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Acquisition of a Complex Basketball-Dribbling Task in School Children as a Function of Bilateral Practice Order

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The purpose of this study was to investigate order-of-practice effects for the acquisition of a complex basketball skill in a bilateral transfer paradigm. The task required participants to dribble as fast as possible in slalom-like movements across six javelins and return to the initial position. Fifty-two right-handed school children (M age = 11.7years) practiced this skill in eight sessions over 4 weeks under one of two training schedules: (a) with the dominant hand, before changing to their nondominant hand (D-ND group), or (b) with the nondominant hand, before changing to the dominant hand (ND-D group). All tests were conducted with the right hand or the left hand only, and a transfer test was given with both hands alternating. The results of a retention test yielded significantly larger learning gains for the ND-D group as compared to the D-ND group. It is interesting that this performance advantage was independent of the respective hand tested. The same pattern of result was found in the transfer test, with significantly shorter movement times for the ND-D group with both hands alternating. Such order-of-practice effects for the acquisition of complex skills can be explained with hemispheric brain asymmetries for the processing of specific task requirements.
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188 RQES: June 2011
Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
Key words: early motor learning, hemispheric specializa-
tion, intermanual transfer
M
odern game sports such as basketball or soccer re-
quire athletes to execute complex skills not only on
their preferred side using their dominant hand (or foot),
but also on their nonpreferred side. Especially in competi-
tive play, when athletes face pressure from opponents and
when they have to select an appropriate action under
time constraints, the flexible use of the dominant and
nondominant hand (or foot) is crucial for successful play.
For example, in order for a basketball player to shield the
ball from an opponent, he or she must be able to dribble
equally well with the dominant and the nondominant
hand. Similarly, a player should be able to rebound a
loose ball returning from the rim with the dominant or
nondominant hand. These and other situations render
the variable use of complex sport skills on both sides of
the body a necessity for successful play in modern game
sports. While this principle is shared by most coaches
and athletes, the issue of systematic bilateral skill acquisi-
tion is often neglected in today’s practice schedules. The
purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects
of two bilateral practice schedules on the acquisition of a
basketball dribbling skill.
1
It is well documented that practicing a motor skill
with one hand (or foot) can also result in performance
improvements in the opposite (contralateral) effector
(e.g., Criscimagna-Hemminger, Donchin, Gazzaniga, &
Shadmehr, 2003; Sainburg & Wang, 2002; Teixeira, 2000).
Most research studies in support of such intermanual
transfer effects have focused mainly on simple movement
tasks, such as finger tapping (Laszlo, Baguley, & Bairstow,
1970), writing and drawing (e.g., Parlow & Kinsbourne,
1989; Raibert, 1977), key pressing (Taylor & Heilman,
1980), pursuit rotor tracking (e.g., Byrd, Gibson, &
Gleason, 1986; Parker-Taillon & Kerr, 1989), or pointing
during visuo-motor perturbations (e.g., Sainburg & Wang,
2002, Wang & Sainburg, 2004a) as well as dynamic pertur-
bations (Wang & Sainburg, 2004b). However, there have
Acquisition of a Complex Basketball-Dribbling Task in
School Children as a Function of Bilateral Practice Order
Tino Stöckel, Matthias Weigelt, and Jürgen Krug
Submitted: March 25, 2009
Accepted: January 24, 2010
Tino Stöckel is with the Neurocognition and Action Group
at Bielefeld University. Matthias Weigelt is with the Insti-
tute of Sport Science at Saarland University. Jürgen Krug
is with the Faculty of Sport Sciences at Leipzig University.
The purpose of this study was to investigate order-of-practice effects for the acquisition of a complex basketball skill in a bilateral
transfer paradigm. The task required participants to dribble as fast as possible in slalom-like movements across six javelins and return
to the initial position. Fifty-two right-handed school children (M age = 11.7 years) practiced this skill in eight sessions over 4 weeks
under one of two training schedules: (a) with the dominant hand, before changing to their nondominant hand (D-ND group), or (b)
with the nondominant hand, before changing to the dominant hand (ND-D group). All tests were conducted with the right hand or
the left hand only, and a transfer test was given with both hands alternating. The results of a retention test yielded significantly larger
learning gains for the ND-D group as compared to the D-ND group. It is interesting that this performance advantage was indepen-
dent of the respective hand tested. The same pattern of result was found in the transfer test, with significantly shorter movement times
for the ND-D group with both hands alternating. Such order-of-practice effects for the acquisition of complex skills can be explained
with hemispheric brain asymmetries for the processing of specific task requirements.
