Brazilian Journal of Motor Behavior
Special issue:
The role of practice in motor learning
Corrêa et al.
194 of 205
Insights on the practice schedule role on performance under a hierarchical system view
Escola de Educação Física e Esporte, Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil.
Escola de Educação Física, Fisioterapia e Terapia Ocupacional, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
Escola Superior de Educação Física, Universidade Federal de Pelotas, Brazil.
Correspondence to: Umberto Cesar Corrêa, Laboratório de Comportamento Motor, Universidade de São Paulo, Av. Mello Moraes, 65, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo,
SP, Brazil CEP 05508-030. Phone: 55-11-3091 3136; Fax: 55-11-3813 5921.
email: [email protected]
Constant practice affects motor skill’s
• Varied practice constrains motor skill’s
microstructure functioning.
• Hierarchical systems contemplate
consistency and adaptability complementarily.
• Motor control structure envolves
representation and emergence.
C1 Backswing
C2 Forward swing
C3 Post-hitting swing
CO3 Distance of 3.0 m from the target
CO3i Distance of 3.0 m from the target
with a 9º incline on the last meter
of the mini-golf putting
CO4 Distance of 4.0 m from the target
D1, D2, D3 Each day of practice
DZ Distal zone
ES Effect sizes
EZ External zone
GMP Generalized motor program
PZ Proximal zone
TZ Target zone
VAR Performed all trials under these
conditions in a counterbalanced
Received 10 11 2021
Accepted 30 11 2021
Published 01 12 2021
BACKGROUND: A theoretical background of hierarchical open systems has emerged as an alternative for
explaining consistency and adaptability as complementary in the same motor skill related-structure at different
levels of analysis.
AIM: Based on original supporting evidence, this paper presents and discusses how an adoption of such
background allows theoretical and methodological insights on the role of practice schedule on performance.
METHOD: Sixteen unexperienced individuals of both sexes performed 240 trials of the golf putting task over
three days. They were randomly divided into four experimental groups: CO3 (performed trials at a distance of
3.0 m from the target); CO3i (performed all trials at a distance of 3.0 m from the target with a incline on the
last meter of the mini-golf putting); CO4 (performed all trials at a distance of 4.0 m from the target); and, VAR
(performed all trials under these conditions in a counterbalanced order).
RESULTS: All groups improved the performances related to the task goal, but in a different way by considering
the frequencies of golf putting in different performance zones. Results also showed that the constant groups
(CO3, CO3i and CO4) modified the macrostructures in different dimensions over practice, while VAR group only
altered the microstructure.
CONCLUSION: The distinct effects of the practice schedules on motor skill structure formation were only
inferred because of adopting the hierarchical system view. Based on this background, it was possible to
speculate that each practice schedule drives differently the formation of a motor control structure.
KEYWORDS: Macro-micro | Order-disorder | Constraint-emergence | Variability of practice
The practice is an essential aspect for life of human beings. This is because it is
sine qua non condition for learning of countless motor skills humans perform throughout
life to meet their needs (e.g., health, education, work, protection, locomotion, food, leisure
and socialization).
One of the most recognized definitions of practice in the field of Motor Behavior is
that from Bernstein
“… practice, when properly undertaken, does not consist in repeating
Brazilian Journal of Motor Behavior
Corrêa et al.
195 of 205
Special issue:
The role of practice in motor learning
the means of solution of a motor problem time after time, but in the process of solving this
problem again and again …” (p. 134). One could say that such recognition is based on two
main aspects: (1) the consideration of the purposeful and contextual natures of the motor
skills. For this reason, the performance is referred to as a motor problem solving. (2) This
definition comprises the complexity of events and mechanisms underlying performance
from the intention to its result. On this concern, Tani
proposes that practice involves a
conscious effort of organization, execution, evaluation and modification at each trial.
Over the past fifty years, motor learning studies have sought to understand and
explain the effects of the amount and type of variability of practice over trials on
performance and learning, as well as their underlying mechanisms and processes. For
example, there has been investigation if the variation of motor skill parameters during
practice would enrich a cognitive structure named scheme, which would provide the
specific values to the central motor command (generalized motor program GMP)
. The
main hypothesis here is that the more parameters were varied in the practice, the richer
the scheme would be and, consequently, the more accurate would be the values it would
provide to the GMP to be run in a new situation
. On the other hand, it has been
investigated whether varied practice would imply contextual interference on traces, plans
or representations which, in turn, would make them more elaborate and organized in the
memory, more resistant to forgetting and less dependent on the initial context
There seems to be no doubt about the advances provided by these investigations
concerning the understanding of practice scheduling, even as they still represent the state
of the art (e.g.,
). However, they are not without their criticisms, mainly related to their
explanatory power regarding consistency and adaptability as essential characteristics of
motor skills
. For instance, from the schema background point of view, it is clear which
memory structures are responsible for both foregoing characteristics (GMP and schema,
respectively) and how they can be accessed in terms of measures (relative and absolute
spatiotemporal dimensions, respectively). Nevertheless, it is not clear how GMP is formed
and transformed as well as how it is selected
. Similar problems are seen concerning the
background of contextual interference, since how traits or plans would account for the
consistency and adaptability of motor skills, as well as being formed and transformed, was
also not properly addressed. Finally, when adaptability is addressed, it is only from the
parameterization point of view. Despite the importance of this type of adaptation
mechanism, it does not allow the understanding of how motor skills are transformed in
terms of GMP, traits or plans as part of the continuous process of motor learning
Parameterization refers to those values modifications within the structure of motor skills.
