Whoops! I goofed.

In the Repetition, Repetition, Repetition – an article analysis post I made a stupid mistake. I mixed up academic papers. The one I said the AVCA article referenced was, in fact, an article I learned about from another source. It was Challenge Point: A Framework for Conceptualizing the Effects of Various Practice Conditions in Motor Learning by Mark A. Guadagnoli and Timothy D. Lee rather than Principles derived from the study of simple skills do not generalize to complex skill learning by Gabrielle Wulf & Charles H. Shea. That being the case, I need to make some corrections.

Wulf & Shea

Wulf & Shea published their paper in 2002. It looks at training styles (blocked vs. random) as well as feedback regimens and physical guidance, among other things. It is what is known as a literature review article. That means it looks at the published research on a certain topic (or topics) and looks to draw conclusions.

In this case, the conclusion is really that there hasn’t been sufficient research into motor learning with respect to complex skills, or enough consistent findings as yet, to make solid judgements on training style. It’s right there in the final sentence of the paper’s abstract – “They also demonstrate the need to use more complex skills in motor-learning research in order to gain further insights into the learning process.”

As such, on the basis of this article, the AVCA article cannot validly assert “To develop volleyball skills in novice to intermediate-level players we know that block training of skills and situations is recommended, as random training in practice session can easily overwhelm this level of player.” At least they can’t without citing other comprehensive research.

As the AVCA article rightly points out, though, the paper does make the point that level of learner, skill complexity, and available training time are important factors. Here’s one sticking point, however. When you read the paper, one of the things that becomes obvious right away is the problem of definition. How do you determine skill complexity? There doesn’t seem to be a clear answer.

On the question of the use of training aids, here too the paper calls the research mixed. In some cases it shows them to be detrimental while in other cases they appear to be beneficial. The way I read the paper, though, these aids were more devices involved in the actual execution of a skill. For example, poles for a skier. Things like hitting boxes for coaches, as mentioned in the article, were not discussed.

Guadagnoli & Lee

The Guadagnoli & Lee paper is also a review of sorts, though it does so in the context of presenting a conceptual framework. It came out in 2004. While the authors do speak to skill difficulty, they don’t take on differences in complexity the way Wulf & Shea do. Their focus skews a bit more toward differences in learner experience. The overall view is that random training is generally superior, but there does appear to be a benefit to limited blocked training for novices.

Coach Your Brains Out episode

As it happens, while I was in the midst of developing these posts a very much related episode came out from Coach Your Brains Out. It’s Part I of an interview with Steve Bain. Bain is a college coach and a research professor in orthopedics and sports medicine. The interview is a really useful discussion of the topics of blocked vs. random, specificity, and all of that. I definitely encourage you to give it a listen.

Interestingly, Bain says in the conversation that paper author Wulf mentioned above did research that youngsters actually see even more benefit from random training than do older individuals. This is counter to what a lot of folks seem to think. It has something to do with broader developmental issues at that age, though. I don’t have a paper reference for that yet, but I’m looking.

Meanwhile, Bain recommended Strength Training and Coordination for a discussion of specificity. There is also Motor Learning and Performance: From Principles to Application by Schmidt & Lee. I believe Carl McGown recommended that one, and Bain also mentions Schmidt in the podcast. Schmidt & Lee also have Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis for which Wulf is a co-author.

Volleyball-specific research

Wulf & Shea reference a couple of papers that feature volleyball-specific research. I am trying to get hold of them. When I do, I will post a follow-up. Something definitely worth watching, however, is the Conversation I had with Harjiv Singh on the topic of motor learning. In it he shares the academic view, based on his own PhD development, that things should be thought about on a scale rather than in a binary fashion.

It’s worth checking out the videos in this post that talk about skill acquisition in volleyball. There’s also this specific research on training hitters to attack vs. a block you may find interesting.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    4 replies to "Revisiting Repetition, Repetition, Repetition"

    • Nick W

      The Perception Action podcast covered the Wulf & Shea 2002 article just recently: https://perceptionaction.com/132/

      • John Forman

        Thanks Nick. I had a listen. Basically my takeaway as well. I’m really interested in how the research has developed since the paper came out in 2002.

    • Bob Barrick

      Thoughts on Nick Winkelman’s The Language of Coaching?

      • John Forman

        I have not as yet.

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