Motor Behavior
Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport
©2011 by the American Alliance for Health,
Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
Vol. 82, No. 2, pp. 188197
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RQES: June 2011 189
Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
also been some transfer studies using more complex tasks,
such as dribbling and kicking skills in soccer (Haaland &
Hoff, 2003; Teixeira, Silva, & Carvalho, 2003), throwing
in basketball (Stöckel, Hartmann & Weigelt, 2007), and
performing particular dance routines (Puretz, 1983).
It is interesting that all of these studies have reported
asymmetrical transfer between two homologous limbs,
indicating that the amount of skill transfer varies from one
side of the body to the other side. Therefore, and despite
the differences between these previous studies (e.g., dif-
ferences in task complexity, the amounts of practice, and
the level of proficiency), they suggest sequential effects on
the acquisition of motor skills, such as that the initial side
of the body practiced (dominant vs. nondominant) influ-
ences the amount of skill transferred to the other side.
Following this notion, systematic investigations of such
sequential effects on the acquisition of complex motor
skills after equally distributed practice with the dominant
and nondominant hand (or foot) are required to provide
a better picture of how the acquisition of complex motor
skills should be structured.
One approach for systematically investigating sequen-
tial effects after initial practice with the dominant versus
nondominant hand (or foot) is to consider the inherent
task parameters and/or the underlying motor compo-
nents specifying a particular motor skill (e.g., Carson,
1989; Sainburg, 2002; Teixeira, 2000). This approach is in
line with Sainburg’s (2002) dynamic-dominance hypoth-
esis of handedness and the proposal that independent
neural systems control different movement features. In
this regard, a greater proficiency of the left-brain–right-
hand system has been demonstrated in the control of
trajectory dynamics, while the right-brain–left-hand system
appears to better specify the final position of a movement
(e.g., Bagesteiro & Sainburg, 2003; Sainburg & Kalakanis,
2000; Sainburg & Wang, 2002; Wang & Sainburg, 2004b).
Also, some evidence suggests at least partial transfer of
force control from the dominant, right limb, to the non-
dominant, left limb (Criscimagna-Hemminger et al., 2003;
Farthing, Chilibeck, & Binsted, 2005; Teixeira & Caminha,
2003). Sainburg’s (2002) dynamic dominance hypothesis
also fits with a more general model of brain asymmetries
and hemispheric specialization, which assumes that distrib-
uted brain networks are cooperating during motor perfor-
mance (e.g., Birbaumer, 2007; Serrien, Ivry, & Swinnen,
2006). Thereby, it is understood that “both hemispheres
are likely to be involved in the performance of any complex
task, but with each contributing in their specialized man-
ner” (Gazzaniga, Ivry, & Mangun, 1998, p. 369).
While much research confirms asymmetric transfer
after dominant and nondominant hand (or foot) practice
of simple motor tasks, physical education teachers and
other practitioners are especially interested in such se-
quential effects on the acquisition of complex sport skills.
Two recent studies investigated sequential effects after
extended practice of the dominant and nondominant
leg in experienced, adolescent soccer players (Haaland
& Hoff, 2003; Teixeira et al., 2003). Haaland and Hoff
(2003) tested two groups using two standardized foot-
tapping tasks (two- and three-position foot-tapping) and
three soccer-specific tests (dribbling, volley goal shot, and
passing against a mini-goal). During a training period
over several weeks, one group used only their dominant
leg and the other group used their nondominant leg.
As expected, the nondominant leg group performed
better across all tasks when tested with the nondominant
leg after the training period. Most surprisingly, however,
the nondominant leg group also showed greater perfor-
mance improvements when tested on their dominant
leg (when compared to the dominant leg group). Thus,
nondominant leg training led to a general improvement
of skill performance on both sides of the body, even in
experienced soccer players. These results were at least
partially confirmed in another study by Teixeira et al.
(2003), who found a similar reduction of lateral asym-
metries in a soccer dribbling task after nondominant leg
practice (but no reduction in two other tasks, kicking for
force and kicking for accuracy).
