Phases Of Learning

This section looks at the three stages of learner and descriptions of the tasks performers are expected to do at each stage. (Equivalent to UK A Level Physical Education).


“Learning may be considered to be the more or less permanent change in performance associated with experience” Knapp (1973)

Three stages of learning have been identified:

Cognitive or Understanding Phase

  • In this stage of learning, performances are inconsistent and not success is not guaranteed.
  • Performing the skill requires all of the athlete’s attention and so they rely on the coach for cues.
  • This is a process of trial and error with a success rate of 2 or 3 out of 10 attempts.
  • Correct performances must be reinforced through external feedback.

Associative or Verbal Motor Phase

  • Also known as the “practise phase”. Performances are becoming more consistent as motor programmes are being formed.
  • While the simpler parts of the skill now look fluent and are well learned, the more complex elements require most of the spare attention.
  • The athlete is starting to get a sense of internal ‘kinaesthetic’ feedback when they perform the skill well.
  • They are starting to detect and correct their own errors and success rate has risen to 5-7 out of 10.

Autonomous or Motor Phase

  • In the final stage of learning, performances have become consistent, fluid and aesthetically pleasing.
  • The motor programmes involved are well learned and stored in long-term memory.
  • There is now spare attention which can be focused on opponents and tactics.
  • To retain the new skill at this level, it must be constantly practiced to reinforce the motor programmes. Success is now 9 out of 10.


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