Blocked, Variable & Random Practice.

A coaching technique that is new to me is the blocked, variable and random practice approach. This is something that I have heard of before and experienced slightly however it is not something that I am familiar with. Consequently discovering in depth what each technique is, is crucial as it could be used to further develop my coaching. A small discussion was had in the lecture last week regarding the best method. Therefore in this post I will discuss which method I think is the ‘best’ and which method will suit me most for my coaching.

So, blocked practice what is it? Well, blocked practice is simply a practice where one skill is practiced over and over again e.g. 10 minutes, then a second skills is practiced for ten minutes and then a third for 10 minutes too (Mohnsen, 2008). The first skill must be mastered before moving onto the next one too. This type of practice helps participants to learn the technique correctly in steps as they will be performing it over and over which will hopefully benefit their skill acquisition as well as themselves as a player too. The movement pattern will hopefully then be fixed into the participants memory which would therefore mean that the skill would be being performed correctly when used. Blocked practice focuses solely on the correct technique and how it is performed but it does not take into account contextual interference which is forever present in a game situation. An example of this was in the reflective coach lecture last Thursday where we were given the task of using a blocked practice approach in order to coach a specific skills from gymnastics. My group decided to focus on a forwards roll therefore the steps we decided on were as followed:

  • Kneel on the floor with the palms of your hands facing forwards by the side of your head.
  • Lean over and place your head on the mat with your hands planted on the mat (either side of your head).
  • Push off with your legs so that your body goes over and land in a seated position.

This allows the participant to master each stage so that when they put the whole technique together each stage should be near perfect and easy on the eye.

 

Again, variable practice what is it? This type of practice can be described as setting up the practice within conditions that change (Mohnsen, 2008). The conditions can change in a variety of ways such as: the speed of the drills, the distance, as well as the organisation (way the drill runs). This practice leads on from blocked approach but is also different too in the fact that it is not the same tasks over and over because they are changed slightly in one way or another. As McGowan (2012): another coaching blog states an example of variable coaching which could be in football. A simple passing drill may be altered so that the weaker foot is being used or so that the distance between the two players was altered. This drill is changing the conditions through the use of the distance and the actual foot being used to kick the ball. This could be used for a shooting drill in football too using the same principle. The blocked practice would have been applied previously so that the vital points were known such as foot placement, contact on the ball etc. before the variable practice involving weak foot shots and long range/close range shots were introduced. This in essence just varies the practice up essentially.

The final practice that is part of the three is random practice. This type of practice involves the performer combining different classes of movements within play and competition settings (Vickers, 2007). This would mean that the performer does not know what skill is coming up next because they are constantly being varied up. This leads to the performer having to think about how to execute the skill as it may happen in a game situation. In a match the performer will not know what is coming up therefore they will have to adapt and use the necessary skill by making the correct decision. An example of random practice would be a traffic lights kind of game. A cone would be held up to signify a certain skill (e.g. left foot – red, right foot – green etc.). The players would not know what skill is going to appear next therefore they would have to keep on their toes.

 

So, now that the three practices have been defined which is going to be the most beneficial in my eyes? Personally I believe that random practice is the most beneficial however only after blocked has been done first. The blocked technique allows the performers to ‘master’ the skill and perfect each stage of a technique. Once this has been done then random practice can begin as it will test the performers and how they would deal with the skill and perform it in a game/match setting. This would then help to prepare players for when they participate competitively in their match or game. In addition to this Shea and Zimmy (1983) state that “changing the task on every random-practice trial made the tasks more distinct from each other and more meaningful, resulting in more elaborate memory representations”. Therefore they believe that solely random practice is the best way to keep memory of skills that have been worked on. The more the practice is mixed up, the better the representation is, and consequently the better the skill will be performed!

 

 

 

Reference List

McGowan, C. (2012) Sports coaching experiences. [Online]. Available at: http://connormcgowan.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/blocked-v-variable-v-random-practice.html (Accessed: 18 January 2016).

Mohnsen, B. S. (2008) Teaching middle school physical education – 3rd edition: A standards-based approach for grades 5-8. 3rd edn. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.

Schmidt, R. and Lee, T. (2014) Motor learning and performance 5th edition: In many, if not most, real-world settings, the learner’s goal is to acquire more than a single skill or task in a limited practice period, sometimes even in a single practice period. [Online]. Available at: http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/research-illuminates-the-benefits-of-random-practice-over-blocked-practice-in-motor-learning (Accessed: 18 January 2016).

