« Short Courses are Aerobic | Main | Wheelchair Athletes' Training »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ron Lugbill

Jon, thanks for the comment. Yes, interesting article based on research.

I agree that interleaving is more effective than rote repetition of a skill. Better to cover more skills and have varied practice than just spend the entire session on one skill alone.

The article states that the reason for this is that when you mindlessly repeat the same skill over and over, your mind becomes less active than if you have to keep moving from skill to skill.

Also, I would add that if you cover more skills, you can then repeat the skills in future sessions so there are more times that you teach and reinforce the same skills. In my experience the key in teaching a skill is how many "hits" you have on the skill, not how long you spend on it. In other words, spending 5 minutes on a skill over 10 sessions is much more valuable and you will learn a lot more than if you did 50 minutes on the skill all at once.

I wrote a blog post about this effect. It is very well established in the research that spaced practice is better than massed practice. Better to do 10 sessions of 10 minutes each than to do 100 minutes all at once.

However, often teachers and coaches do the opposite. They teach one topic per class or per session. Instead, they should vary the topic.

In my experience, an activity should last about 10 minutes max. and then you move on to the next activity. For example, I might do a training session as follows:

5 min.- forward stroke technique
5 min.- duffek stroke technique
5 min.- feathering technique
5 min.- upstream technique
10 min.- 10-15 second course for technique
10 min.- 10-15 second course for time and count penalties
10 min.- 20-30 second course for time and count penalties
10 min.- 40 second course for time and penalties
5 min.- strength training in the boat

Total time = 65 minutes

This type of research has also been done on academic subjects. They say that students do better when they are taught several topics on the same day and do varied practice, rather than just one topic. They do worse temporarily, but ultimately they do much better with varied practice.

It is difficult for some of the slower students who might not like this approach. For them, you might have to just step into varied practice by doing one topic at a time and then doing the varied practice. That is what most textbooks and teachers do. You do one topic/day and then there is some chapter review. There usually isn't enough of the varied practice and it is a slower approach designed for the slower students.

However, most students don't need the one topic at a time approach and it is just slowing them down. Most students do much better with the varied practice. The more varied practice the better.

With the one skill practice, the student doesn't have to decide which skill to use- he just applies the skill of the day. With varied practice, you have to first decide what skill to use and then apply it properly. If you only do isolated skill practice, you never have to decide when to apply the skill and therefore, you don't apply it to the appropriate situations.

Anyway, thanks for bringing up this topic. Appreciate your input.


Interesting article in the 15 April 2013 Time magazine on varied practice as a route to improved athletic performance (called "interleaving" or mixed practice" in the article). This in not the same thing as "cross-training."

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad