The associative stage of skill acquisition is when the athlete has progressed from thinking about what they are doing to thinking about how they do the skill. This means they are no longer thinking about body position, but where they are passing the ball, or hitting the ball. They begin to think about end results rather than just on whether they manage to kick or hit the ball.
The associative stage of skill acquisition sees the movement become more fluid and smooth. There are still errors though as they move along the continuum these are not as large or as frequent as the cognitive stage of skill acquisition.
During this stage the athlete can begin to provide some of their own feedback, but they still benefit from immediate feedback concerning their technique provided by a coach as well as knowledge of results. The athlete can adjust their technique and begin to increase the complexity of the context in which the skill is executed. For example, hitting or kicking a moving ball, rather than a stationary one.
During the associative stage the athlete needs lots of practice that is whole and normally massed, though if they get bored distributed should be used. This stage often lasts a long time, with many athletes not progressing to the final autonomous stage of skill acquisition.