The quality of a performance is largely determined by how skilful the performer is.Different skills are needed to perform and participate in different sport activities. The individual becomes familiar with these skills by practising, which eventually leads to mastering the skill. Once the skills are mastered, they can be executed effectively, consistently and efficiently within a competitive game or activity.Therefore, we can define skill as the learnt ability to choose and perform consistently the right techniques (basic patterns of movements) at the right time with maximum certainty and efficiency.Types of skillThere are many different sports and an amazing variety of physical skills. Physical skills involve the movement of the body and are normally called motor skills.Motor skills take time to learn and are the result of a series of mental and physical processes developed through practice.Some motor skills involve movement of a large group of muscles. These are known as gross motor skills. Example: activities that use large blocks of muscle to produce powerful and skilful movement such as javelin throws.Other motor skills involve the movement of a small group of muscles. These are called fine motor skills. Example: the action of the wrist movement in a badminton shot. Gross and fine motor skills need to be repeated consistently for successful performance.Motor skills can be divided into open and closed types. The division between open and closed skills is based on the type of situation or environment in which the skills are used.Open skillsThese are performed in situations that continually change and the player has to keep adapting to the changes as they happen. Successful performance depends on the player’s ability to see what is going on, accurately interpret what is happening, anticipate and act in the right way at the right moment. Example: intercepting passes, moving into position to receive passes and saving a goal, etc.Closed skillsThese are performed in predictable and stable conditions. You have to try to produce the movement in the same way each time. Skills such as cartwheels in gymnastics and free shots in basketball are examples.Most motor skills in sports lie somewhere between open and closed and can be considered as being at either end of a continuous system or continuum. Between the two ends of the continuum are skills made up of both open and closed elements. A continuum is a line which allows for skills made up of open and closed elements to be shown.All skills need to be practised under conditions as close as possible to those that they are going to be performed in. Open skills need to be practised in situations that involve change. Closed skills need to be practised in exactly the same way each time – repetitively. Skills with open and closed elements need both types of practice.Phases of skill learningThe learning of skills goes through phases. The length of each will depend on the difficulty of the skill, level of ability and the amount of practice. The three distinct phases are the cognitive, the associative, and the autonomous.ï Cognitive phase – This is the beginner’s phase. The skill is new. Clear demonstrations, simple instructions and practice are needed. Emphasis must be on technique and not outcome. A lot of errors, jerky performance and inaccuracies will occur. However, praises for correct actions must be given.ï Associative phase – Techniques are learnt and the concentration is on practising the skill. Performance improves, fewer errors are made, and the individual begins to analyse movements and make corrections through internal (use of senses) and external (the coach) feedback.ï Autonomous phase – Expertise is developed and the skill is now performed automatically. The skill is now performed consistently, effectively and efficiently. More concentration is on decision making concerning strategies and tactics. Example: a tennis player concerned about where to play the best shot, rather than the shot itself.Knowing about the different phases helps coaches to plan training activities that match the development of each performer. It is important to learn the skill correctly as you move through the phases because bad habits in the cognitive or associative phases can be difficult to correct later.Next week: Factors affecting performance.