Versus Blocked Practice
Distributed Drills Produce Better Performance in GamesThe traditional way to schedule skill drills within a team-sport practice
is to repeat the skill a number of times with no interruption by other activities.
A basketball example might be practicing five consecutive jump shots from the
same spot. This type of training is called "block practice."
Block PracticeBlock practice seems to be the fastest way to develop a nervous system pattern
for optimal technique-and it does make it easier for the athlete to concentrate
on the skill. And in fact, most athletes do show faster progress during practice
when using block practice. However, recent motor skill studies have shown that
while block practice produces the best practice results, a system called "distributed
practice" produces better results during actual team sport competitions.
Distributed PracticeIn distributed practice, a skill is never practiced twice in a row. Instead,
a repetition of a skill is followed by a variation of the skill or a repetition
of a different technique entirely. For example, to vary the skill, instead of
taking five jump shots from the high post position, the player might take a
jump shot from the high post, then from the baseline, then from the low post,
then the opposite baseline, then the top of the key. Or to intersperse different
skills, the player might first take a jump shot, then a right-handed layup,
then a hook shot, then a left-handed layup, then another jump shot.
Why Distributed Practice is More EffectiveThere are several reasons why distributed practice produces better competition
1. Better Reaction to Different SituationsIn reacting to a competitive situation, an athlete must subconsciously decide
which skill to use, then recall it from his/her memory, then send that message
to the appropriate muscles. Distributed practices are more like game situations
because every repetition requires a decision and recall. In block practice,
no decision has to be made after the first repetition.
2. Better LearningSkills practiced using distributed methods are learned better and remembered
longer. Why? Because athletes performing different skills in a sequence are
able to compare techniques (i.e. OK, this is like shooting a foul shot, except).
This comparison produces a better understanding of the skill, which improves
3. AttentionRepeating the same skill over and over can become boring. Constantly changing
the task requires greater concentration and makes practice more challenging.
4. ApplicationYou can use distributed drills once your students can perform a rough approximation
of the skill. You can change the entire skills used in your practice sequence
or you can use variations of the skill: for example, changes in speed, distance,
direction, sequence, or opposition, through the complete range of variations
that might occur in a game.
ConclusionDistributed practice (see Basketball Scoring example below) will be more effective
in team sports, where skills must be selected and performed according to rapidly
changing situations. And the ability to compare with other related skills may
also make it an effective option when learning individual sports skills. However,
block practice does seem to produce better in-practice results.