Distributed Versus Blocked Practice
 

Coaching

Distributed Drills Produce Better Performance in Games

The 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 Practice 

Block 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 Practice

In 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 Effective

There are several reasons why distributed practice produces better competition 
results: 

1. Better Reaction to Different Situations 

In 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 Learning 

Skills 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 
its performance. 

3. Attention 

Repeating the same skill over and over can become boring. Constantly changing 
the task requires greater concentration and makes practice more challenging. 

4. Application

You 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. 

Conclusion 

Distributed 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. 
 
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