Skip to Main Content


Concept: Variability of practice experiences is important for learning motor skills.

After completing this chapter, you will be able to

  • Explain the meaning of the term practice variability and its relation to predictions of theories of motor skill learning

  • Discuss ways to implement practice variability in skill learning or relearning contexts

  • Describe how the contextual interference effect relates to organizing variable practice

  • Discuss the relevance of contextual interference as a basis for scheduling practice for novice learners and skilled performers

  • Identify reasons why contextual interference benefits motor skill learning

  • Describe the practice specificity hypothesis and contrast it with the practice variability hypothesis

  • Discuss how especial skills challenge the practice specificity and practice variability hypotheses


A primary reason a person practices a skill is to increase his or her capability of performing it in future situations that will require the skill. For example, a basketball player needs to be successful shooting free throws in games. A student in a physical education class who will receive a grade based on performance on skills tests wants to practice those skills in ways that will lead to a high level of performance on the tests. Dancers need to perform in recitals, performances, and competitions. Athletic trainers practice taping an ankle or knee so they can do it effectively and quickly with athletes when needed. And physical rehab patients practice skills so that they can perform them as needed in their everyday environment. Because of this future performance requirement, teachers, coaches, athletic trainers, and therapists must design and establish practice conditions that will lead to the greatest probability of successful performance in situations that will require the practiced skills.

Consider two more specific examples. Suppose you were taking golf lessons, and your instructor told you to go to the practice range and hit a basket of practice balls. You know you need practice hitting your long irons. What would be the best way for you to spend your practice time using your long irons so that you can improve your performance with those irons when you play a round of golf on the golf course? Or suppose you are a physical therapist working with a patient who recently had knee replacement surgery. You want the patient to work on ascending and descending stairs. What would be the most effective way to schedule the practice of these two tasks to facilitate your patient’s capability to ascend and descend the stairs in his or her home every day?

One practice characteristic that increases the chances for future performance success is the variability of the learner’s experiences while he or she practices. This includes variations of the characteristics of the context in which the learner performs the skill, as well as variations of the skill he or she is practicing. The practitioner must address several important questions to determine how to optimize the types ...

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.