How Skills Transfer to Game Performance – A Mediation Model

Previously, I’ve defined basketball practice as “activity that aims to optimise the proficiency of a team at manipulating the conflict in basketball games in their favour“.

All training tasks should enhance this proficiency. If there is no transference to the game performance, why should training tasks be done.

According to the specificity of learning principle, learning almost exclusively happens in the practiced task.

For as long as the team scrimmages, it is on solid ground. Transference is as guaranteed as can be.

But the power law says that the “performance continues to improve with task-relevant practice indefinitely, although the rate of improvement declines over time”.

The more the team scrimmages, the less proficient scrimmaging becomes. Therefore coaches assign a wide variety of training tasks.

They may have their teams do tasks that never take place during a basketball game: two-ball ball-handling, shooting versus no defense, static stretching, meditation, weight-lifting.

Since learning is specific, how do these tasks help to optimise the proficiency of a team? Or do they?

The Effect May Be Direct or Indirect

To assess this, we need a mediation model, or a model that describes “the (possibly causal) processes through which a predictor leads to an outcome”.

This mediation model describes how a variety of training tasks may benefit the game performance of a basketball team.

Modified from Mannonen 2019, which was modified from Delgado-Bordonau and Mendez-Villanueva 2012.

The variables are defined as follows:

  • Team coordination skills = A team’s ability to coordinate the players’ game actions.
  • Tactical skills = A player’s ability to select appropriate game actions within game situations.
  • Technical skills = A player’s ability to execute game actions.
  • Physical capabilities = A player’s physical performance capabilities, such as power, quickness, and endurance.
  • Socio-psychological capabilities = Social and psychological capabilities of a team and its players.

In the hierarchy, the relationship between two dimension is determined by the direction of the arrow between the dimensions.

The arrowhead points at the dependent variable. The nock is at at the independent variable.

This relationship implies two things:

  1. The dependent variable can only improve as far as the independent variable allows.
  2. The independent variable is only useful as far as it is relevant to the dependent variable.

There are two kinds of effect.

In direct effect, there is no third variable between the independent variable and the dependent one. For example, this is the case with the technical skills and the physical capabilities.

In indirect effect, there is a mediator or several mediators between the independent variable the dependent one.

For example, there are two mediators between the physical capabilities and the team coordinating skills. Those mediators are the technical skills and the tactical skills

In the following examples, Alligators is a fictional team, Jaana is a player and Coach Ally is the coach.

How the Effect Transfers or Doesn’t Transfer

Between the technical skills and the physical capabilities, the technical skills is the dependent variable and the physical skills is the independent one.

The technical skills can only improve as far as the physical capabilities allow. Meaning, Jaana can only learn techniques that she can physically execute.

For example, she needs a fair amount of upper-body power to be able to throw a 20-meter pass.

On the other hand, the physical capabilities are only relevant as far as they may transfer to the technical skills.

For example, improving upper-body strength only improves Jaana’s basketball performance if due to the improvement, she’s able to execute some game actions more efficiently.

Parallelly, between tactical skills and technical skills, tactical skills is the dependent variable and technical skills is independent one.

The maximal scope of Jaana’s tactical skills is determined by her technical skills since she can only select game actions she’s able to execute.

For example, Jaana can only select to throw a 20-meter pass if she’s able to throw one.

On the other hand, some existing technical skills do not transfer to the tactical skills.

For example, even if Jaana is capable of throwing long passes, she may not notice the opportunities to throw them in game situations.

Further on, between the team coordination skills and the tactical skills, the team coordination skills is the dependent variable and the tactical skills is the independent one.

The team coordination skills can only improve as far as as the individual player’s tactical skills allow.

That is due to the definition of the tactical skills: “A player’s ability to select appropriate game actions within game situations.” In other words, Jaana’s tactical skills refer to her ability to function effectively as a part of a team in general.

Once again, not all technical skills of the players transfer to the team coordination skills of their particular team.

For example, the Alligators’ tactics may be such that Jaana is never in a position to throw a 20-meter pass that she fully masters. Or Coach Ally may have prohibited such passes altogether.

The Socio-psychological Capabilities Effect All Other Variables

In the mediation model presented here, the socio-psychological capabilities is an independent variable relative to all other variables.

For example, Jaana’s technical skills are affected by her socio-psychological capabilities. This true in both a short term and a long term.

In a short term, her acute free-throw ability may be affected her ability reach a mindful state of mind.

In a long term, the effect may be due to Jaana’s motivation to practice her free-throw shooting.

The Game Happens at the Dimension of Team Coordination

A basketball game involves the coordinated game actions of the two teams. So, the actual conflict takes place at the dimension of the team coordination.

This implies that practice tasks are useful only if their effect transfers to the team coordination skills.

For example, improving Jaana’s physical capabilities is not relevant per se but only if it may transfer to the Alligators’ team coordination skills.

This effect is not direct but rather must it transfer via two mediators: technical skills and tactical skills.

The Usefulness of the Mediation Model

The mediation model presented above does not tell us what training tasks coaches should assign.

It does not even tell us if transference to the team game performance is to be expected.

Rather, the mediation model is a tool we can use to cautiously assess the possibility of transference.

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