Vickers, J. N. (2007) Perception, cognition, and decision training: The quiet eye in action. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.

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Constraints Led Coaching.

When coaching, it is essential to challenge the players no matter what their ability is. In a session you may have some players who have been playing football for years and some who may have only just started however being able to challenge both types of players is vital yet challenging. As sessions need to be inclusive, constraints must be added to keep everyone involved interested and challenged at the same time.

So, what actually is constraints led coaching? Well constraints led coaching mainly focuses on the fact that “coaches shape and guide rather than direct(William & Hughes, 2005). This statement by William and Hughes to me perfectly sums up constraints led coaching as the coach has to stand back as opposed to persistently explaining which can often bore the performers. If players are being directed then they don’t really have much freedom and consequently it will not help with their development. This is where constraints led coaching significantly helps to develop each athlete regardless of their ability. This is because constraints can be applied specifically which can push some players more than others dependent on whether they need it or not. However there are three main types of constraints that can be applied are task, performer and environmental.

Constraints Led Coaching

So first of all is a task constraints. This type of constraint relates to the activity in terms of the goal, the equipment or even the rules too (Devine, 2015). By doing this the players will have to alter the way that they play in order to follow the rules, score a goal or use the equipment that has been given to them. These type of constraints get the players thinking in terms of succeeding. If they cannot adapt to the task given then they are not going to do well within the drill. An example that could be used as a task constraint would be: Having to receive the ball in a certain area (coned off) in order to score extra points as opposed to simply scoring in a net as usual.

Another type of constraint that can be applied to a drill during a session is an environmental constraint. This type of constraint involves changing the area that is being used to play the game. Putting a constraint on the environment can be as simple as altering the space that is being used. The area can be made bigger in order to make the drill simpler or smaller to make the drill harder. However the only problem with this is that some players may find it too difficult if the area is made too small therefore other constraints can be added for individuals who may be at a better level to push them too. In my opinion this type of constraint is a simple yet effective way of challenging a player because a small alteration can hugely affect the difficulty of the game which could in turn aid with skill development. However on the contrary constraints can play a big part in street football too for example. Kids may only have a small alleyway to play football therefore they have to react to the environment they have. This therefore would work on skills such as control and dribbling at a very young age.

A final type of constraint that could be used is a performer constraint which involves characteristics of the player (Devine, 2015). If a player is very comfortable at dribbling for example then what real benefit is dribbling with their strong foot going to be. This is where a constraint would come in and I would ask them to use their weaker foot which is considerably harder. Thus the player has to think about the way he/she is dribbling a lot more which will aid their physical and psychological development too. A performer constraint means that as a coach you can make certain tasks more difficult if they are finding it too easy as it keeps the whole group included yet challenged too.

 

One main example that shows the effects of constraints is the Brazilian national football team. Brazil are known for having very skilful and talented players but what is the reason for this? Well, in my personal opinion I believe that playing in the favelas for example has a big part to play. The favelas are known for their small and narrow alleyways therefore this is what the players have to deal with. Consequently players will have to find new ways to beat players in order to score a goal and this is the reason why their players are so skilful. Look at Neymar for example, many of the skills he uses today will have come from when he was a kid and the constraints that he had to deal with!

 

Therefore to conclude I completely agree with this statement which states  that “the best way to learn something is by challenging yourself” (Beckwith, Warner & Wood, 2004). This is because it is a coach’s job to improve players and one major way of doing this is through the use of challenges or in this case constraints. Constraints allow drills to benefit the whole squad and help to challenge everyone involved within the session.

 


 

Reference List
Beckwith, W., Warner, S. and Wood, R. (2004) Light wave 3D 8: 1001 tips and tricks with CD Rom. United States: Jones & Barlett Learning.

Devine, T. (2015) Constraints-led coaching – WHY?!. [Online]. Available at: http://www.tdgolfcoach.com/learning/constraints-led-coaching-why/ (Accessed: 10 January 2016).

Williams, A.M. & Hodges, N.J. (2005).  Practice, instruction and skill acquisition: Challenging tradition.  Journal of Sport Sciences, 23(6), 637-650.