Demystifying Random Practice, Part II | Motor Learning in Golf Instruction
In part 1, we discussed the differences between blocked and random practice and described the reason why random practice was a superior practice method. The bottom line was that random practice, by its very nature, encourages learners to practice the process of hitting a golf shot; blocked practice discourages it.
But, research has shown that there are situations in which the benefits of blocked practice can be elevated to the level of random practice. The reasoning relates back to the notion of practicing the entire process.
Let’s consider again the scenario in which the golfer hit multiple wedge shots in a row (blocked practice.) Suppose now, instead of hitting 20 shots, say, in a span of 3 minutes, that the golfer hit the 20 shots over a span of 10 minutes. In between each shot, the golfer reflected on the previous shot, stepped back from the hitting zone and perhaps even put the wedge back in the bag. Once re-focused, the golfer would again retrieve the club and try to mentally re-start the entire process, perhaps with a different target, but maybe not. This would go a long way towards invoking the benefits normally seen with random practice, even though the practice order itself might be completely blocked.
The point is that random practice is not a magic formula for improving learning of golf skills. Random practice works because the very nature of it encourages the learner to practice the process of playing golf. But, the motivated/disciplined golfer can achieve the very same benefits using a variety of practice orders, including blocking practice, if mentally-effortful challenges are included.
There is one caveat to remember. Blocked (mindless, repetitive) practice is seductive. It lures the golfer into a false comfort zone in which the illusion of learning is strong. Mentally-effortful practice is difficult. Dedicated golfers need to trust that the long-term gains will emerge when practice is conducted in ways that moves them out of their comfort zone.