Note that in the previous two studies, participants prac-
ticed either with their dominant or their nondominant
limb over a certain period of time before performance
was assessed on both sides in a posttest. What is unknown
from these studies is (a) whether nondominant limb
practice improves performance per se, or (b) if it matters
at what point in time the dominant or the nondominant
limb is being practiced. The earlier study supports rather
unspecific effects of nondominant limb practice on skill
acquisition, whereas the second is reminiscent of sequen-
tial effects on motor skill learning.
In recent studies, we looked at this question by add-
ing another period of opposite limb practice after initially
training the dominant or nondominant limb (Senff &
Weigelt, 2011; Stöckel et al., 2007; Stöckel & Weigelt,
2011). Stöckel et al. (2007) had two groups of adolescent
participants practice a basketball shooting task, involving
the dominant and nondominant hand in opposite train-
ing schedules over several sessions (with the amount of
practice on each side counterbalanced). The results of
this study demonstrated improved bilateral performance
(i.e., greater shooting accuracy with the dominant and the
nondominant hand) for the training group that started
to learn the basketball task with their nondominant hand
first. Similar results were obtained by Senff and Weigelt
(2011), who asked children to slide cent coins from a
starting position into a target on the opposite side of a
table. Again, two groups practiced this task in opposite
training schedules, using their dominant and nondomi-
nant hand equally often across the whole period of the
study. The children who practiced this task initially with
the nondominant hand performed better afterwards with
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190 RQES: June 2011
Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
both hands, displaying greater sliding accuracy on their
dominant and on their nondominant side. Hence, these
studies show sequential effects both for the acquisition of
a complex sport motor skill (Stöckel et al., 2007) and for
a simple perceptual-motor task (Senff & Weigelt, 2011).
The term “sequential effects” refers to the observation that
the order in which both hands are practiced influences
how well a particular skill will be learned.
The purpose of this study was to investigate sequential
effects on the acquisition of a complex dribbling task in
basketball. To this end, we recruited a group of young
children, because young learners are most often con-
fronted with the task of acquiring a novel sport skill (e.g.,
in physical education classes). The findings of the present
study should therefore have high practical relevance for
the organization and optimization of children’s training
schedules. Two groups of young children were asked to
dribble a basketball around a slalom course using either
their dominant or nondominant hand at different times
over a series of training sessions. Most importantly, both
practice schedules were designed to provide the same
amount of bilateral skill training (i.e., the amount of
time spent practicing with the dominant and the non-
dominant hand). We made one specific and two general
predictions. The two general predictions were (a) if the
order in which children practice their hands has no effect
on the acquisition of this dribbling task, then we should
observe no differences in performance between the two
groups; or (b) contrarily, if sequential effects manifest
themselves on the acquisition of the present task, then
we should observe performance differences. The more
specific prediction was that if the previously reported
sequential effects (Stöckel et al., 2007; Senff & Weigelt,
2011) extend to dribbling skills, which require the inte-
gration of visual-spatial information (e.g., while moving
through an obstacle course), then the children who start
to practice the task with their nondominant hand should
show greater performance improvements.
Method
Participants
Fifty-two school children (17 girls and 35 boys) from
the sixth and seventh grades (ranging in age from 11 to
13 years, M age = 11.7 years, SD = 1.0) of a grammar school
participated in this study. All of them were right-handed.
2
The handedness of all children was assessed with the Ed-
inburgh Handedness Inventory (Oldfield, 1971) before
the study, and none of the children had prior experience
with the task or played on a basketball team outside of
the school. Before the experiment, all of the children’s
parents gave their informed consent for their child’s par-
ticipation in the study. The study took place during regular
physical education classes. The local school authorities
and the institutional review board approved the research.
Task
The present task was a modified version of a task pre-
viously used by Teixeira et al. (2003). While these authors
tested the speed of dribbling for a slalom-dribbling task
(SDT) in soccer, we investigated dribbling in basketball.
The SDT required participants to dribble around an
obstacle course of six javelins, arranged in a straight
line and spaced apart by 1.5 m (see Figure 1). The total
distance from the start/ finish line to the last javelin was
9 m. Each trial started with the participant crossing the
starting line. He or she then dribbled around each javelin,
circled the last javelin, and returned as fast as possible to
the finish line (bypassing the javelins on the way back).