In order to solve these problems, in the last few years practice scheduling has
been investigated based on the theoretical background of hierarchical open systems
This refers to a metastable multilevel system whose general characteristics essentially
invariant, but the behaviour of the components parts is variable
. Such a background has
emerged as a useful theoretical alternative explaining consistency and adaptability
complementarily in the same structure, which implies diminishing in computational
overload and eliminating the infinite regression problem
In such hierarchical structure, consistency is guaranteed for a macroscopic order,
i.e., macrostructure (overall pattern or configuration that emerges from components parts
interaction), while microstructure allows the performances to be variable, since they refer
to the behavior of the individual components. For instance, the sequential interaction mode
Brazilian Journal of Motor Behavior
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Special issue:
The role of practice in motor learning
from which the volleyball spike emerges is invariant, that is: (1) running, (2) vertical
jumping, (3) hitting the ball and (4) landing. Any other way these components interact fails
to characterize foregoing motor skill. Nevertheless, with the foot on which side the running
is started and finished or the amplitude and number of steps in the running, how high to
jump, how to hit the ball and to land emerge from context specificity (e.g., speed of the
ball, blockers' displacement, etc.)
. As the hierarchical systems are multilevel, both
foregoing characteristics can be seen at different scales or levels of analysis. For example,
it has been focused from mechanisms underlying the performance of motor skills to
observable behaviors. Regarding the first, it has been considered the intention constrains
the action programmes macrostructure, while the motor details emerge from peripheral
systems. Concerning the latter, one could consider the tactic characterises a team
macrostructure, while the players’ individual behaviors refer to its microstructure. In
addition, differently from the current models and theories, a hierarchical structure
conception allows speculating on the changes in the performance in different levels as well
as the different ways that adaptation of motor skills takes place (e.g.,
parameterization/microstructure, structure reorganization or self-
organization/macrostructure) [e.g., see
Since the adoption of an alternative background implies reconsidering the
theoretical and methodological status quo
, this paper aimed to present and discuss
based on original supporting evidence how the adoption of a hierarchical system
conception could contribute to theoretical and methodological insights on the role of
practice schedule on performance.
Sixteen volunteers of both sexes (14 men and 2 women), aged between 18 and 27
years (M = 22.0 years; SD = 2.4) participated. The exclusion criteria involved having prior
experience on the motor task employed in this study. Participation required the individual’s
written consent and the experimental protocol was approved by the local Institutional
Review Board.
Task and equipment
The task was to perform the golf putting on a mini-golf (an artificial grass surface)
5 m long and 1.5 m wide. The putting target was a hole with 10 cm of diameter located in
the center and 40 cm from the end of the mini-golf putting (Figure 1B). In addition to the
existing motor learning protocols (e.g.
), this task was used because it allowed accessing
its hierarchical structure from identification of its interacting components
, namely: (1)
backswing (from the beginning of the movement near the ball up to the highest point
reached by the club); (2) forward swing (from the endpoint of the backswing to the contact
to on the ball); (3) post-hitting swing (from the impact on the ball to the end of the club
movement) (Figure 1A).
Brazilian Journal of Motor Behavior
Corrêa et al.
197 of 205
Special issue:
The role of practice in motor learning
Figure 1. Illustration of golf putting and (A) and artificial grass surface as the mini-golf putting (B).
A putting golf club (TourEdge belly putter 0), which had attached to the top of the
clubhead, near the face (impact) side, a bright orange non-reflective styrofoam marker for
tracking its displacement, and standard golf balls were used by the participants to
complete the task. An IBM-PC compatible notebook with spreadsheet software was
utilized for data tabulation and trial number control. A GoPro Hero 3+ camera positioned 2
m away from the participant recorded the trials, with 720p resolution and 120 Hz
acquisition frequency.
The Kinovea software (version 0.8.15) was used to extract the bidimensional
(planar) spatial coordinates from the video recordings. Calibration was made with a
120x120 cm square frame positioned along the straight line from the initial ball position
marker to the target (hole).
Design and procedures
Participants were randomly assigned into three groups of constant practice and
one group of varied practice. Three constant groups were considered to avoid that one
group practice in a constant way a less functional version of the task. Thus, all kinds of
putting were practiced in isolation, that is, without variability of practiced. All groups
performed 240 trials over three days, 80 per day. CO3 group performed the golf putting
trials at 3.0 m from the target (hole); CO3i group also performed the golf putting trials at
3.0 m from the target. However, there was a incline on the last meter of the mini-golf
putting (Figure 1B); CO4 group performed the golf putting trials at 4.0 m from the hole;
and, VAR group performed the tr