The goal of this experiment was to find out what kind of practice regimen would improve players batting skills the most. Players who participated were highly experienced individuals. To determine what kind of practice produces better results, they were divided into two groups and each of this groups followed different practice routine.
Why am I talking about baseball? Hold on, everything will become clear soon.
Hitting a baseball is a very complex skill that takes years to master. Not only you have to recognize what type of pitch is thrown at you and how the ball will move, you also have to time and aim your swing so you hit the ball at the perfect moment. From the time ball leaves pitcher’s hand, it takes only about half a second for it to reach catcher’s mitt. There is no place for thinking, everything has to happen almost automatic.
If your goal was to improve someone’s batting skills, how would you do that?
In the experiment, part of the team practiced in a way that many people would consider as the most logical one. Batters had to hit 3 different types of pitches, where each was served 15 times in a row and then they moved to another one. This was a form of blocked practice in action.
The second part of the team practiced in a more chaotic fashion. They also had to hit 3 different kinds of pitches, but this time they were randomly distributed across the block of 45 throws. If you were a batter, you would have no idea what kind of pitch is coming next. As you probably remember from my previous article, this is a form of interleaved practice.
The whole experiment included two practice sessions a week, continuing for six weeks.
During the batting practice, players who practiced in a blocked fashion showed massive improvement. With each repetition they became better at making contact with the ball and it became easier for them to anticipate how the ball will move. The second group however didn’t show that much of an improvement. At the end of 45 pitches they still struggled to hit the ball. Anticipating the type of pitch and movement of the ball was much harder, since they didn’t know what kind of throw is coming.
The interesting thing is that at the end of experiment, players who practiced in a random fashion displayed much better results than those who practiced in a blocked practice. What seemed like a massive improvement at first, didn’t lead to a long-term durable learning. The results are even more fascinating if you realize, that all of the players were skilled batters before the experiment had started. Continue Reading →