skilful encompasses a mixture of intention, perception, decision-making and action capabilities. Having a good understanding of the lifelong skill development in those you coach will support your development and your coaching practice.

This guide – exclusive for UK Coaching Club Subscribers – will serve as a focus point for you to enhance the development of skill in the people you coach.

  • Nonlinear development. Learn about the different factors that influence development and how you can adapt and modify your practice appropriately.
  • Athletic development and fundamental movement skills. Find out about the importance of holistic coaching and preparing individuals for an active life.
  • Practice design that meets the individual's needs. Understand how to create the right balance of challenge and support for the people you coach.
  • Modifying, interacting and adapting your environment. Consider how you can plan your training to meet your participant's goals and the demands of competition.


When watching a session of basketball practice, you notice the children have very different abilities. Some of the children are confident, look skilful and dominate the play, while others seem to be reserved and uncoordinated. Some even seem to deliberately avoid the action. What might you conclude?


When watching a session of basketball practice, you notice the children have very different abilities. Some of the children are confident, look skilful and dominate the play, while others seem to be reserved and uncoordinated. Some even seem to deliberately avoid the action. What might you conclude?

Would your thinking change if you knew the following?

Children arrive at your training having had very different developmental journeys: the experiences or opportunities afforded them up to that point will be varied, as will their growth and development. Therefore, the level of skill they possess at that point will be varied.

Importantly, this snapshot in time does not predict future success. As a coach, you can facilitate the development of every player.

The most confident, skilful player has access to play-space and older siblings who play football, basketball, and tag games with them every day. They are the oldest in the class. One of the less confident children is a competitive skier recovering from a recent injury. Another child lives at the top of a high-rise apartment block and is cared for by an elderly relative with no opportunities to be active outside of school. This child is also the youngest in the class and has a lack of confidence socially as well as a perceived lack of athletic ability.

The performances of these children at this session do not represent the limits of their future capabilities. Indeed, all three children in this example could have different abilities in twelve months’ or three years’ time. All three have the capacity to become an elite player, a world class coach, or a lifetime lover of playing sport. All three need to be nurtured.

As many as possible, as long as possible, in an as good environment as possible."

Mark O’Sullivan (AIK)

Solving problems rather than learning fixed answers

Think of skilful performance as the ability to solve problems rather than learn fixed answers. As a coach, think of your role as considering the question: ‘What problem do they need to solve?’ This will involve discovering:

  • who they are
  • what they need
  • why they’re involved in their sporting environment
  • how they currently interact with their sporting environment.

Knowing what problem needs to be solved will enable you to co-design practice with your participants, giving them the opportunity to explore how to find answers that work for them. This is an important aspect of great coaching!

It starts with planning your initial session design to support observation of how your participants behave. It’s also important to remember that what they need in an individual session will be very different to what they may need over months or years.

What game are you trying to win… the one on Saturday or the one in 1460 days’ time?”


Become part of the exclusive UK Coaching Club to unlock this guide and you'll also gain access to 34 podcasts, tips, webinars, infographics, and guides on the ‘Skill Acquisition' theme of the Coach Learning Framework, including:

Use this guide, as well as the accompanying resources you'll unlock by becoming a UK Coaching Club Subscriber, to learn about an essential component in the journey of every individual from first experience of activity through to life-long participation.

You’ll be able to improve your coaching impact, get better results and derive greater enjoyment from your coaching.

To unlock this full resource, you need to become a UK Coaching Club Premium Member.

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UK Coaching Team