Baseball Magazine

Improve Your Practices with “Contextual Interference”

By Meachrm @BaseballBTYard

Psychologists have long wondered how people learn and remember things.  Teachers as well as coaches also have an incentive to find those answers.  Often what we do in the classroom and on the field is geared towards teaching new information with the goal of long-term retention.  Unfortunately, lots of psychological

For better results, mix in some contextual interference!

For better results, mix in some contextual interference!

studies seem to indicate that how we teach and coach is actually better suited for short-term success and not the long-term memory/success for which we strive.

One such study was actually done with college baseball players at Cal Poly (California Polytechnic State University – can you imagine what their team GPA is?).  Below is the summary of the study’s report.  If you would like to read the more in-depth report, click HERE.


Summary.-The learning benefits of contextual interference have been frequently demonstrated in different settings using novice learners. The purpose of the present study was to test such effects with skilled athletic performers. Scheduling differences for biweekly additional (“extra”) batting-practice sessions of a collegiate baseball team were examined. 30 players (ns = 10) were blocked on skill and then randomly assigned to one of three groups. The random and blocked groups received 2 additional batting- practice sessions each week for 6 wk. (12 sessions), while the control group received no additional practice. The extra sessions consisted of 45 pitches, 15 fastballs, 15 curve- balls, and 15 change-up pitches. The random group received these pitches in a random order, while the blocked group received all 15 of one type, then 15 of the next type, and finally 15 of the last type of pitch in a blocked fashion. All subjects received a pretest of 45 randomly presented pitches of the three varieties. After 6 wk. of extra batting practice, all subjects received two transfer tests, each of 45 trials; one was presented randomly and one blocked. The transfer tests were counterbalanced across subjects. Pretest analysis showed no significant differences among groups. On both the random and blocked transfer tests, however, the random group performed with reliably higher scores than the blocked group, who performed better than the control group. When comparing the pretest to the random transfer test, the random group improved 56.7%, the blocked group 24.8%, and the control group only 6.2%. These findings demonstrate the contextual interference effect to be robust and beneficial even to skilled learners in a complex sport setting.

The results show a significant improvement in those hitters who practiced batting without knowing what was coming from the pitcher (contextual interference).  Of course, finding a BP pitcher who can throw consistent strikes with all three pitches to every batter is not so easy to find.  

Extra BP of that style and length may not be doable for a lot of teams but there are some things that you can do.  Some you may already do and, as you will see, not all involve hitting:

  • Short-toss where the pitcher mixes up speeds and location.
  • Soft-toss where the ball is tossed to random locations.
  • PFP (pitchers’ fielding practice) where nobody knows where the ball will be hit/bunted.
  • Ground balls hit to random locations for infielders – slow, hard, backhand, forehand, etc.
  • First-step jumps for outfielders where balls are hit/thrown to random directions.

I’m sure you can think of more but the point is this … random plays are what baseball players will need to do in a game so it makes sense to do more random work in practice.  20 ground balls at a shortstop followed by 20 more to his glove side, etc. may make the player more comfortable and get him to improve in the short-term but it is the random nature (contextual interference) that seems to produce the best results.

Tomorrow’s post:  Young players and their eyes


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