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How Long We Practice and Why

Cheerleading season is in full swing! High school, All Star and Recreational tumbling teams have all started up again. Most athletes are now practicing between three and six hours a week. This is a major time commitment, but there is science behind why athletes practice when they do and for how long they practice.

According to an article on the “Association for Psychological Science” website, entitled “How you Practice Matters for Learning a Skill Quickly”, the article talks about new findings which were published in the journal, “Psychological Science”, about how practice alone doesn’t make perfect. The article highlights a study conducted by Stafford and Michael Dewar in which participants played an online game called “Axon”. The game tested participants “ability to perceive, make decisions, and move quickly.”

The study found that some participants were able to achieve higher scores, even though they practiced for the same amount of time as other participants. “Game play data revealed that those players who seemed to learn more quickly had either spaced out their practice or had more variable early performance — suggesting they were exploring how the game works — before going on to perform better.” This study suggests that it is beneficial for growth to spread out practice times. By breaking the practice times up, it allows athletes time to process what they practiced, what they reviewed and maybe what they were not the most successful with. This cognitive processing allows athletes time to turn the suggestions or constructive criticism from coaches into noticeable change.

This study also suggests that it is important to fully understand how something works, before moving onto a hard level. The participants who learned the fastest made mistakes in the beginning. Athletes who learn skills very quickly, but do not fully understand what their body is doing to execute a skill may run into a point in their tumbling or stunting where they are unable to move to a more difficult skill due to a lack of body awareness. This study suggests that athletes may learn more quickly when they are allowed to struggle in the beginning. When athletes struggle, it gives them an opportunity to mentally work through and understand a solution. By mentally processing the changes that need to occur in order for the athlete to see success,  this can lead to a long-term benefit of increasing an athletes mental and body awareness.

By keeping practices consistent and allowing for athletes to struggle, “The study suggests that learning can be improved — you can learn more efficiently or use the same practice time to learn to a higher level,” says Stafford.

By increasing the knowledge of how athletes can better themselves faster, the less frustration athletes will hopefully see throughout the season. Be sure to be open-minded to all of your coaches critics; know it is a part of learning. Also, keeping an open mindset to every practice will keep athletes away from the mind-set of “We are doing the same thing we did last week.” This study suggests that athletes who approach each practice with open eyes and ears will see improvement faster than their teammates who do not. So encourage all of your teammates, coaches and friends to change their mindset when trying to learn something new, and who knows, maybe they will have their challenge mastered before they could have ever imagined!

This article contains information and quotes from an article entitled “How you Practice Matters for Learning a Skill Quickly”. This article references a study published in the”Psychological Science” journal, which is available for reference on the “Association for Psychological Science” website. Please follow the link below to find the original story:

(01/07/2014): http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/how-you-practice-matters-for-learning-a-skill-quickly.html?utm_source=pressrelease&utm_medium=vocus&utm_campaign=axonlearning

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