Unveiling the Power of Contextual Interference in Training

Kids Learning With Contextual Interference

A couple of weeks ago, I shed light on the directive style of learning, known as “Sturend leren.” Today, however, let’s turn our focus to another significant learning strategy: “Contextual Interference.”

Read more: Unveiling the Power of Contextual Interference in Training

Diving Deeper into Learning Styles: From Directive to Contextual Interference

A couple of weeks ago, I shed light on the directive style of learning, known as “Sturend leren.” Today, however, let’s turn our focus to another significant learning strategy: “Contextual Interference.”

Over the past two decades, there’s been an impressive array of books and scientific studies delving into the sportsman’s brain and methods to enhance performance. Topics range from the Growth Mindset to teaching methods that ensure optimal transfer from training to real-time application. The underlying philosophy of training is that progress from one session should seamlessly transition to the next and, more crucially, into actual game scenarios. But, is this belief grounded in reality?

Professor Peter J Peek from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam has eloquently explored this question in an insightful essay. He delves deep into various motor learning methods and places a spotlight on one in particular: Contextual Interferences.

According to Professor Peek, multiple factors influence training outcomes. He emphasizes the learning process, the provided instructions and feedback, the skill level, the learning style, and the synergistic relationship between a coach and a player. Experienced trainers and coaches, equipped with a clear vision, are better poised to find the right balance for maximum impact. Every coach boasts a unique teaching style. Extensive scientific research has been devoted to this. Frequently, especially at a younger age, the incorporation of ‘technical skills’ becomes an integral part of the curriculum. But, how pivotal is variety in practice sessions?

Interestingly, it’s the switching between skills or tasks within a practice session that emerges as a winning formula. This embodies the essence of Contextual Interference. Train Ugly, an American organization specializing in sports performance enhancement, vividly demonstrates this concept using practical examples Watch the video here. In sports vernacular, technical skills often translate to passing, receiving, dribbling, or ball control. One approach to teaching these skills is through isolated repetition, illustrated in this segment.

Yet, as highlighted by Trevor Ragan, this is just scratching the surface. For a player to execute a technical skill, they need to read the game, make an informed decision, and then carry out the required action. Especially in open-skill sports like soccer, hockey, or basketball, no two moments are identical. Every instance differs, compelling the brain to consistently devise new action plans. The application of Contextual Interference training is elucidated here Watch the video.

Introduced over three decades ago by Battig (1979), the reason behind Contextual Interference remains somewhat elusive. Multiple hypotheses have been proposed, suggesting learning advantages due to random practices. An athlete, during every attempt, needs to formulate a new action plan, primarily because previous plans get disrupted or obliterated by Contextual Interference. This hypothesis aligns with recent studies on the neural foundations of variable versus constant practice. Variable practices involve the prefrontal cortex (planning movements), while constant ones engage the motor cortex (executing movements).

Norwegian researcher Vebjørn Brauten penned a dissertation on Contextual Interference in soccer, encompassing 17 studies. Twelve of these studies found significant evidence supporting the effectiveness of Contextual Interference, while five studies rendered inconclusive results. As Professor Peek points out, this could be due to the observation that the CI-effect is less prominent in beginners and low-interference practices tend to yield better results in children.

In conclusion, there’s substantial evidence backing the efficacy of Contextual Interference as a viable tool for skill acquisition. It’s advisable to ramp up the complexity as the player matures. To sum up, while Contextual Interference is probably widely implemented across various training forms, the real art lies in identifying the perfect drills for specific skills. Furthermore, this theory overlaps with ‘chaos’ training methods, making it intriguing to discern their combined effect on players’ learning curves. As with most scientific conclusions, there remains a scope for future exploration in this domain.


Battig WF (1979). The flexibility of human memory. In LS Cermak & FIM Craik (Eds.), Levels of processing in human memory (pp. 23-44). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Beek, Peter. (2011). Nieuwe, praktisch relevante inzichten in techniektraining (deel 4): Motorisch leren: het belang van contextuele interferentie. Sportgericht. 65. 2-6.


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