Block VS. Random Practice: What’s the Difference?

By Troy Klongerbo
May 4, 2015

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If you have been out on the range practicing, you likely adhered to the routine of starting with wedges, working through the irons, before moving over to hybrids, the woods and on to finally the driver.

Most golfers when practicing will stick with the same club until the feeling is their swing is grooved. It is the same with other sports such as practicing free throws, or a musician practicing a certain piece until it is down pat.

That is what is referred to as a “block practice schedule” and it is the way most people have gone about learning a number of different tasks, but it is woefully ineffective for learning the intricacies of developing a skill.

When repetition is involved, the brain after a period of time is not as receptive, because the brain responds more to change. The tenth straight 9-iron had a good feel to it, but the learning process is not as effective as if could be.

Unless your golf game only requires 10 straight shots with the 9-iron, that practice is not applicable to a real situation in golf.

Repeated information never receives the same quantity of processing as does new information. For most we are aware of that, constant repetition is often boring and boredom tells up our thought process is not engaged. Block practice can produce this effect.

Instead, many are advocating “random practice schedules” where the brain is constantly readapting to change.

In golf, that means different clubs: a driver, followed by a sand wedge, followed by a 5-iron. The goal remains hitting a number of shots of one club, just not all of them in a row, which is how we play the game of golf anyway.

The reason this type of practice is more effective says many is that when we return to a new task or change clubs in this instance, the brain has to start again, reconstruct the plan and at that point the brain is the most active. The more mental activity that takes place, the better the long-term learning is.

One test on this was done with baseball pitchers. The pitchers threw pitches in a blocked pattern i.e. a number of fastballs, then curves and then sliders or in a random pattern of mixing the pitches up. The results were quite dramatic.

Following 12 practice sessions, the players that used the random schedule hit 57% more pitches than when they had started. In the groups of blocked practice, the pitchers only hit the mark on 25% more of their pitches.

The choice is always left to the teacher and students, but changing up the system could be worth it. Try practicing random next time you’re on the practice tee.

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