Annie Murphy Paul wrote an article that was published in the NY Times on September 10, 2011 titled The Trouble with Homework.

(You can read it yourself here)

The article discusses different ways that school teachers can make homework better; however, if we apply the homework ideas to volleyball they will help us be better volleyball coaches. Here are two examples:

(1) “Spaced repetition is one example of the kind of evidence-based techniques that researchers have found have a positive impact on learning. Here’s how it works: instead of concentrating the study of information in single blocks, as many homework assignments currently do — reading about, say, the Civil War one evening and Reconstruction the next — learners encounter the same material in briefer sessions spread over a longer period of time. With this approach, students are re-exposed to information about the Civil War and Reconstruction throughout the semester.

It sounds unassuming, but spaced repetition produces impressive results. Eighth-grade history students who relied on a spaced approach to learning had nearly double the retention rate of students who studied the same material in a consolidated unit, reported researchers from the University of California-San Diego in 2007. The reason the method works so well goes back to the brain: when we first acquire memories, they are volatile, subject to change or likely to disappear. Exposing ourselves to information repeatedly over time fixes it more permanently in our minds, by strengthening the representation of the information that is embedded in our neural networks. “

In our coaching clinic we call this distributed practice and we use it to teach serving, passing, and all the skills we want to learn in practice.

(2) Another concept that was cited in the article was called interleaving.

In our coaching clinic we call this random practice, and because we want to learn how to play volleyball by playing a lot almost all of our practices are random. The New York Times article says it like this:

“Researchers at California Polytechnic State University conducted a study of interleaving in sports that illustrates why the tactic is so effective. When baseball players practiced hitting, interleaving different kinds of pitches improved their performance on a later test in which the batters did not know the type of pitch in advance (as would be the case, of course, in a real game).

Interleaving produces the same sort of improvement in academic learning. A study published last year in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology asked fourth-graders to work on solving four types of math problems and then to take a test evaluating how well they had learned. The scores of those whose practice problems were mixed up were more than double the scores of those students who had practiced one kind of problem at a time.

The article closes by asserting: “The application of such research-based strategies to homework is a yet-untapped opportunity to raise student achievement. Science has shown us how to turn homework into a potent catalyst for learning. “

Science has also shown us how to coach volleyball.  Our assignment now is to make it happen.