Participants started whenever they felt ready. They had
to circle the javelins by using the right hand only, the left
hand only, or alternating between the two hands. The
time it took participants from start to finish was meas-
ured with a stopwatch, which automatically started and
stopped when a light barrier was crossed, approximately
at shin height (longines TL2000 measurement device;
Longines, St. Imler, Switzerland). To this end, the photo-
electric sensor and the reflector of the longines TL2000
measurement device were arranged at a height of 30 cm,
so that the light barrier covered the start/finish line (see
Figure 1, SDT). The basketball used was of official size,
approximately 75 cm in circumference and with a weight
of approximately 600 g.
The need to keep good control over the ball under
time pressure renders the SDT a complex task, requiring
a great deal of visual-spatial coordination while dribbling
through the obstacle course. The specific demands of
the SDT therefore require the integration of visual-spatial
information and the coordination of movements under
time pressure.
Design and Procedure
The 52 participants were equally distributed to one
of two groups after a pretest. The two groups then prac-
ticed the SDT under one of the following two treatment
conditions: (a) participants dribbled with their dominant
hand for the first four of the eight practice sessions and
then switched to their nondominant hand for the second
four (D-ND group); or (b) participants dribbled with their
nondominant hand for the first four of the eight practice
sessions and then switched to their dominant hand for
the second four (ND-D group). This fully crossed order-
of-practice design ensured that all participants learned
the skill for the same amount of time with their dominant
and nondominant hand. The only difference between
the groups was the point in time at which the dominant
Stoekel.indd 190 5/19/2011 5:15:58 PM
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Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
or nondominant hand was practiced. After the comple-
tion of all practice sessions, any difference observed in
the dependent variable (i.e., dribbling speed) must be
attributed to the difference in practice order.
This study lasted 6 weeks and included a pretest,
eight practice sessions, a posttest, a retention test, and a
transfer test. Both the retention test and the transfer test
were conducted after one week without practice. All test-
ing and training sessions were arranged during regular
physical education lessons in a school gymnasium. These
lessons included basic exercises of ball handling and a
number of different drills with the aim to (methodologi-
cally) improve participant’s dribbling abilities.
In the pretest, participants were tested separately with
their left and right hand (order counterbalanced across
participants). Each hand was tested only once, unless
participants made a mistake while performing the task,
such as dribbling on the base of the javelin or leaving one
out. Such error trials were repeated after the participant
had recovered. The participant’s performance was as-
sessed on an individual basis. Before the first participant
was tested, the experimenter demonstrated the dribbling
skill with the left and right hand, and the participants
had one practice trial with each hand to become familiar
with the task procedure. Based on their pretest results, all
participants were assigned to one of the two experimental
groups, balancing the initial performance level between
both groups. That is, the total times to finish the SDT
in the pretest were transformed to a rank order from
low to high values (averaged over both hands) and all
participants on an odd rank were assigned to the D-ND
group and participants on an even rank were assigned to
the ND-D group.
In the learning phase (practice sessions), participants
practiced basketball in their respective group under one
of the two order-of-practice schedules. A total of eight
practice sessions were administered over a period of 4
weeks. Each session lasted for 45 min. The two groups
practiced separately and according to their assignment
(D-ND vs. ND-D). The children used either only their
dominant or their nondominant hand for all the skills
performed during these sessions. Each session followed
a methodological procedure commonly used by practitio-
ners to teach children’s basketball (e.g., Mondoni, 2000;
Vancil, 1996). The content of practice (i.e., the drills per-
formed) included different warm-up exercises, dribbling
in various ways, a number of ball-handling skills other
than dribbling, and different forms of game-play (using
the part-whole-method). A complete list of the exercises
used during the different practice sessions is provided in
the Appendix. Most importantly, the content of practice
and the amount of training in each session, as well as the
number of repetitions for each exercise, were identical for
both groups. However, they never practiced the standard-
ized SDT used as a test in this study, and no additional
data were collected during the learning phase. Instead,
we used the standardized test (i.e., SDT) to investigate
the effects of hand-order during an otherwise regular
basketball training schedule.
During the intervention, each drill and exercise had
to be performed with the one hand for the first four
sessions and with the other hand for the remaining four
sessions, depending on the participant’s group affiliation.
While the D-ND group first practiced with their dominant
hand and changed to the nondominant hand, the ND-D
group practiced in opposite hand order. The same drills
of Sessions 1–4 were used again in Sessions 5–8 for the
contralateral hand.
