Practice methods for your Aim - Choosing the right method
What are practice methods?
From a sports perspective, we believe Aiming shares a lot of similarities. From the way we practice, to how we perform skills. One of the many factors to consider when we plan our aim training session for the day is how we are going to practice those skills. We have to think about the skill/s we want to practice in the day and decide whether which practice method is best for us.
We are sure that this is the definitive guide to helping you improve your aim. Following these practice methods will ensure that your training is fully optimised, so that you are getting the most out of your time and your skill.
The Types of Practice Methods
The first type of practice we will look into is massed practice. This practice method involves the aim training session with no breaks. A good example of this would be if we had only 60 minutes to train in the day. We would decide to either focus on 60 minutes of a single skill such as endurance Tile frenzy and Tracking, or a 60 minute routine of various skills. There are no breaks and therefore no time is wasted.
The second type of practice method we will look into is distributed practice. This practice method is the opposite of massed practice. During our session, we involve breaks. A good example of distributed practice would be if we had a couple hours each day to train. We may want to take breaks during our sessions in order to avoid physical and mental fatigue and to visualise the skill, ensuring we are learning effectively.
This practice method involves a bunch of different drills that are part of the same skill. This lets us take a set of sub skills and process them into a session. A great example of this would be a session involving the same aiming style such as tracking. Inside of this session, there would be a set of drills that would increase in complexity. It may start with some basic smoothness tracking, then involve some reactive tracking, then a mixture of multiple types of targets for that varied practice. Another good example would be a drill that would change dynamically as time went on.
The last practice method we will look at is fixed practice. Fixed practice is a practice method where only one drill is played for the entire session. This ensures proper learning of the skill, but can potentially cause movement or fatigue related injury. A good example of this would be playing a tile frenzy scenario for a whole hour without any breaks.
When should we use these practice methods?
We must think about who would need to use massed practice and why that would be good for some players, but not for others.
Firstly, massed practice is best suited for players with an autonomous level of skill for the skill in question. An autonomous learner is a player who has reached such a level of learning and consistent performance of that skill that they barely ever have to think about the skill specifically. Due to the high level of learning, movement adjustments made during the skill are for the majority of the time made by the subconscious, with occasional movements having to be consciously corrected. An autonomous player has to cope with the demands of a session without any breaks in it. For example, one hour of a fast movement scenario involving tens of thousands of clicks in that single session can be very fatiguing to a player who does not have that autonomous level of performance for that skill. Their movements will stiffen up or they will risk physical injury in the wrist, fingers or arm.
Another factor to consider is that the player needs to have a relatively high level of physical and/or cognitive fitness. Again, this is best suited for autonomous learners. Although aiming is not as physically demanding as most sports, performance of the skill can still tire the player out if their movements are not fluid and efficient. The lack of fluidity comes from the learner not having an autonomous level of performance for that skill. Players who have little knowledge of the current skill will not know how to execute movement efficiently or understand the cognitive process behind the execution of the skill, which may tire them out very quickly.
Massed practice is best suited for simple skills. Simple skills are skills with a small amount of information to process. For example, this may include a scenario with larger targets that are easier to hit. This makes the movement demand for the skill less accurate and therefore less movement error is involved. Another example of a simple skill will be a skill involving only a couple of processes, such as a smoothness tracking scenario. In a smoothness tracking scenario, the target will have entirely predictable movement, so there is no need for micro-correction following unpredictable changes. The target may also move at a consistent speed, so there is no movement regulation needed for changing your movement speed to match the targets. You simply must keep your gaze on the target and keep movement smooth, focusing almost solely on your own biomechanics. Even then, autonomous learners may still fatigue after prolonged periods of time and thus mistakes will be made later on. This results in not as efficient learning. So it is best to keep the skills simple for massed practice.
Massed practice is also very time efficient. Lots of players these days have other admin to attend to and may not have hours every single day to train. They may only have 30 minutes of practice time a few times per week. We would say that after a certain time, there would be diminishing returns on skill where that person would have to free up more time in order to reach higher levels of performance. However for the time being, a player who needs to fill up all the free time should waste no time on breaks and jump straight into the scenario, only taking a break when absolutely necessary.
Distributed practice basically follows the opposite criteria to massed practice, which makes it very useful for another type of player.
