Sunday, November 3, 2013

Paper - Skill Acquisition

Skill Acquisition as a Function of Effort

This is a discussion of my viewpoints on skill acquisition in relation to effort/time investment. First I'd like to divide skill into two main components, mechanics and execution mainly in relation to a sport or game, though this can applies to pretty much any skill when substituting in different terminology. Mechanics for a sport is the player's trained skills. For an athlete it would be the capability to move his/her body in a given precise way. An example for tennis would be for a player's forehand, the strength of the hit, its precision, timing of the shot after the bounce, etc. Execution is the player's capability to perform those mechanics under pressure, in competitive situations, or when something is "on the line".

Mechanics for a person will usually rise when effort is put in. So classically we can think of skill as a function of effort as something like this.

However, this as with everything has major pitfalls. It is very possible for this to go negative like so after some initial improvement. 

How does this happen?
Unfortunately it has everything to do with luck and our environment. When acquiring a skill everyone usually learns from somewhere. It usually builds upon something that is taught to us directly, or builds on past experiences that we are able to connect with the skill we want to improve. With the internet we can also be "self-taught" and do our own research but that information was still written by someone else in the first place. In some rare occasions people are pioneers and must figure out things the first time through, but we won't go into that too much here.

The issue with this is that our information source can be wrong. Whether it be a coach or a teacher, or some random article on the internet we might just be going about something the wrong way and be ingraining into ourselves incorrect muscle memory. We could also be guided by correct information but interpret it the wrong way which will have the same effect, worsening our skill.

The only thing we can really get out of this situation is experience. Usually by doing something for a long period of time, we can then make a realization on how to correct our errors, or observe or be observed by others and make the correction by fixing that information returning us to our original rate of improvement. However, there is a possibility of getting worse. This is a very important concept to understand, there is no fairness in the world, spending effort does not necessarily mean you will improve, but it does give you the chance to improve/change where you are.

Also not spending effort will always result in a decrease in skill over the course of a long period of time. Again things are not fair here, breaks can sometimes result in a breakthrough as you gain a new perspective. This phenomena is often talked about by academics, but it also applies to sports and other motor based skills as your muscles have an opportunity to loosen up on their habits/memory which can lead to greater control with additional information/accidental improvements. This means that a person's skill level is often riddled by positive and negative interjections like this, where mechanics raise and fall temporarily. Sometimes a person is able to grasp their sudden improvement and retain parts of it/all of it and increase their skill over a very rapid period of time, but it can also sink and again result in a decrease in mechanics if analyzed incorrectly.

Execution is essentially a person's mental game. Very few people have managed to obtain a stable mental game and it is affected by a wide range of events. A person's relationships, their confidence, their job, anything that causes mental stress or happiness outside of the pursuit of that skill can affect their ability to perform that skill. A graph that represents this would be something like the following.

This is the roller coaster ride of ups and downs that everyone experiences which is linked to our maturity. Speaking of which as we mature, we are able to clamp down on these variations, and improve based which can be represented with the following.

Basically as we mature we become more predictable and are able to reduce the impact of our emotions into our skills, thereby making our performance more reliant on our mechanics rather than state of our emotions. However this is one of the most difficult things to do, and honestly achieving this does not necessarily mean you will be the most successful, but I will discuss that at another time as it relates more to successful personalities, and less to the process of acquiring a skill.

No comments:

Post a Comment