The posttest followed immediately after the learning
phase was completed. Again, each participant was tested
on an individual basis, performing the SDT with his or
her left and right hand. The procedure of the posttest
was similar to the one of the pretest. The retention test
followed after 1 week without practice, and involved the
left and right hand in the SDT. Testing for retention was
done to look at more permanent changes in performance
(i.e., learning; Schmidt & Lee, 2005). Furthermore, we
were interested whether participants were able to use the
newly learned skill under game-like situations (i.e., drib-
bling with both hands). Therefore, the transfer test re-
quired participants to perform the SDT using the left and
right hand in an alternating fashion. More specifically,
the participants were instructed to dribble around each
javelin while using the outer hand. This required them
start/
finish
150 c m between each javelin
Figure 1. Depiction of the experimental set-up of the Slalom-Dribble-Test, which required participants to dribble as fast as pos-
sible in a slalom-like movement to the last javelin and return to the initial position.
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192 RQES: June 2011
Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
to change hands and to perform a cross-over dribbling
move after each javelin. This modifi cation was included to
simulate a game situation, where it is important to shield
the ball from a defender by bringing one’s body between
the ball and the defender and dribbling the ball with the
“outer” hand (i.e., the hand away from the defender).
Dependent Variables and Data Analysis
The total time (in seconds) that participants needed
to fi nish the slalom obstacle course was measured by the
experimenter and collected for each hand separately for
the pretest, the posttest, and the retention test. This data
was then submitted to a 2 (group: D-ND vs. ND-D) x 2
(hand: dominant vs. nondominant) x 3 (test: pretest vs.
posttest vs. retention test) analysis of variance (ANOVA),
with repeated measures on the last two factors. The fac-
tor group was tested between participants. The three-way
ANOVA was performed to analyze trials only conducted
with one hand (primary SDT conditions in the pretest,
posttest, and retention test). To analyze participants’
performance in the transfer task (i.e., dribbling while
alternating between hands), a separate one-way ANOVA
was calculated on the transfer test data.
Results
One-Hand Dribbling (Primary SDT Conditions)
The total times needed to fi nish the obstacle course
with the dominant, right hand for the D-ND group were
9.38 s (pretest), 8.73 s (posttest), and 8.54 s (retention
test), and for the ND-D group were 9.28 s (pretest); 8.15
s (posttest), and 7.88 s (retention test). The total times
with the nondominant, left hand for the D-ND group
were 9.97 s (pretest), 9.08 s (posttest), and 9.28 s (reten-
tion test), and for the ND-D group were 9.94 s (pretest);
8.72 s (posttest); and 8.30 s (retention test). Figure 2
illustrates the greater rate of improvement (i.e., faster
dribbling times) experienced by the ND-D group for the
averaged total times, collapsed across the two hands across
the series of tests.
The analysis of the one-hand dribbling conditions
yielded a signifi cant main effect for test, F(2, 100) = 31.61,
p < .001, η
2
= .38, indicating an improvement of the drib-
bling skill for all participants over the course of the study.
The averaged dribbling times to fi nish the obstacle course
were 9.64 s (pretest), 8.67 s (posttest), and 8.50 s (reten-
tion test). Simple contrasts revealed the difference of 0.97
s between pre- and posttest and the difference of 1.15 s
between pretest and retention to be signifi cant (both p <
.001). The main effect for hand, F(1, 50) = 44.91, p < .001,
η
2
= .46, was also signifi cant, showing that the participants
dribbled faster with their dominant, right hand (8.66 s)
than with their nondominant, left hand (9.22 s). Most
importantly, the Group x Test interaction proved to be sig-
nifi cant, F(2, 100) = 3.86, p < .05, η
2
= .07. Simple contrasts
were performed to reveal differences at the posttest and
retention test level. The performance differences between
the two groups in the posttest were not signifi cant. The
difference of 0.82 s between the D-ND and ND-D group
in the retention test, however, proved to be statistically
signifi cant (p < .05), indicating shorter dribbling times for
the ND-D group. The average dribbling times of the D-ND
group improved from pre- to posttest by 0.77 s, and from
pretest to retention test by 0.77 s. The improvement for
the ND-D group was 1.18 s from pre- to posttest and 1.53
s from pretest to retention test. These performance dif-
ferences between the two groups were obtained similarly
Figure 2. Depicted are the average total times, collapsed across the two hands for the Slalom-Dribble-Test at pre-, post- and
retention tests for the dominant-to-nondominant group (D-ND, solid circles) and the nondominant-to-dominant group (ND-D,
open circles).
