Motor Learning: Blocked vs. Random Practice (Part II in series on Competitive Practices)


Bri Ostler passing

Motor Learning and Skill Transfer

Skill transfer is generally defined as the influence of a previous experience on performing a skill in a new context or on learning a new skill (Annett & Sparrow, 1985; Magill, 2001). The more similar the component parts of two skills or two performance situations are, the greater the amount of positive transfer expected between them. In fact, a greater amount of transfer of learning occurs from the complex to the simple.

Over the years, two approaches to practicing any sport have emerged: blocked vs. random. In a “blocked practice,” coaches 155742_10150327132720596_3412627_nand players concentrate on one aspect of a particular skill or technique, practicing it over and over again until they get it right. In a “random practice,” several aspects of a particular technique are employed within a session.

According to research, blocked practice is useful in the fundamental development of some skills, yet it produces an artificially high level of performance that gives coaches and players a false sense of accomplishment. Indeed, blocked practice produces effective performance during early stages, but does not create lasting learning.

Therefore, the utilization of random practice is advocated once players have become familiar with the skills. Practice of multiple tasks in a random (high contextual interference) practice schedule results in greater retention and transfer than tasks practiced in a blocked practice schedule (low contextual interference). The real success shows up in retention and ultimately in transfer performance of skills.

396978_10150548833614550_1474642836_nHow do random practice conditions that initially produce poor performance actually lead to better long-term learning, retention and transfer? The Reconstruction Hypothesis is the answer.

If coaches always use combination drills, athletes will constantly have to adjust their rules for appropriate skill execution, rather than receiving the same predictable ball every time.

According to Marv Dunphy, 1988 Gold-medal winning USA men’s Olympic team coach and men’s coach at Pepperdine, “Since we learn best in training situations that are basically gamelike, we should incorporate three-contact drills as often as possible. I am convinced that the best hitting drills are P-S-H (pass-set-hit), the best set- ting drills are P-S-H, and the best passing drills are P-S-H.”

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1 Response to Motor Learning: Blocked vs. Random Practice (Part II in series on Competitive Practices)

  1. Pingback: Practice…..are we talking about practice | The Practice Range

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