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!
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.