Get Your Motors Running

Phase Three: Focus on the Goal

As the campers find that they can identify their own errors, make adjustments, and start to feel like the skill is automatic, they can turn their focus to the environment and deal with external factors.

Since they are performing the skill with their muscle memory, campers need to practice with a rhythm or flow that keeps the skill automatic.

To continue to make the practice of the skill meaningful, the camper should focus on speed and accuracy. In fact, once the camper reaches this stage of mastery, thinking about the mechanics of the skill can break the flow of muscle memory.

There are three important concepts that should be stressed by a camp instructor when helping campers to master a skill during this phase… Imaging the perfect execution as preparation for performing the skill, ensuring that the physical practice is at game speed, and simulating game pressure with scenarios that the camper might encounter in competition.

Imaging the perfect execution in a closed skill like a golf or archery can reinforce a motor program in the central nervous system that may enhance its proper physical execution.

In open sports, like soccer or basketball, campers can image their own mental highlight reels of outstanding passing and shooting combinations before they compete.

Practice may not make perfect, especially if it isn’t performed at game speed. Instructors may need to add incentives like asking them to beat a time on a stopwatch or setting and compiling statistics for steals and rebounds to achieve in practice. These strategies can ensure that the campers are practicing with game-like intensity.

When campers are feeling confident and competent, practice conditions may need to be cranked up a notch to keep them focused on improvement.

This can be accomplished by adding an element of game pressure by setting up a play with only five seconds left on the clock or awarding a penalty stroke with a tied score and no time left on the clock.

Another tactic could be adding an extra defensive or offensive player to make the practice situation more challenging.

If camp instructors are aware of these three phases of motor learning and use creativity to structure activities with what follows these principles, it will be possible for every camper to reap the benefits of skill improvement and increased self-confidence.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.

Sharman Hayward has directed sports camps at every developmental level, and has coached intercollegiate field hockey and lacrosse for 11 years. Sharman currently serves as Associate Director of Athletics at Endicott College.

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