Blocked Practice Is Priming

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None of the following is based strictly speaking on any actual research.  On that basis, it is purely speculation on my behalf.  I will defend myself however by writing that I am taking research results from different areas and putting them together, so I am not just making stuff up.  But it is just a collection of thoughts that might not in reality fit together.

Blocked practice has been shown, as reported here for example, to produce some positive short term learning effect but overall less retention of the learned activity than random / distributed practice.  For learning it is therefore clear that random practice is essential.  But at different moments during the course of the season, the goal of the coach may not necessarily be long term learning.  Sometimes the goal of the coach is a short term improvement in a particular area for a specific match.  In this situation blocked practice might be a perfect solution.

As I wrote previously the content of practice is in itself a form of communication with the team.  By choosing to practice a particular area in any way at all, even in a way that does not directly lead to long term learning, the coach informs the team of its importance and draws their attention to it.  In this case blocked practice can lead to on court success by priming the team for certain skills and situations.

If I take the train of thought further and add a few more speculations on top…

Although blocked practice is not effective for long term learning, coaches persist with using it.  Obviously no coach wants his team to be worse, so one can only conclude that the coach ‘sees’ improvement in his team after blocked practice, particularly intra session improvement.  In seems likely / possible that what he is actually seeing is just the priming effect of the drill and not actual learning.  Hence the confusion.

It’s just a thought.

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  1. It sounds very reasonable if there is research that indicates improvement after one or two days (competition) of that practice or series of practices. All I found though was the Shea/Morgan studies. And they tested 10 Minutes and 10 days after practice. Do you have any research available that says how long the effect of blocked training shows in testing?


    1. Read the opening paragraph again 😉
      I am just trying to explain what I see and what I think other coaches see.


      1. Yes, I got that by reading it the first time 🙂 I was just asking myself if these observations could be backed up by research and therefore asked if you know of any that indicates that the effects of blocked training last longer then these 10 Minutes, for example one or two days.


  2. There’s a problem with the conclusion, “… what he is actually seeing is just the priming effect of the drill and not actual learning.” As we’ve discussed in Episode 17 of the awesome Volleyball Coaching Wizards Podcast (, block training does have a positive effect. It’s just not as sustained as the one for random/distributed training. Thus, said coaches could in fact be seeing actual learning. That isn’t to say there couldn’t also be a priming effect. We just can’t rule out the impact of block training.


    1. By writing ‘learning’ I mean to imply a longer term transfer, as is suggested in the literature. I might be wrong but as I understand the literature whatever we might see in the short term after blocked training is not actually learning. Therefore if we see an improvement, it is not actual learning but a short term effect through some channel.
      Therefore my thesis.
      Maybe ‘transfer’ is the correct description.


  3. Hello Coach,

    Exploring your blog has been very interesting. Thank you for the articles, I am enjoying it and getting a lot out of it!

    As I continue to pursue higher levels of volleyball, I have been obsessed with the idea that some ways of training offer more to an athlete than others – especially if the athlete understands the process and the “why” behind the training – and can therefore improve at a higher rate. I believe this comes in many forms such as nutrition, video, exercise, and of course in this case how I practice. I found a lot of thought-provoking information and articles, backed up with studies or otherwise, from a website called Train Ugly. I’ve found some success in becoming a better setter from some of the points brought up there. This one comes to mind:

    I would love to talk more with you coach, or at least ask some more questions as I plan to pursue higher level volleyball when I graduate next spring.

    Best Regards,
    John Eddins


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