10.5
9.5
8.5
7.5
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Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
for the nondominant and the dominant hand, which can
be inferred from the absence of an interaction effect of
the hand factor with any other factor.
Dribbling With Both Hands Alternating (Transfer
SDT Conditions)
The total times that participants needed to finish the
obstacle course while alternating between the dominant,
right and nondominant, left hand were 7.77 s for the
D-ND group and 7.09 s for the ND-D group. A one-way
ANOVA (with 25 participants in each group, because 2
missed the transfer test) was calculated, and the difference
between the dribbling times for the two groups proved
to be significant, F(1,48) = 3.42, p < .05, η
2
= .07. This
shows that participants in the ND-D group transferred the
previously learned dribbling skill better to the game-like
situation simulated in the transfer test.
Discussion
This study provides evidence for sequential effects
on the acquisition of a basketball dribbling skill with high
demand on the integration of visual-spatial information, as
well as on the speed of movement (Teixeira et al., 2003).
Performing this task with high speed requires a person
to efficiently orchestrate the innervations of the whole
neuromuscular system for the control of different body
parts, and thus the coordination of many degrees of free-
dom (Bernstein, 1967). To coordinate one’s movement
in space requires the alignment of the body to external
objects and events. For the former, performance is based
on a motor sequence mechanism, while for the latter,
performance is based on a spatial sequence mechanism.
Hikosaka and colleagues (Hikosaka et al., 1999; Hiko-
saka, Nakamura, Sakai, & Nakahara, 2002) put forward a
model of motor skill acquisition that proposes that motor
learning is faster when performance relies on a spatial
sequence mechanism than when it is based on a motor
sequence mechanism. With regard to the present study,
circumnavigating the javelins, and, thus, coordinating
one’s own movements relative to external objects (spatial
sequence mechanism) may be learned faster than moving
at high speed (motor sequence mechanism), given the
task constraints at hand (i.e., dribbling). Here, the early in-
volvement of the right-brain-hemisphere–left-hand system
benefits the task-specific learning of a spatial sequence
mechanism, which is reflected by greater performance
improvements of the ND-D group. This view is further
discussed in the following paragraph, in which we attempt
to answer the question of how the observed effects relative
to the particular hand-order can be explained.
One possible answer to the question raised above
relates to the notion that the optimal initial practice side
depends on the inherent motor components of the task
(see Carson, 1989; Sainburg, 2002; Teixeira, 2000). This
notion receives support from recent findings in the field of
neuroscience, providing evidence for task-specific differ-
ences in hemispheric activation for the control of different
task demands (see Birbaumer, 2007; Serrien et al., 2006,
for an overview). Here, the following picture in terms
of hemispheric specialization and task control emerges:
While the left brain hemisphere is primarily responsible
for the temporal and sequential control of movements
(i.e., the control of movement trajectories) and the
regulation of dynamic aspects (i.e., fine-force control),
the spatial orientation and coordination of actions (i.e.,
the control of final positions and targeted precision) are
processed in the right brain hemisphere (see Sainburg,
2002, dynamic dominance hypothesis; or Serrien et al.,
2006, for an overview). With regard to a more general
model of hemispheric specialization (e.g., Gazzaniga et
al., 1998), it is assumed that the most efficient processing
of visual-spatial information in the right brain hemisphere
will benefit a specialized hemisphere-effector system in
favor of the left hand in tasks with high spatial-accuracy
demands. The dribbling task in our study required a great
deal of visual-spatial processing when circumnavigating
the javelins. Therefore, we propose that initial practice
with the left hand will result in better acquisition of the
skill, because the specialized right-brain–left-hand system
is more efficient in processing visual-spatial information.
As a consequence, this may lead to a better transfer of
information to the contralateral hemisphere and the
untrained hand, compared to training with the nonspe-
cialized and less efficient hemisphere-effector system.
The present results can be explained not only by
positive interlimb transfer effects after practicing with the
specialized hemisphere-effector system, but by proactive
and retroactive interference effects. Such interference
effects are well known phenomena in motor learning,
and they frequently occur during the acquisition of two
similar tasks (e.g., Goedert & Willingham, 2002; Krakauer,
Ghilardi, & Ghez, 1999; Panzer, Wilde, & Shea, 2006).
Interference can be proactive when the consolidation
processes of the first task interfere with the acquisition
of a second task (the second task suffers), or they can
be retroactive when the consolidation of the first task is
disturbed by the acquisition of the second task (the first
task suffers; cf. Zach et al., 2005). Hence, while positive
interlimb transfer effects may have been responsible for
better skill learning with the dominant hand after practic-
ing the task with the nondominant hand (and thus with
the specialized hemisphere-effector system), proactive
interference effects could have hindered the acquisition
with the nondominant hand after the skill had been
trained first with the dominant hand (and thus with the
nonspecialized hemisphere-effector system). At the same
time, retroactive interference effects may have disrupted
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194 RQES: June 2011
Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
the consolidation processes of the skill acquired previously
with the dominant hand. As a result, the participants of the
ND-D group benefited from the particular hand order in
which they practiced the dribbling skill, whereas the D-ND
group suffered from the opposite schedule.
From a practitioner’s point of view, the present find-
ings provide further insight about how to schedule the
training process during the acquisition of new motor
skills. Movement techniques demanding high spatial ac-
curacy and coordination (such as high-precision throwing
skills) should be taught differently during the acquisition
phase, as compared to tasks with a high demand on force
production and control (such as forceful throwing skills).
Moreover, coaches and trainers working with young ath-
letes should pay attention to the specific task demands
inherent in certain motor skills. The early training process
should focus on the issue of task specificity. The question
of what should be achieved through skill acquisition by
the athletes on a long-term basis is of main importance,
because a flexible availability of specific skills with both
limbs may be the ultimate goal of skill practice (like in
game sports). Therefore, coaches and trainers working
with young athletes should take a critical look at their
training schedules with the intention of creating more
effective practice by taking the initial hand-order in skill
acquisition into account.
Conclusion
In summary, the present study provides further evi-
dence for task-specific effects of hand-order during the
acquisition of complex (sport) motor skills. Most impor-
tantly, the order of practice of the dominant and non-
dominant limbs in the initial training schedule seems to be
important to improve performance of both limbs and to
strengthen the bilateral competence of the learners. This
was shown in the present study for adolescent children,
who are an especially interesting group of learners, since
basic sport skills are taught at young ages. However, the
present results are restricted to right-handed participants.
Future studies should therefore be conducted to examine
whether such sequential effects generalize to left-handed
participants. So far, left-handers have often been neglected
in motor learning research, although they seem to be
overrepresented at high levels for a number of sports
(e.g., Harris, 2010).
In light of former studies reporting opposite effects
of nondominant and dominant hand (or foot) practice
on the acquisition of simple and complex motor tasks, the
present study provides further information about how to
schedule initial skill learning and to organize the train-
ing processes. The present findings should therefore be
of particular interest to coaches and physical therapists,
who have to schedule practice sessions either for learn-
ing novel skills or for relearning a skill after injury, which
may be further accompanied by lateral deficits (e.g., in
stroke patients).
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Notes
1. Here we refer to “bilateral” to indicate practice on
both sides of the body, similarly using either the dominant
or nondominant hand (or foot). This is different from the
term bimanual, which has been used in motor control
research to indicate the simultaneous coordination of
both hands.
2. Also, 9 left-handed children participated in the pre-
sent study. For pedagogical reasons, we did not want to
exclude these children from participating in the activity
simply because they were left-handed. Their sample, how-
ever, was much too small to derive any valid conclusions
from their results. Consequently, we decided to omit data
for the left-handed children and examine only the right-
handed children’s performance.
Authors’ Note
This study was supported by the German Federal Institute
of Sport Science (VF 070606/08). We appreciate the valu-
able suggestions by Mark Fischman, Polemnia Amazeen,
and two anonymous reviewers on a previous version of the
manuscript. Please address correspondence concerning
this article to Tino Stöckel, Bielefeld University, Faculty
of Psychology and Sport Science, Neurocognition and
Action Research Group, PO 100131, 33501 Bielefeld,
Germany.
E-mail: tino.stoeckel@uni-bielefeld.de
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Appendix.
Overview of topics and content for the various practice sessions (1–8) on acquiring the basketball dribbling skill. Participants
performed all exercises for Sessions 1–4 using one hand only (dominant or nondominant) and repeated Sessions 5–8 with
the other hand. Listed are the specific exercises for each session, focusing on ball handling and dribbling basics on the spot
(Sessions 1 and 5), on dribbling basics in slow motion (Sessions 2 and 6), dribbling basics in fast motion and with obstacles
(Sessions 3 and 7), and advanced dribbling under competitive conditions (Sessions 4 and 8).
Session Topic Exercises Repetitions and
and content task criteria
1 and 5
Ball
handling
basics
Circle training with five exercises:
Figure eight (roll dribbling)
Wall drill (1 m)
Tap drill (with partner)
Finger flip (various heights)
Hand-off drill (with partner)
The circle had to be completed three times
30 s per exercise
No rest after completing all exercises
Dribbling
basics on
the spot
All children dribble the ball in a circle around the coach:
Basic technique of dribbling (i.e., hand and feet position, head up)
Simple dribbling (technique)
High-low dribble
Left-right dribble in front of the body
Back and forth beside the body
Combined while sitting (imitate the coach)
“One-bounce” dribbling (synchronized)
Explanations and demonstrations in Part A
lasted for 5 min
Each part lasted 3 x 30 s
Corrections and further explanations were
provided concurrently
Effective dribbling time: 16 min 30 s in continuous dribbling
2 and 6
Dribbling
basics in
slow motion
Full-court (25 m) dribbling in slow motion:
Basics of dribbling in motion (i.e., leg, hand, and ball position in
low dribble)
Dribble rhythm (normal) walking dribble
Onside dribble
Change dribble rhythm at each line
Sideward dribbling
Backwards dribbling
Change-of-direction (each line)
Forth and back drill
Change-of-pace (whistle)
Head up (imitate the coach, all drills combined)
All children start dribbling at the baseline
Explanations and demonstrations in Part A
lasted for 5 min
Each exercise was practiced by dribbling
twice from baseline to baseline and back in
slow motion
The last Part K had to be completed five
times
Corrections and explanations after each line
Total amount of dribbling: Each participant dribbled 46 lanes (25 m) in slow motion.
3 and 7
Dribbling
basics in
fast motion
(and with
obstacles)
Full-court dribbling in fast motion:
Basics of dribbling in fast motion (i.e., dribble rhythm; leg, hand
and ball position in high dribble)
High dribble
Stop and go (stop at each line)
Pull-back drill
Sideward dribbling
Stop and go with a partner tight behind each other
Fast dibbling with circumventing three cones on one lane
Like (g) plus dribbling across a bench in the middle of the lane
Like (h) plus turning around a ball with the free hand on this ball
(each baseline)
Like (g) but backward
All children start dribbling at the baseline
(two lines)
Explanations and demonstrations in Part A
lasted for 5 min
Each drill was practiced by dribbling 3 times
from baseline to baseline and back in fast
motion
Corrections and explanations after each line
Never stop the dribbling
Never change the hands
Total amount of dribbling: Each participant dribbled 54 lanes (25 m) in fast motion.
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RQES: June 2011 197
Stöckel, Weigelt, and Krug
4
and
8
Advanced
dribbling
under
competi-
tive condi-
tions
Dribbling competition:
Speed dribble (touching the baseline with the baton)
Like (a) with a handball
Like (a) with a rubber foam ball
Like (a) with a tennis ball
Like (a) with a table tennis ball
Like (a) plus circumventing three cones on each lane
Like (f) plus jumping over two obstacles on each lane
Like (g) plus dribbling while balancing across a reversed bench in the
middle of the lane
Like (h) plus circumventing a medicine ball two times while touching it with
the baton
Like (a) but backward
Like (d) but backward
Like (f) but backward
Like (i) plus touching each baseline with the bottom
Suicide dribble
Competition among three groups
(starting at baseline) in a full-court
dribbling parcourse
Baton and basketball had to be
passed to the next person in the
group
Each parcourse had to be completed
twice
Never stop the dribbling
Never change the hands
Total amount of dribbling: Each participant dribbled 48 lanes (25 m) in fast motion around the various obstacles.
Appendix. (cont.)
Stoekel.indd 197 5/19/2011 5:15:59 PM
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