Tactical vs. Technical Skills (Plus Steps to Improve Them)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 2 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Many sports coaches use their experience and abilities to coach their teams to succeed. They might use their experience to coach a junior, high level or professional team. If you have been considering pursuing a career as a coach, it might benefit you to understand what tactical and technical skills are. In this article, we help you understand what tactical and technical skills are, the difference between them and how you might improve your abilities.

What are tactical vs. technical skills?

The difference between tactical vs. technical skills is crucial. A coach might use both types of skill to drive their team to succeed. They combine both tactical and technical skills to create a strong and powerful team. Tactical skills are strategic mental abilities athletes use to win competitions. Technical skills are physical abilities used by athletes to perform a particular move. They're both important components of training and preparing for success in competition. Here are the individual definitions:

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Tactical skills defined

Tactics are plans and strategies that are set up for a specific purpose in a sport. The coach might create a tactical plan and help their team understand and implement it. The tactical plan's intention is to help win the competition. Many sports use tactical planning. Another component of tactical skills is the ability to identify particular tactical problems and find solutions. Tactical skills might progress with the development of the game being played.

Some tactical skills used throughout different sports include:

  • swimming race tactics might include race pacing, on and off swimming and drafting

  • soccer game tactics might include defensive strategies, formation plans and counter-attacking tactics

  • basketball game tactics might include spacing, a sudden change in direction and defensive strategies

  • netball game tactics might include space, position and reaction strategies

Technical skills defined

Technical skills are the physical abilities used to perform the sport being competed. They often take time and development to master. Professional athletes perfect these skills to ensure they perform them well enough to achieve certain targets.

Some examples of technical skills include:

  • swimming athletes perfect their strokes, breathing techniques and streamline positions

  • soccer players practise kicking drills, footwork and throwing

  • basketball players perform dribbling and shooting

  • netball players master throwing, running and shooting

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Some differences between tactical and technical skills

Here are some ways technical and tactical skills differ:

Goals

While both tactical and technical skills are vital for successful athletes, these two sets of abilities have different goals. Technical skills allow athletes to play the game or perform the motions for their sport. The goal of technical skills is to execute a movement to the best of the athlete's ability. For example, a second-row forward in football might hone their running skills, which can help them move quickly and make fast turns.

The goal of tactical skill development is to make the athlete more successful in a game or competition. Often, tactical skills involve using technical skills effectively. Knowing when and how to use technical skills can help an athlete or athletic team win against their opponents.

Development stage

In their sports career, athletes usually develop technical skills before they develop tactical skills. Because technical skills are the basic moves and concepts players perform in a sport, these skills often form the foundation for sports education. Beginners in the sport might focus only on these skills for a period. For example, soccer players typically spend their first few years in the sport focusing on building technical skills like dribbling, shooting and goalkeeping (depending on the sport). During this period, coaches might take a more involved approach to game tactics, since their players are still learning.

After they master technical skills, athletes might develop advanced tactical skills. Intermediate and advanced soccer players might learn about common playing strategies, problem-solving and visual scanning techniques, which can help them take initiative during games. In more advanced teams, coaches might delegate some of the strategic monitoring to team captains, who are players with strong tactical skills. Team captains can help other players develop their tactical skills by modelling effective strategies.

Practise methods

Players often develop technical skills by performing drills and other repetitive exercises. The goal in technical sports training is to make the skills automatic for the players. For example, basketball players might have shooting drills, where they perform free throws and try to score as many baskets as possible. Coaches might time their players or assess their training exercises in other ways. For individual technical skills, players might also do additional exercises to strengthen their bodies. For example, weightlifting might help football players with a range of technical skills by giving them added physical strength.

Practising tactical skills might require the coach to develop special training exercises. Because tactical skills usually apply to decisions a player makes during a game, their coach might use scrimmages and other mock exercises to simulate the conditions of a game or tournament.

Adaptability

While general fitness can help athletes in many aspects of life, technical skills are typically most useful in a specific sport or one that's closely related. For example, learning to dribble a basketball quickly might be an essential part of basketball, but it might not help an athlete in soccer, water polo or cricket. For that reason, athletes who change sports might spend much of their time learning the technical skills of their new sport, despite their athletic skills and overall fitness.

Because tactical skills are mental processes, athletes who develop strong tactical skills can often transfer these skills to different sports and activities.

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How to improve tactical and technical skills

The difference between tactical and technical skills means there are various ways to improve each skill. A coach might combine these steps and plan their training sessions to work on both tactical and technical skills.

Technical skill improvements

Here are some steps on how you might improve your technical skills:

1. Fuel your body

The fuel you put into your body plays a large role in your performance. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is a crucial component. It helps to ensure your body is ready to be put through the physical demand of playing and competing in sport. Many coaches put a lot of effort into ensuring their athletes have correct nutrition provided so that they can maintain energy, strength, performance and recovery. They often provide professional athletes with a strict meal plan, which includes the time of day they're to eat.

2. Prioritise hydration

Hydration is an important aspect of ensuring an athlete is at their peak performance. Without adequate hydration when performing or practising technical skills, an athlete might become dizzy and thirsty. Inadequate hydration can also lead to physical issues such as muscle fatigue, compromised coordination and muscle cramps. Staying hydrated helps to prevent these issues and ensures athletes can perform technical skills to the best of their abilities.

3. Plan enough recovery time

Recovery time gives an athlete's body the chance to rest and repair. During this time, the body repairs and strengthens from the previous workout. It replenishes necessary levels and repairs body tissues. Some professional athletes might utilise specific recovery techniques such as stretching, massage, compression and hydrotherapy.

4. Vary your practices

Varying practices can give an athlete the chance to focus on a particular technical skill in one training session and another in the next training session. You might create various drills that all relate to perfecting one particular skill. This might give them to opportunity to perfect the skills being practised, ensuring they're keeping appropriate form and building strength and stamina. Spending more time on one skill at a time might also help to improve the muscle memory.

Tactical skill improvements

Here are some steps that might help you improve your tactical skills:

1. Play to your strengths

Establish what the athlete's or team's strengths are and develop strategies based on those. If you're familiar with the competition, you might also have the ability to develop the strategies around their weaknesses. For example, in netball, if the opposition has a goal shooter that rarely misses, you might move extra defence in their vicinity to avoid that player getting the ball.

2. Provide competition-like drills in practice

Putting the athletes in an experience that mimics a competition is a great way to help them understand, implement and test strategies. This might help to identify strengths and weaknesses of the strategy which is likely to improve the efficiency. This approach is a productive tool for supplying practical experience to the athlete's.

3. Put your strategies on paper

Another way to assist an athlete or team with improving tactical skills is to draw an example of the strategy and let them study it. Explain the process and what the goal of the strategy is. This gives them the opportunity to understand the theory behind the strategy and troubleshoot any potential issues. It may be beneficial to use this step to incorporate any suggestions the athlete might have.

4. Sports vision training

Sports vision training is designed to improve an athlete's visual abilities within their sport. Vision tests are available to determine where an athlete is with their visual capabilities. Once they begin the training, it works on various components. Some visual skills include peripheral awareness, focusing, depth perception, reaction time and eye tracking.

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