Training Variation for Sports

Training variation means that practice activities are changed within a particular range of intensity or class of skills. Variability of practice and training also promotes learning and prevents staleness and plateaus.

In competition, athletes must typically perform a variety of actions of the same movement. For example, a golfer must putt the ball with varied force and direction depending upon the distance and path to the hole. A quarterback must throw passes at different speeds and to virtually any spot on the field to connect with receivers.

Once athletes learn the fundamental movements of a skill, varying practice helps them learn to perform in new or competitive conditions that require adjustments in the execution and context of activities.

How to Add Training Variation

Examples of ways coaches can reap the benefits of practice variation in preparation for competition:

1. Create practice conditions that match a variety of possible competitive conditions. In most sports, specificity is variation.

Back Squat on Smith Machine

2. Use implements of slightly different weights and dimensions. Practice batting in baseball and softball with a variety of weighted bats. Alter the grip and the speed of the swing.

3. Limit the amount of varied practice for beginners until they understand and can execute key movements of a skill.

4. Practice variations of skills in random order, rather than in a predictable order. This is particularly helpful when sports require athletes to react in an unpredictable environment, such as for open skills (e.g., fielding ground balls, defending against an opponent).

5. Vary the exercises, repetitions, sets, weight loads, volume, recovery, and other aspects of weight training activities. Training in phases with periodized cycles effectively builds variety into the annual weight training plan.

For more on Motor Learning:

Coaching Feedback

Mental Practice

Sport Memory

Transfer of Training

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