Perceptual-Cognitive Skill Practice Design

Random practice scheduling is beneficial for enhancing anticipation skill in tennis

It is common knowledge that sport experts have a superior ability to anticipate future actions. But what can coaches do to help train this skill?

One option is to show players video footage of match situations with the task being to anticipate what will happen next. When adopting this protocol, coaches need to think about the order in which they present the video clips to players. For example, if a coach wants to train a player to anticipate 3 different types of serves (wide, tee or body serves), the coach can either (a) present video clips for 1 type of serve in a large block before moving onto the next type of serve, or (b) present video clips of all 3 types of serve in a random order.

Practicing one skill in a large block before moving onto the next skill is referred to as blocked practice, whereas practicing skills in a random order is referred to as random practice.

According to the contextual interference (CI) effect, random practice, compared to blocked practice, generates more errors but also greater skill retention and skill transfer.

The following study examined the effect of blocked and random practice on the acquisition and transfer of anticipatory skills following video based training.

The Study 

Participants anticipated tennis shots (groundstrokes, volley’s and smashes) under either a random or blocked practice schedule. Response accuracy was recorded for both groups at pre-test, during acquisition, and on a 7 day retention test. Transfer of learning was also examined via a field based tennis anticipation task.

Results

The random practice group were significantly more accurate in their anticipation responses compared to the blocked group on the 7 day retention test. Additionally, in the transfer task (i.e., anticipating during a field based task rather than a computer task), the random practice group displayed significantly faster anticipatory responses compared to the blocked practice group.

Conclusion

This study highlights the importance of using appropriate practice scheduling during video based anticipation training.  To develop sustained improvement in anticipation accuracy, coaches should present video clips of different types of anticipatory actions in a random order instead of using a blocked practice schedule.

Reference

Broadbent, D. P., Causer, J., Ford, P., & Williams, A. M. (2015). Contextual interference effect on perceptual-cognitive skills training. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 47(6), 1243-1250.

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