Distributed practice is split into sections which allow for frequent breaks. This is amazing for cognitive learners. Cognitive learners are players with a relatively lower understanding of the skill and therefore performance is lower. These players will still have stiffer movement, less understanding of the skill and will fatigue faster both physically and mentally. These players must constantly think about their movements during these breaks and understand what they just did. They need time to take in and understand the processes involved in the scenario. For example, take our Season 2 Target Switching assessment. This involves multiple processes such as understanding the number of targets and moving to the target in one fluid motion. Then, understanding that there is “X” amount of time needed to stay on target and track it for, while also queueing up their decision for the next movement - all while needing to focus on potential unpredictable changes in movement as they track the target for “x” amount of time. There is a lot to learn in this skill for a player who is new to aiming. They must take breaks between the timer to understand the skill process by process. This time also allows an aim or game coach to give the player their own feedback and questions on what they did well and what they must improve on.
Another point of distributed practice is that it is tailored towards players with a lower level of physical or cognitive fitness. In the context of aiming, it is not the most physically demanding sport, but it can be to someone who is still in the cognitive stages of the current skill. This is due to movements being inefficient and stiff when performanced. Overtime, this can cause a quick fatigue. A good example of this is a cognitive player who attempts to play a smoothness scenario for even just five minutes. They may experience some fatigue as the effort required to stabilize arm movement and move the wrist and/or fingertips at the same may just be too much for the brain to understand. Lactic acid buildup quickly occurs and the player fatigues very quickly. Matching stimulus with response at this level for prolonged periods of time is just too difficult for the player and therefore needs frequent breaks in order to avoid fatigue and/or injury.
Distributed practice is best suited for complex skills. These skills will involve multiple processes and movements to execute at a high level and therefore require a lot of practice and feedback to understand. For example, Target Frenzy is a relatively complex skill. This is because the targets are at a relatively long range, so that the movements not only need to be quick, they also need to be precise and on raret. This in itself is a skill that takes a while to learn. The complexity comes from the varying target sizes and distances from each other and the player. The varying distances and sizes means that you must be able to make a plethora of efficient movements, involving good motor control and movement regulation to minimalism mistakes. This takes lots of practice and the player will need to evaluate their performance through metrics or video feedback.
Distributed practice is a time consuming process. The Frequent breaks to discuss and understand what you just did, receiving feedback and also performing the skill in of itself takes lots of time. This is best suited for players who have more time on their hands. Players who may perform massed practice through the weekdays due to less free time may want to involve themselves in distributed practice over a weekend to maximise learning.
Varied practice is what the majority of players are used to in the current climate. It is where we focus on the same skill, but we break that skill down into lesser complex or different versions, so maximise learning. For example, playing target frenzy by itself may not help you improve as quickly as if you were to play target frenzy and other click-timing scenarios that require you to make different sorts of movements. Varied practice is amazing in this way as it lets a learner adapt their knowledge of the current skill into other environments(Drills, scenarios or games)
Varied practice is actually great for competition. Varied practice involves lots of different types of drills involving the same skill, meaning we can cover many different sub skills across the spectrum. This can be a great challenge and a benchmark for many players to tackle and compare results to at the end of the session. A great example of this are the assessment categories we have on the site currently. The “Click” assessments will focus more on click-timing and movement regulation across a spectrum, while the “Tracking” assessments will focus mostly on the different aspects of tracking. These in themselves are competitive as they have leaderboards and an overall percentile ranking.
Varied practice is great for open skills, where the environment is constantly changing. An open skill is a skill that is unpredictable and does not go at your own pace; The opposite of a closed skill. A good example of an open skill would be most reactive tracking scenarios, where movements are unpredictable. The target may move up then dash quickly to the right, or it may slow down then move down quickly. There is no telling and thus you must be willing to adapt. This is a key skill best practiced using various target behaviours in different environments. To perform best in open environments, you must learn to adapt to the environment as the environment is ever changing. Varied drills are the best way of doing this.
