Developing a skill: the theory

The superhighway of accelerated learning!

Chapter 5: Developing a Skill: The Theory

In the next three chapters we will explain why Sport Diddy challenges work so effectively, show you exactly how to rapidly develop your own child’s skills, and teach you to build fun and effective challenges yourself.

The Stages of Learning

There are three important stages in learning and developing skills:

  1. Preparation / Cognitive Stage
  2. Associative Stage
  3. Autonomous Stage

(For far more detail, see “Human Performance“ (Fits & Posner, 1967) or Gabrielle Wulf’s “Attention and Motor Skill Learning”)

1. Preparation / Cognitive Stage

This is where you find out exactly what is involved in the skill. Mistakes are common and should be expected. Plenty of feedback is required. When I began teaching skills to my children I ensured that they achieved early success. This builds confidence and competence rapidly.

When a child understands and can execute the skill without thinking too much about it, then they are entering the Associative Stage of learning.

2. Associative Stage

The child knows what the skill is and now requires practice and repetition. Repeated practice allows the child to become more consistent in the skill and makes fewer errors. Regular feedback and reflection allows adjustments to each performance. This is the longest stage of learning.

3. Autonomous Stage

During this stage skills are performed automatically without conscious thought. The performer does not have to focus on the execution of the skill. We see efficient execution with very few errors, which can be easily identified and corrected.

Can a child reach the autonomous stage of learning? I would argue that my children reached it with many skills. We wouldn’t have been able to film the challenges without my children being in this phase. I knew that when we started the camera rolling we would capture the challenge as they had performed it many times before in practice.  

As an example, when Diddy performed 100 kick ups in the park he achieved it on his first attempt. How was he able to achieve this difficult challenge? Well he had already performed 100 kick ups 17 times in practice.

The “Superhighway” of Accelerated Learning

How have Diddy and Diddy Roo learned so many different techniques without hours and hours of practice?

How can they perform skill after skill with such accuracy that they can complete a complex challenge in a very short period of time?

Here is an area for further research!

I developed my own process for developing skills which allowed me to teach my children at an astonishing rate.

I started filming with Diddy aged 2. By the age of 6, he had completed 100 sporting challenges (that even sporty adults would find testing). We started filming Diddy Roo aged 1 and she had completed 100 challenges by the age of 3!

As I improved my teaching and learning I put my children on a super highway of accelerated learning. I would argue that both my children reached the autonomous phase of learning with certain skills in a very short period of time.

How can a two year old child find the secret to accelerated learning?

1. Right Skills

First, we have to be more ambitious in which skills we introduce our kids to. They won’t be able to get all of them but Diddy and Diddy Roo have learned techniques that aren’t usually introduced to children until much older (yet they can pick them up much quicker).

2. Right Practice

With bad practices kids get bored, don’t develop the correct technique, or don’t learn how to apply a technique in different situations (develop a skill). But with the right practice, anybody can do a month’s worth of learning in 10 minutes and transfer it to any sport put in front of them.

The right practice has a goal that is just a little bit harder than they can easily achieve. Too easy is boring, too hard is unattainable. But when something is within reach if you just have a few goes (and tweak the action each time) then it is highly motivating. If video games get this balance right they can make millions of dollars!

In education circles this “sweet spot” is sometimes known as the ‘Zone of Proximal Development’. The original idea has been elaborated on many times, but never as succinctly as in “The Talent Code” where author Daniel Coyle describes the characteristics of ‘Reach’:

“It evokes a feeling of reaching, falling short, and reaching again. It's the language of mountain climbers, describing a sensation that is stepwise, incremental, connective.

It's the feeling of straining toward a target and falling just short, what Martha Graham called

“divine dissatisfaction.” ...

It's a feeling that brings to mind Robert Bjork's idea of the sweet spot: that productive, uncomfortable terrain located just beyond our current abilities, where our reach exceeds our grasp. Deep practice is not simply about struggling; it's about seeking out a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions.

  • Pick a target.
  • Reach for it.
  • Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach.
  • Return to step one

“The Talent Code” (Daniel Coyle, 2009)

The more our kids do the right kind of practice, the more skilful they become, and the more complex the challenge can become. They are having fun and learning more in less time.

3. Right Environment

Most importantly, I made sure that when we practiced a challenge with Diddy or Diddy Roo it was all about having fun, and letting the quality time playing together be its own reward. This encouraged my kids to practice more often and improve their skills more quickly.

A high pressure environment kills fun and motivation.

A child who is only doing something because their parents push them to do it will quickly lose interest and do the minimum required to satisfy Mum or Dad. Long-term they might even resent the activity itself.

There are endless stories in which a parent’s attempts to encourage participation lead to a wholesale rejection of that activity!

I believe that as society moves faster and we live in the technological age, we can all learn at a much quicker rate than our parents did. We are applying the same principle here in with Sport Diddy.

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The Sport Diddy Handbook