Practice Design

Does Taekwondo fighting in training adequately facilitate skill transfer in competition?

It is common for fellow Taekwondo squad members to fight each other in training in preparation for combat competitions. While such training activities promote physical competition-like experiences, it neglects to consider if athletes are cognitively and affectively engaged to think and feel like they would in competition.

A similar concept has been explored in diving (see link for overview), yet let’s take a closer look at Taekwondo.

The Study

Michael Maloney and colleagues observed 10 international senior Taekwondo athletes during a national training camp. The aim was to assess whether (1) the fighting in training adequately simulated the cognitive and affective demands of competition, and (2) the demands observed in training impact the representativeness of fighting actions compared to competition.

A mixed methods approach was taken where participants  fought in two distinct conditions – a typical training fight and a simulated competition fight.

The Findings

The collective results from perceptual scales, interviews and pre-fight maximum heart rates revealed that:

  • Fighting in training did not induce a similar level of arousal and anxiety as fighting in competition; and,
  • Athletes fighting against a fellow squad member in training were less likely to cognitively problem solve compared to when they were fighting unfamiliar opponents in competition.

Furthermore, participants kicked less, initiated their attacks from further away and displayed more predictable movement displacements in training.

Take Home Message

Training tasks that are emotionally engaging can help athletes to learn to cope with emotions during competition. Training tasks should also to be designed to appropriately challenge the individual which, in turn, facilitates skill learning. Such considerations can be as important as learning technique.

Aspects of cognition and whether athletes think and feel like in competition are often overlooked when designing representative practice environments. In the Taekwondo example, the findings indicated that fighting in training does not necessarily simulate the constraints and demands of fighting in competition. This is due to the lower levels of anxiety and arousal, decreased mental challenge, and different movement behaviours. Consequently,  such training practices could limit skill transfer from training to competition.


Maloney, M., Renshaw, I., Headrick, J., Martin, D. T., & Farrow, D. (2018). Taekwondo fighting in training does not simulate the affective and cognitive demands of competition: Implications for behaviour and transfer. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 25.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: