Coming into contact with children aged 3-18 on a daily basis really does challenge when to use these three types of practices. Personally I believe there is a place for all three of these types of practices and each practice enables you as a coach to challenge and aim to develop children, each practice has its time and place but finding when that is, is the most difficult part as a coach.
Firstly, I will start with blocked practice, When I first started coaching I used blocked practices on a number of occasions however, as I have developed more as a coach gaining more experience I generally decided to stay away from this type of practice no matter the age I am working with. Yet both blocked and random practice can be effective in developed skills with blocked practice usually providing quicker improvement in results compared to random practice (L,Rad. F,Babolhavaeji, E,Babolhavaeji,2012).The reason for me choosing random over blocked is simple, even though blocked practice is a good place to start when introducing a new skill or technique I believe varied practices are more beneficial for a players learning. Yes standing in a line passing a ball back and forth with the inside of your foot will no doubt developed your technique to pass with the inside of your foot but what are the chances of you being passed the ball the same way each time, very slim. Which is the reason why I generally decide to sway towards varied practice where players are made to think for themselves and problem solve, for example if the ball isn’t quite right to return a pass with the inside of the foot how can they adapt to find a different solution to get the ball back without claiming they are unable to pass with the inside of their foot because the feed wasn’t quite right.
Don’t get me wrong I am not saying blocked practice doesn’t have its place because it does. Blocked practice is a good type of practice to use when working with beginners that may have never played the sport before, this gives you as a coach to see the ability you are working with and gives the player a chance to become comfortable within the environment and get a feel for the sport which hopefully helps to build the players confidence and interest to continue playing the sport. Another place where blocked practice could be used is when regressing a session, say you move into a varied practice where players are forced to think when in situations they may not be used to and are struggling to find solutions to problems then blocked practice is a good place to go back to, to refine the skills they have done previously and provide them with the confidence that they are able to do it when taking part in a varied practice.
As a coach I predominantly deliver sessions using varied and random practice, the reason for this is these practices are more game specific compared to blocked practice, varied and random practice takes players out of there comfort zone and introduces them to new challenges where they may have to make different decisions depending on the situation. I understand that sometimes players may be uncomfortable or may not be able to perform at first during these practices but children are not stupid, each individual has a brain for themselves and therefore, after time will be able to provide solutions to problems and enhance their development sometimes without the coaches input.
During a game coaches are not there to make decisions for the children, they make them decisions for themselves, providing players with random practices will enable each individual to develop cognitive abilities (Hawkins, Kramer, & Capaldi, 1992). During blocked practice the coaches has already made the decisions for the player ‘this is how you will pass the ball’ rather than ‘this is what you could do in this situation’. As I discussed earlier there is no chance of you being passed the same ball 10 times out of 10 so what happens when the 9 out of the 10 balls you are passed come to you differently, how would a child react then?. Whereas, if a child is put into a varied and random practice then they are forced to make decisions for themselves and try different things in order to get a positive outcome.
Again I am not saying there isn’t a place for blocked practice because I believe there is. I am simply attempting to identify the best way to develop children and for me that comes with using varied and random practices.
L,Rad. F,Babolhavaeji, E,Babolhavaeji (2012) A comparison of blocked and random practice on acquisition of swimming skills. Euro. J. Exp. Bio., 2012, 2 (6):2073-2076
Hawkins, Kramer, & Capaldi, (1992) Age related-effects of blocked and random practice schedules on learning a new technology.