Using the Generic Levels of Skill Proficiency in S&C
Like physical educators, strength and conditioning coaches can work with a large number of students/clients/athletes (henceforth, athletes). And much like a physical education class, those athletes can have varied levels of skill between them. In the strength and conditioning realm, these skills would be the lifts you work with, sprinting, sled pushing, and any other movements you have your athletes perform.
We observe the levels of proficiency with which the athletes perform these skills, quantifying them by form, repetition maximums, times, and so on. We could also use what Graham, Holt/Hale, and Parker call generic levels of skill proficiency (GLSP) to qualify these observations, using the quantified data to assess ability at one of four levels:
These levels each denote qualities about the athlete’s level of proficiency with a specific skill. Breaking assessment down on a skill-by-skill basis means that an athlete can perform various skills at various GLSPs (squat at proficiency level, but dribble and pass for soccer at a control level). I have adapted the following descriptors of GLSPs from Graham, Holt/Hale, & Parker’s work.
Precontrol level is often the level at which someone who is entirely unfamiliar with a skill performs.
- Athlete is unable to repeat movements in succession; one attempt looks nothing like another attempt to perform the same skill.
- Athlete uses extraneous movements that are unnecessary for efficient performance of the skill (Heels coming off of the ground in a squat, butt coming off of the bench during a bench press, etc.).
- Athlete seems awkward and frequently doesn’t even come close to performing the skill correctly (quarter squats, awkwardly bouncing the bar off of the chest in bench press, etc.).
- In practice, the equipment seems to control the athlete more than the athlete controls the equipment (awkward movement, unsteady stance, or improper positioning of the bar on the back in a squat).
Things to focus on with athletes at the precontrol skill level: practice the basic mechanics behind a movement, body control, practice with body weight variations of the skill/movement.
Control level is the level of someone who has slight familiarity with a skill/movement and can perform it with a minimal level of success.
- Athlete’s movements appear to be more in line with their intentions (running in a straight line when attempting to sprint, propelling the bar away from the body when bench pressing, etc.).
- Repetitions of a skill/movement are more consistent in form.
- Successful performance of the skill/movement is more frequent.
- Performance of the skill/movement is not automatic and requires concentration to correctly perform.
When coaching at control level, focus on: providing feedback on what portions of the skill/movement are performed correctly to build confidence, making one adjustment at a time to incorrect performance of skills/movements (if multiple issues exist, correct one at a time), and using light weights with lifts to work on proper form.
At utilization level, the athlete can often perform the skill/movement automatically in a game situation with some level of success. The athlete can perform the skill/movement in a variety of ways/situations.
- The skill/movement is more automatic and can be performed successfully, but with concentration.
- Athlete is beginning to develop use of the skill in unpredictable situations.
- Athlete can execute the skill/movement consistently with success.
- Athlete can combine the skill with other skills/movements.
Coaching at the utilization level should include: fine tuning of motor ability involved in skills/movements, getting in more successful repetitions of a skill in multiple contexts to make performance more automatic.
The highest level in the GLSPs, proficiency level is characterized by seemingly effortless/automatic movements. My best example of a demonstration of proficiency level is any professional athlete at the international level, those men/women who make what they do on the pitch look easy enough that any child who picked up a ball/stick/etc. could do it. Brian O’Driscoll cutting through a defense, LeBron James moving to the hoop, or any other athlete at the absolute top of their game.
- Skill/movement performance has become almost automatic, and performance of the skill in similar contexts yields almost identical results.
- Athlete can focus on outside variable (opponents, the flow of play, field position, the movement of an unpredictable object, etc.) and still perform the skill/movement as intended.
- The skill/movement seems effortless as it appears to be performed with ease or with little attention given to it.
- Athlete can modify and perform the skill/movement in a wide variety of familiar and unfamiliar contexts with high levels of success.
Recommendations for coaching athletes at the proficiency level: promote creative use of skill during practice (unless skill is lifting related), fine tune aspects of the skill to increase efficiency, and practice the skill in a large variety of situations (once again, not for lifting related skills).
Assessing and categorizing an athlete’s skill level into one of the GLSPs should be done through observation of skill performance on numerous occasions (we all have off days). Multiple observations can allow for a more detailed assessment and accurate placement on the continuum. Observation of practice and event/match situations also allows for a greater understanding of GLSP as an athlete may appear to be at a higher level at practice than in match situations where contexts may be unfamiliar.
These levels were originally used to qualify elementary school children, but I believe they can be applied to any age group. There are beginners and people new to a sport or event at all ages, and so we should be able to apply the GLSPs to their development and assessment. It’s a quick and easy way to describe skill levels with a large number of skills. As coaches we can use these to get a general idea of how to move forward with individual skill progressions for athletes at all levels and ages.
Graham, G., Holt/Hale, S. A., & Parker, M. (2007). Determining generic levels of skill proficiency. In Children Moving: A reflective approach to teaching physical education (7th ed., chap. 7). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.