Varied practice can mimic the environment of a game or at least help you learn movements that you can take to the game, learning to better adapt to that environment. A good example of this, again, is an open skill involving reactive click-timing or tracking with target behaviour that mimics that of the game you want to play. A good example of this is the Halo 3 playlist you can find by searching for it on the playlist page. The brain can learn to take skills learned in controlled and open environments and move them to other environments. This explains the transfer between aim trainer and game and vice versa. Aim training can hone in and teach the player skills that they may necessarily not be able to hone in on during the game. For example, movement regulation (Mouse control), is entirely necessary for being able to perform mouse-related skills in a battle royale, from aiming at players close range, to far away, or even just swapping inventory items around! Reactive tracking will teach the player to condition to the unpredictable movement of targets in open environments such as games.
Fixed practice is the opposite of varied practice. What happens here is that the player will practice one single skill for the entire session, whether there are breaks or no breaks. A great example of this is playing any mouse control scenario. You are learning one single skill with the intent of overlearning that skill, making it autonomous.
Fixed practice promotes the overlearning of a skill. Overlearning is where you learn a very closed and predictable skill to an autonomous stage, meaning it requires very little thought to perform. Overlearning requires lots of repetition of that particular skill. This ensures that the skill is learned and can be transferred into other environments or even used as a basis for more complex skills. For example, mouse control scenarios are good for movement regulation, which can be taken to other forms of aiming such as target switching, precision scenarios or tracking.
Fixed practice is great for all players. This goes against most sports, where fixed practice is only beneficial to cognitive learners.
In this sense, cognitive learning can spend some time with that specific skill, understanding the processes needed to perform the skill while getting a feel for it. This is the best way for someone who is new at that skill to grasp that skill; Isolation of that skill with regular feedback during breaks. Once that skill is learned however, then it should become meaningless to perform that skill, right? In most sports, such as a tennis serve, yes it would be time inefficient to train something that you know you are very good at already. In the context of aiming though, this changes as the skill has many different variations. For example, if you are playing a mouse control drill where you have 6 targets on a single wall, that is a closed skill. Though it is internally paced, meaning you control the pacing of the drill, the skill offers a good foundation for the practices it teaches such as good movement control and making efficient movements.
Fixed practice is great for closed skills that require little thought into how they perform and what the processes are. Again, using the 6 target wall drill as an example, there is not much in the way of knowledge to understand. The skill acquisition and skill performance is in the efficiency and execution of the movement. For example, a player who can reach over 6 targets per second in larger target scenarios may have autonomous performance of the skill. But continuing the isolation of this skill may push them even faster, getting them to a pace of 7 targets per second or even higher. This is due to the person's training time being spent on subconscious changes in movement while only being focused on that single skill.
A direct downside is that doing the same drill for an entire aim training session may be very boring. Sitting there for an hour and hitting the same 6 targets for a whole hour is not as fun as actually playing the game or practicing a varied aim training routine for most. There are some people who love the isolation of a single skill and will push that skill to mastery. This however does take longs of time, can be unfun and requires lots of patience. We suggest looking at skills as an opportunity to learn and grow. This makes it more fun for us! The fact that a prolonged session on a single skill is boring to some means that they don't learn as well as they are not as attentive to the scenario. This can mean that the time is wasted as there is little to no learning taking place. It is good to find a balance, practicing skills only if you enjoy them or need to improve on them. Then, practicing using varied routines on other days to keep a fun balance!
Fixed practice is not good for in-game situations or varied situations where there is a lot of decision making occurring. Playing the same scenario is great for isolating that skill and using that skill to learn more complex skills later on. It is not good however in a real-game situation. For example, a game such as Apex Legends is much more than just aim heavy, it involves all of the map knowledge and game specific skills needed to play at a high level. Aiming is only a subskill to the list of skills needed to perform well at Apex Legends. Great if your aim is automated, but if your map positioning is wrong, you are going to run into trouble and end up eliminated by a whole team instead of positioning yourself correctly with the rest of your squad.
Knowing these factors of the types of practice methods, you can check below for an example of each practice method. This and the information provided, should help you better understand what you need to practice and how you should practice it.
Varied and Distributed practice:
This playlist linked is a great example of varied practice. You can see that although we are still isolating one form of aiming style (tracking), we are practicing variations of that skill, such as reactive and smoothness tracking in different environments. These different environments allow the player to condition better to changing environments, making them better for skill transfer and game environments respectively.
Fixed massed practice:
This playlists is great for fixed massed practice. We are performing the same closed skill for prolonged periods of time. The idea is to “overlearn” the skill, so that we can confidently say that the skill is autonomous, taking this skill to over environments to help us learn movement there also.
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