To win requires mastery of skills

Roger Federer

Following on an earlier article, “Winning vs Learning: Which is more important” as well as the sentiments expressed in “Bigger playing fields”, this article tackles the importance of developing mastery of skills.

The one thing we all seem to agree on is that the objective of sport is to win. What we don’t agree on is what makes someone a winner and the process it takes to master the skills required to win. How many times do we hear the first question a parent ask their 8 year old – “Did you win?” Perhaps the question should be, “What did you learn?”

There are 2 kinds of winners:

1. Winners on the scoreboard often referred to as “ego orientation”.

This tends to be the traditional definition of a winner. A winner on the scoreboard can in fact be outplayed in every facet of the game but still have more points or goals. I don’t have to remind you of a rugby match played on Sunday 9th October 2011 in New Zealand, where the team who played the best, did not win! Why, because there are very often factors beyond the sportsman’s control. You can only control those aspects of your performance that you are in control of.

“If winning is defined as only those that finish first, then 97% of all participants at the Olympic Games would be losers!”

That brings us to the second kind of winner.

2. Winners in terms of mastery or “process orientation”.

A mediocre performance can still win a race whereas a magnificent performance may still lose the race, if others perform better. We can only control our own performance and hence the importance of focusing on mastering the skills (physical, technical, tactical and mental) to give ourselves the best possible chance of success.

Research at the 2000 Sydney Olympics indicated that athletes with a mastery orientation won more medals than athletes coached purely with a scoreboard orientation. (Dr Joan Duda, Chair of Sports Psychology at the University of Birmingham (UK))

The table below highlights the differences between mastery orientation and ego orientation.

Master vs Ego Orientation

The mastery of skill development is a process that takes place over a period of time and for successful and optimal performance this process needs to proceed through all the necessary stages at the appropriate developmental ages of children. This can be summarised as follows:

Approximate Developmental Age*

Skill development

6 – 8 or 9 years The essential skills such as skipping, hopping, jumping, throwing, catching, hitting and swimming required as the foundation for more complex physical activities and sports
8 or 9 to 11 or 12 years General sport skills suitable for a variety of activities and sports
11 or 12 – 15 or 16 years Sport specific physical, technical, tactical and mental skills to compete at higher levels
15 or 16 years upwards Sport specialisation for “serious” competition or for non-competitive participants to become active for life

*Developmental age refers to the degree of physical, mental, cognitive and emotional maturity of a child which may be different to their chronological age, ie their age in years since birth.

So how can you as parents encourage your children to develop a high mastery orientation? Here are some practical tips:

  • Reinforce effective goal setting
  • Emphasise the value of hard work & persistence
  • Provide good coaching
  • Emphasise progress, not results
  • Reward skill improvement
  • Encourage critical self-observation
  • Reflect on their own performance and encourage self-discovery

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
(Michael Jordan)

References:

Thompson, Jim. The Double-Goal Coach. 2003, HarperCollins. New York

Canadian Sport for Life. Long Term Athlete Development. 2010

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