This Is One Of The Biggest Barriers To Skill Development

How A Little Scepticism Can Help Kids Learn Skills

A young swimmer struggles 10 metres across the pool and touches the wall for the first time to the delight of themselves and their parents. This was the last outstanding item required to qualify for their “Dolphin” learn to swim certificate.

If you were the teacher, would you award them the certificate?

Years ago as a young coach I would have. Seeing the skill performed once was enough for me. Today I probably wouldn’t. Not yet. I need a lot more convincing.

Too many people are prepared to tick the box after one performance.

The rush to see a child “progress” before they are truly ready to do so is one of the biggest barriers to effective skill learning and retention.

Performing vs Learning

Performing a skill is not the same as having learned a skill.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the performance of a movement indicates that the movement has been learned.

Many people are tricked into thinking: “My child can do that,” when their child has performed it only once and/or performed it poorly. And they expect progression after that.

This risks a very shaky foundation on which further skills can be built.

It also risks kids being given a false sense of their own competency, and their parents a false sense of their child’s competency. This can lead to a lazy approach to learning.

How To Tell If Your Child Has Learned a Skill

When can we determine that a child has actually learned a skill?

1. The Skill Is Of An Acceptable Quality

The command of a skill is not just the ability to perform a certain movement. It is the ability to perform the skill in a capable and controlled manner.

For example, a child has not learned how to perform standing discus throw, just because they can throw a discus from a standing position. A child has not learned how to crouch start just because they can start a race from a crouched position.

The skill must possess some fundamental qualities.

2. The Skill Is Reproducible

The skill has to be deliberately reproducible on demand, with no chance involved in its execution. Within reason, there has to be some type of permanence to the skill. Can the child perform the skill when asked to do it again a few minutes later, next week or in a few weeks time?

3. The Skill Can Be Performed Within The Context Of The Sport

“Efficient and effective movement may be created during practice but it is not evaluated there. That takes place in its context within the sport.”

Shawn Myszka @MovementMiyagi

If away from practice, a child loses the ability to perform a skill, have they actually learned the skill?

Many times I have heard kids state that they “forgot” to perform a skill in competition that they had performed in practice.

The performance of a skill during a practice session in the presence of a coach in controlled conditions is not a sign that a child has learnt that skill.

Can the skill be performed without prompting from the coach? Can it be performed without coaching aids?

“Learning can only be assessed in the absence of the stimulus that caused it.”

Nick Winkelman @NickWinkelman


Performance of a given movement does not indicate that a skill has been learned.


  1. Value the coach or the teacher who is demanding rather than appeasing when it comes to teaching and assessing skills.
  2. Love the coach who wants to be convinced that your kid can do it.
  3. Be pleased when a coach progresses your kid slowly and thoroughly.

Don’t be in a hurry, for whatever reason, to see your child “progress”.

Rushing the process can limit learning and ruin retention.

At what point do you believe we can assess that a skill has been learned?

I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Let me know by using the contact details below.

Further reading


Movement Performance or Movement Learning? from the blog drowningintheshallow.

If this post helped you please take a moment to help others by sharing it on social media. If you want to learn more I encourage you to leave questions and comments or contact me directly.

Darren Wensor is a sports development professional, coach educator, specialist coach of young athletes, and founder of the blog Learn more about him here and connect with him on TwitterFacebookLinkedin, or via email. Check out Coaching Young Athletes on YouTube, the Coaching Young Athletes podcast, and the Coaching Young Athletes E-Book Series.

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