Random practice is exactly as it sounds. It is practice where skills are not trained in any specific order, and are trained randomly to better recreate a real world situation. If we use for example three practice drills, Drill A, Drill B, and Drill C, random practice will vary the order in which we focus on each of these drills. It will follow no particular pattern, therefore one set may be CAB, followed by ACB and so on (Schmidt, Wrisberg, and Lee, 2013).
Block Practice is effectively the complete opposite of Random Practice. If we use our example above of Drill A, Drill B and Drill C, block practice will mean that the same order continuosly takes place. Therefore the pattern will constantly be A, B, C and will never vary from this.
Random v Block
Why are there these two different types of practice? What are the advantages and disadvantages of both of these? According to the study undertaken by Shea & Morgan (1978), random practice is better for retaining learned motor skills, however block practice was shown to be more effective for the acquisition of motor skills. It is believed the reason that Random Practice is more effective is due to something called the “Elaboration Hypothesis.” This is where the participant learns the skill by comparing each different skill and finding similarities which then help them to perform and learn the new skills (Shea & Zimny, 1983). The advantages however of Block Practice is that the brain will try and apply the solution from the first Drill to the next Drill which may help reduce the time needed to find a solution. However a negative of this is that the participant is not necessarily learning a new solution for each Drill therefore the level of learning can be quite poor.
Across the levels
So from what we now know about the types of practice we can look to consider what sort of practice would be most effective for participants of sport from a novice child up to a professional adult athlete.
If we were to take a seven year old novice, who was new to football and never played before. I believe a distirbution of around 80% Block 20% Random may be a good starting point for them, however it could be argued that maybe even a split of 90% to 10% could be even more beneficial. If we think about the basic skills of football the child would have to acquire, this would certainly be for the best. He would be at a point where he would need to be shown primarily the techniques to just kick the ball, once he had mastered this through Block Practice, these skills could then developed further to a point where we are teaching him to pass with the inside of his foot and then to try and shoot with his laces. This would take up around 90% of the practice time. Once we could be confident he has developed basic understanding of these skills we could make the use of these skills more random by setting up a little 5aside game for example where he will need to use these skills but in no particular order.
If we were to take a fifteen year old intermediate, the ratios would be different. This lad would have been playing the sport probably since about the age of seven, he would have acquired the basic skills a long time ago, and would be looking to build on these and push himself to the next level. I believe a ratio of 75% Random to 25% block may be about right for a player at this level. As he is an intermediate level player there will be things that he will need to improve upon, and these can be improved by Block Practice, such as heading for example. If we knew this was a weakness of his this could be improved by a Block Practice where the coach is crossing or throwing the ball to him and the goal of the session is to score. As this would be the same scenario repeating this would considered Block Practice.
However the situation may be different for other areas of his game. If we knew he had those basic skills of controlling the ball and being able to pass, a Random Practice such as the Rondo drill seen below.
As we can see, the players in this video are intermediate level players between the ages of 13-15, and this type of Random Practice is excellent for developing upon skills the player already has. This exercise replicates the real demands of a football match very well which I feel is a strong point of Random Practice.
With the Professional Adult, the ratio would be around 90% Random, 10% Block. This is because athletes and players at that level already have the fundamentals of the sport performed to an exceptional level, a level that is quite difficult to really build upon further (Curneen, 2013). Therefore we are looking for a method of training that keeps them engaged and fulfils the demands of the sport they practice or play professionally. I believe the video below of the England National Football team shows how Random Practice works well for players at that level.
From the video we can see that this type of practice is completely Random. The players are playing small sided high tempo games to replicate a real match of football, they are effectively just building upon and sharpening high levels of already exisiting skills.
Curneen, G. (2013) The modern soccer coach 2014: A four dimensional approach. London, England: Bennion Kearny.
Schmidt, R.A., Wrisberg, C.A. and Lee, T.D. (2013) Motor learning and performance w/web study guide – 4th edition: A situation-based learning approach. 4th edn. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishers.