Skill Acquisition for Sport

Skill Acquisition for Sport         
Prepared by  Prepared by: Christine May, Senior Research Consultant, Clearinghouse for Sport, Sport Australia (formerly Australian Sports Commission)
evaluated by  Evaluation by: Derek Panchuk, National Lead, Skill Acquisition, Australian Institute of Sport (October 2016)
Reviewed by  Reviewed by network: Australian Sport Information Network (AUSPIN)
Last updated  Last updated: March 2017
Please refer to the Clearinghouse for Sport disclaimer page for
more information concerning this content.

Community Sport Coaching
Sport Australia


Skill acquisition investigates the factors that affect the acquisition, performance, and retention of sports skills in both developing and elite athletes. Skill acquisition specialists attempt to understand how individuals or groups are able to make decisions, source information and produce complex movement patterns in an information rich and dynamic environment. Skill acquisition specialists also develop skill testing protocols with the aim of enhancing the specificity of the testing environment to replicate actual playing environments. Skill acquisition specialists work with coaches to improve the quality of the practice environment so that the athletes learn as effectively as possible. They may also work closely with other sport science disciplines, in particular, biomechanics, psychology and performance analysis.

Skill acquisition specialists are involved in a number of different tasks including:

  • Designing and implementing skill training sessions for individuals or teams.
  • Providing coaches and service providers with guidance on using instructions and feedback.
  • Developing appropriate skill-based tests to measure performance and learning.
  • Delivering workshops and seminars to educate coaches and athletes on skill acquisition principles.
  • Developing supplementary training sessions, often using video-based methods and the latest technologies such as simulation techniques and sensors.   
  • Working with other sports scientists to change technique, measure performance, or design appropriate training activities.
  • Undertaking research to investigate key questions of interest, particularly relating to the application of skill acquisition in a high performance environment.

The pathway to becoming a skill acquisition specialist in a high performance environment typically requires a university undergraduate degree in Human Movement, Exercise Science, or Physical Education. Skill acquisition specialists also often complete an Honours degree followed by either a Masters or PhD, specialising in the area of skill acquisition. Mentoring from an experienced skill acquisition specialist is also an important step in developing the necessary skills required in the role.

In December 2017 Sport Australia (formerly the Australian Sports Commission) announced the introduction of a national accreditation scheme for sport scientists (including but not limited to physiologists, biomechanists, performance analysts, skill acquisition specialists and strength scientists) and strength and conditioning coaches. The schemes will be run in partnership with Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) and the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association (ASCA). In order to continue receiving funding through the ASC's Sport Investment Agreements national sporting organisation will be required to ensure that all sport science and strength and conditioning staff have relevant accreditation with ESSA and/or ASCA by the end of 2018. The scheme will be reviewed after 2 years. 

Where possible, direct links to full-text and online resources are provided. However, where links are not available, you may be able to access documents directly by searching our licenced full-text databases (note: user access restrictions apply). Alternatively, you can ask your institutional, university, or local library for assistance—or purchase documents directly from the publisher. You may also find the information you’re seeking by searching Google Scholar.



Conference Proceedings

  • Proceedings of the 2016 International Association of Computer Science in Sport (IACSS) Conference. The International Association of Computer Science in Sport Conference 2016 took place between July 31– August 3, 2016 in Brasilia, Brazil. The aim of the conference was to promote the inter-disciplinary field of sport science and computer science in order to face challenging problems in sports and exercise sciences, supported by formal models, analytical approaches and computational support. (IACSS)

Clearinghouse Videos

Please note a number of the resources below (as indicated) are restricted to ‘GOLD' AIS Advantage small AIS Advantage members only.
Please see the Clearinghouse membership categories for further information.

Other Videos 

  • Australian lawn bowlers prepare for 2018 Commonwealth Games (February 2017). Australian Sports Commission, YouTube. Senior Skill Acquisition Specialist Derek Panchuk explains how the AIS was working with Bowls Australia athletes to better understand the characteristics eye tracking in elite bowlers. Fellow researchers from La Trobe University were also collecting biomechanical data. "The eyes tell us how we're taking in the information, and the biomechanics tells us how we're actually using that information".
  • Role of affordances in enhancing skill acquisition and expertise in sport (July 2016). Professor Keith Davidson, British Psychological Society, YouTube. Professor Keith Davids, Sheffield Hallam University talks about his research on ecological dynamics particularly focussing on affordances. Coaches can embrace unstructured learning.
  • Eye-tracker (June 2012). Dr Graham Phillips and Prof Damian Farrow. Catalyst, ABC. Feature story on eye tracking and decision making in the AFL.
  • Australian Coaches - Skill Acquisition (October 2009). Australian Sports Commission. YouTube. Decision making and anticipation skills and implicit and explicit learning are important parts of skill acquisition covered in this video. This video explores the way that these principles can be incorporated into coaching.


Is this information complete? 

The Clearinghouse for Sport is a sector-wide knowledge sharing initiative, and as such your contributions are encouraged and appreciated. If you would like to suggest a resource, submit a publication, or provide feedback on this topic, please contact us.
Alternatively, if you would like to be kept up to date with research and information published about this topic, please request a research profile setup.