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Dr Ian Plummer

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How to Play
Good Ways to Practise

Gareth Denyer asked on the Nottingham Discussion Group "how [do] you objectively decide that a particular intervention has had an effect" in relation to trying a repeated manoeuvre and noting how successful you were.

Jenny Clarke responds:

More seriously, rather than simply trying to measure, measure, measure, how about just trying to improve and trust that by practising this will happen?

The idea of "blocked practice", i.e. doing the same thing over and over and over, is a great first step to improving. It involves repeating the same thing over and over and over, with the intention of building "muscle memory", having something one can count (to maybe see improvement in statistics, and therefore have validation of one's hope to be improving), and to enable you to "learn to do it right".

It's definitely handy, and has its place.

However, I'm a strong advocate also of other forms of practice. "Random practice" is more about practicing different shots. There is a lot of research suggesting that this facilitates learning better, avoids boredom and enables a learner to focus more on the task than the outcome. It also replicates a game scenario better. There's heaps of stuff about this on the internet.

There are also similar ideas of massed and distributed practice. "Massed" is largely back to this "blocked" idea - repeating over and over with minimal breaks between attempts. Distributed - have a go at something - pause, reflect, then have a go at something else - often different. Fewer repetitions, but potentially more depth of experience in each attempt.

I know of plenty of players who can tell you their 14-yard percentage, and practice that distance and other distances, over and over and over. And some can even provide graphs of their achievements. I started logging that once, but I gave up as I get bored fast. Also, at some point in this massed practice regime Chris [Clarke] pointed out that all my shots tended to be at balls on boundaries (mainly for convenience, as they are easy to round up once hit) - shooting into the lawn felt a bit different.

In recent times, I have reflected a lot more on this with regard to croquet - partly due to a combination of; seeing several croquet players doing repetitive practice, seeing a segment of a golf programme advocating for random practice after a period of blocked practice, and also after refreshing my thinking on motor learning theory for a book chapter. Blocked practice is easy, controllable and quantifiable, but random practice more closely approximates what we do in a real game.

So, I can only estimate what my 14-yard percentage is from how I feel on a given day, but after a decent practice session I've played a lot of shots from many distances, and from all over the lawn, and even hit some. I no longer have a specific distance where I feel "comfortable", and a longer distance which is out of my comfort zone, and I get bored a little less easily.

If you can give up needing numerical verification of your shooting results and trust the feel of what's happening, I strongly recommend random practice as a way to improve.

That said I do certainly believe there is a place for (some) blocked practice. For example, getting the feel and understanding of a croquet stroke. I prefer to use blocked practice to give myself confidence I am playing a stroke that's important to me "correctly". However, after practising a few strokes repeatedly to gain a feeling of mastery, e.g. approaching hoop 1 from a boundary, I feel it's then important to test that understanding by playing a range of maybe similar strokes (approaching various hoops from various positions), mix up a few other strokes, and then have a couple of goes at the strokes I wanted to focus on to make sure the feel and execution are still there.



Author: Jenny Clarke
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Updated 14.xii.17
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