This essay is about the differences between skill, ability and technique. Although some of the differences maybe obvious, there are many that aren’t. The essay will discuss possible ways to structure practice sessions to enhance skill, ability and technique. There will be sporting specific examples to show how the skill, ability and technique can be used in these practices. These examples will be from team, individual and racquet sports.
Ability is something that we are all born with, under pins any skills that can be learnt. Some people have more than others, it’s only natural. Ability is described as being ‘The quality of being able to do something, especially the physical, mental, financial, or legal power to accomplish something’ (www.answers.com, 19/1/07). With respect to sport it is whether or not you are able to carry out a specific skill. For example, being completely new to a sport (e.g. basketball) and being able to learn how to pass properly in a reasonably short amount of time. This means that the person has a high level of ability and will be able to learn new skills quickly, and then learn how to adapt these skills to make his game get to a higher level.
Being born with lots of ability means we can carry out and learn new skills with great ease. This then helps us to develop new skills in sport. There are around 50 recognisable abilities (according to Fleishman, 1958), classified in four sub-categories: cognitive abilities, perceptual abilities, physical abilities, and psychomotor abilities. If we wish to improve and enhance our abilities then we can do so in the form of structured practices. The practices that can improve ability are usually variable; it can also be improved by stretching. A variable practice means that the player will be able to work on many areas of his ability at the same time. This will then help them to co-ordinate their body to carry out specific skills in the game. An example of variable training would be a circuit. This would be set out with different stations to work on one specific area of ability, at a time. It may include things like step-ups, to improve gross body co-ordination, press-ups, to improve upper body dynamic strength. Many of the abilities can be improved through structured practices, which in turn can also help to develop new skills.
Skill is something we learn. There are thousands of skills that the human body can learn. To learn a new skill a person must have raw ability to build on. There is no limit to how many skills can be learnt. The skill that a person has is directly related to their ability, meaning the higher ability the better a skill will be. The skills that are learnt can be developed to make them better, this is called technique. To make a skill better, we need to practice that skill. This can be done in several ways. Through massed, fixed, variable, or distributed practice. Massed practices that lead to high levels of fatigue and performance deterioration, in the long-run, seem to be just as effective for developing skills as well-spaced practice sessions which allow recovery and the maintenance of good practice standards. However, too much excessively massed practice can be detrimental to learning and other factors associated with performance.
In a game situation skills are being changed and adapted constantly. This means that a skill has to be learnt from a basic skill, and then developed and practiced before being used in a game situation. For example, to practice an over head tennis serve it has to be learned as a basic skill. To start with there is the throw of the ball into the air, and then there is the hit, and finally the follow through. The skill can be practiced in stages, and then put together to make the final serve. It then can then be adapted to make it useable from any angle on the court, so that it always challenges the opponent. This means the performer can change and develop their technique. The skill can be learnt by yourself, or it can be taught by an expert. An expert can not only offer to teach skills, but they can also offer experience. Their experience can be key to winning a game; they can pass on their knowledge of which shots work at which time in the game.
The skill can also be affected by two other factors. Age and the level at which you are playing at. The age of a player can affect the skill, as age can slow reactions and muscles may not be able to cope with the stresses of game play. The level at which you play causes greater stress on the body as you move up towards international level. At lower levels, such as regional, there are fewer spectators to put you off, and the games are less intense as there is less at stake. At international level, the stress on the body can be immense, causing the performer to not perform as well as they could due to the pressure on them. This is where more and more practice is required to perfect certain skills.
Technique is the way we carry out skills. To have technique we need to learn the required skill first. There are many different techniques to perform skills. When you are playing a sport often you will use/make your own technique. For example in athletics for a long distance race, the most common technique is to use your arms in an up and down motion:
Although this is the most common technique there are others. Some people run with their arms down by their side. This is a technique that they have adopted from the normal one. They have gotten their body used to running like it.
The technique of running with your arms up is an example of a perfect model for running. A perfect model is someone who is looked up to for their performance in a certain sport. E.g. Michael Johnson for the 200m and 400m with records of 19.32 and 43.18 respectively. Technique can be split down into sub-routines. These sub-routines mean that a skill can be developed easier. The sub-routines can be learnt as whole or part. A whole sub-routine means that a skill is learnt as one movement e.g. a golf swing. The part sub-routine means that a skill can be learnt in stages e.g. a badminton serve.
Technique is usually taught to performers by a professional. This technique is often the one a performer will use throughout their sporting life. The technique of a skill depends on how it feels to the performer i.e. the performer has to feel comfortable with the technique before he can optimize his performance and develop his own technique and adapt it for maximum effectiveness.
To conclude, there are many different ways to enhance these components. Most of them can be enhanced by practice. As the common saying says ‘practice makes perfect’. The practices that can be used for all of the factors are mainly massed, distributed, variable and fixed which will work on certain areas of skill, ability and technique.