Spaced learning for better outcomes

Spaced learning is probably something you’ve already encountered in life without ever really realising it. It’s the idea that it’s easier to learn a topic or skill when it’s broken down into shorter periods or chunks.

The Forgetting Curve

If you’ve ever had to revise for a test, you were probably given the advice that it was more productive to revise in four fifteen-minute blocks with breaks in between rather than having a solid hour’s revision.

The theory behind spaced learning holds that with a break in between reviewing or learning new knowledge, we have time for our minds to form connections between ideas and concepts, which allows us to recall and build upon this knowledge easier at a later date.

A key part of spaced learning is the forgetting curve. The forgetting curve is a hypothesis that memory of information declines over time when there is no attempt to retain it.  

By using spaced learning, a player will (almost) forget everything they cover before he or she revisits the material for the next time. With the second repetition of material, the forgetting will greatly reduce so a player is likely to remember more. 

If we were to cram all of our coaching about how to pass a ball into one session, all of the information would be stored in our player’s short-term memory (and quickly forgotten if it was never reviewed!) This would lead to ineffective learning and, really, a wasted session if everything is soon forgotten.

By breaking sessions down into smaller blocks with activities in between, our player’s brain will be working hard to recall the material or skill. As our players revisit the session, it will become easier to remember and build upon – so we might add further details on each time we revisit the topic or skill.

Spaced learning can help break sessions down into smaller chunks, giving an opportunity for players to remain engaged, have easy-to-set targets and create effective learning environments. 

Next time you’re planning a session, why not consider using spaced learning?


Let’s say we have a group of players who are just starting to learn about the ruck, we might put a four week plan together to introduce the ruck to players and get them working through. To do this we are going to spend 10 minutes a week across four weeks helping players to understand the ruck.

Week One we will go over the very basics of the ruck – when a player on our team is tackled, the teammate closest to the ball will get over the ball in a low body position. (Key points – support player comes in, over the ball, low body position.)

Week Two will be another ruck drill with the addition of a defender looking to ruck in the other direction, so we will work through the same key points but now add the competition that takes place, whilst ensuring all the key points from week one are hit.

Week Three we would again start with a 1 v 1 scenario, ensuring that both players hit established key points, we would also then add a scrum half to pass the ball away.

Week Four with players having had three weeks to get to grips with rucking, they should recall the concepts far quicker than they did on week one. We might now put rucking into a game.

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