Coaching Association of Canada

Planning a Practice: 3 Simple Components

The activities you choose and the way you run them should be guided by your goal. Starting with a clearly defined and articulated goal can help the athlete focus on the task at hand, and help you break down the skill and stay focused on relevant feedback.

Goals can easily be broken down into three components: An action, a standard, and a condition. The action represents the movement or skill, the standard prescribes a quantitative measure, and the condition describes the environment. The standard to which, and the conditions in which the action should be executed can be determined using the stages of skill development.

Stages of skill development and examples of associated standards and conditions:

  Beginner Intermediate Advanced
Stages of Skill Development
Initiation Acquisition Consolidation Refinement Creative Variation
First contact with the skill. Capable of performing a rough form of the skill. Execute the movement with correct form. Very close to the ideal form and speed. Developed a personal and efficient style.
Examples of Standards Standards become more demanding as the skill develops.
SPEED Slow and controlled →→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→ At competition pace
DECISION-MAKING No decision-making or options →→→→→→→→→→→→→→ Complex with multiple options
Examples of Conditions Conditions become more volatile as the skill develops.
RISK OF ERROR Minimal risk of error →→→→→→→→→→→→→→→→ High risk & significant consequence
ENVIRONMENT Stable, free of distractions →→→→→→→→→→→→→→ Variable with multiple distractions

At the acquisition stage for free throws, a basketball coach might, for example, propose that players sink 10 free throws (Action) off the backboard on their own time (Standard) in their regular practice gym (Condition). There are no speed or time constraints, and the environment is familiar, making this a reasonable goal at this stage of skill development.

A biathlon coach working to refine an athlete’s shooting skills might suggest they hit all 5 targets (Action) in 27 seconds (Standard), with a heart rate of 180 beats per minute, in variable wind and light conditions (Condition). The unstable conditions, physiological stress, and time constraints make this a suitable goal for the advanced stages of skill development.

For more on choosing appropriate activities as part of planning effective practices, consider the “Planning a Practice” module, part of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) multi-sport modules series available through your Provincial or Territorial Coaching Representative.