To facilitate the development of a novice into an expert,
we should understand the psychological components that characterize
skilled performers from unskilled performers.
Guthrie (1952) defines a skill as the ability to bring about
some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of
energy or of time and energy. A novice could conceivably execute
a flawless motor skill, yet not be able to perform it consistently,
or with as little effort relative to an expert performer.
Since an individual is limited to perform one complex task
at a time (Boutcher 1992), an individual may have to divert all
of their attentional capacity toward a new task. As individuals
practice a particular motor skill, they eventually learn to eliminate
extraneous movement and to effectively coordinate muscles to
act as a single functional unit. As skills become automatic,
considerably less thought is necessary to effectively complete
the task. This allows skilled performers to attend to other relevant
cues in the environment instead of the particular movement.
Skilled Verses Novice Performers
novice performer has to manage more information when learning
a new motor skill and consequently, possesses less attentional
capacity. Novices are more likely to experience anxiety during
unfamiliar situations. Emotional arousal can narrow the attentional
field and decrease the ability to respond to peripheral stimuli
(Boutcher 1992). Expert performers are more likely able to perform
optimally at a higher arousal level than novice performers (Abernethy,
When novice performers are in competitive situations, they
attempt to consciously monitor the process of performance. Unfortunately,
consciousness (control processing) does not contain the necessary
information for optimal muscular coordination essential for effective
performance (Boutcher 1992).
Skilled performers are better able to correct for extraneous
influences on motor skill. For example, compared to a novice,
an experienced athlete may have a greater chance to deliver an
object to a target while enduring a bodily strike or crowd noise.
Novices may more easily attend to distracting irrelevant cues.
Skilled performers can isolate relevant cues (channel search).
They specifically know what information to attend to and are
better able to focus in on these cues. Interestingly, expert
performers are better able to detect false cues as compared to
novice performers (Abernethy, 1993).
Skilled performers may wait until the last possible moment
in anticipation for a stimulus that may provide better information.
Expert performer's subjective estimates of event probabilities
may more accurately predict actual event probabilities than the
estimates novices utilize for their selective attention and decision
making (Abernethy, 1993). An elite quarterback may be a good
example of a skilled athlete who will choose to wait until the
last possible moment to react.
A behavioral prospective suggests we can facilitate the development
of performance by changing the environment. This may be accomplished
by applying a particular stimulus in a systematic manner such
as social reinforcement, praise or disapproval. A strong association
of the skill with the associated stimulus is desired. Proficiency
is monitored by observation within the behavioral prospective.
The cognitive/behavioral approach may improve performance
by altering the individual thoughts, or cognition. This theory
recognizes the individual's beliefs, memories, and biases may
also influence the development of proficient skill. Educating
the individual to focus on particular cues in performing motor
skill may be an important issue in the cognitive/behavioral approach.
Proficiency is monitored by self-report within the cognitive/behavioral
approach. Interestingly, experienced performers know what it
feels like to perform their particular motor skill, yet often
have difficulty in articulating their actions and perceptions
verbally. Information is thought to be lost when explaining skill,
or tacit knowledge. Furthermore, automatic processing of a motor
skill appears to be free of conscience monitoring (Boutcher,
the ecological prospective, the individual, environment, and
the individual's behavior in the environment all interact and
change throughout time. Control is distributed throughout all
three of these components. The individual attends to certain
information in the environment depending on their interpretation,
or perception of what is important. As the individual becomes
more experienced, they will change what they attend to in the
environment. In essence, the individual can restructure their
experience in their environment as they draw upon new associations
and control their behavior.
Kugler & Turvey (1987) explain that information in the
ecological approach to and action is interpreted as the mean
by which the learner channels the mapping of information and
movement dynamics in the perceptual-motor workspace congruent
with the demand of the task (Newell, 1991). Invariant properties
of the environment act as information to guide the exploratory
activity of the learner (Newell, 1991). Behavior can facilitate
the gaining of knowledge in certain environments. Some behaviors
may offer a greater potential for the acquisition of knowledge.
Over time, they learn how to turn this information into knowledge.
People will have different ways to gain knowledge. As skills
become automatic; considerably less thought is necessary to effectively
complete the task. This allows skilled performers to attend to
other relevant cues in the environment instead of the particular
Characteristics of Elite Athletes
Elite athletes are reported to have distinct characteristics
relative to their less accomplished peers (Mahoney & Gabriel,
1987). They include:
- Experienced fewer problems with anxiety
- Were more successful at deploying their concentration
- Were more self-confident
- Relied more on internally referenced and kinesthetic mental
- Were more focused on their own performance than that of their
- Were more highly motivated to do well in their sport
Other investigators have noted other characteristics:
- Morgan demonstrated that successful athletes possess more
positive mood states than their less successful counterparts
- Morgan & Pollack (1977) have shown that elite runners
were less likely to use dissociative strategies when running
as compared to non elite runners (Boutcher, 1992).
- Elite shooters exhibit different patterns of left and right-brain
cortical activity than do less elite shooters (Boutcher, 1992).
A particular training program and styles of training may elicit
different effects among athletes due to individual differences.
These differences include genetic predispositions, anthropometric
dimensions, fitness levels, emotional state, personality, and
past experiences. Therefore, attempts to duplicate the techniques
and performance styles of world class athletes have proven useless
or even harmful to many athletes. For example, many attempts
by novice divers in the 1980's to mimic Greg Louganis' diving
style resulted in significant deterioration of their own styles
and overall performance. Likewise, attempts to copy the best
Chinese divers' fast somersaulting techniques and clean entry
had proven to be devastating in the mid 2000s (Slobounov SM 2008).
Usain Bolt's (known as the 'fastest man alive') criticism
by 'experts' citing his faulty running technique (eg: "Too
much wasted side to side movement", "Usain's head and
arms are all over the place", "Slow starter")
is one example of how an elite athlete's practices may even contradict
conventional wisdom. (Lauresu 2012, AipsMedia.com; McCarthy 2011,
Nevertheless, acquisition of fundamental skill and coordination
patterns are essential regardless of individual differences (Slobounov
SM 2008). Variations beyond standardized (average) methods and
techniques may only be realized after years of training.
Only average athletes, those who are far from excellent,
prepare with average methods. A champion is not average, but