Slow Motion



I have tried to have a paperless office since my move to Australia in 2002. However … I do have a paper archive that I brought with me to Australia.
I keep finding hidden treasures in that archive.
This post celebrates a 1939 paper written by Roy Priebe and William Burton. I found the paper in 1987 whilst researching my book Using Video in Sport.
It was the first paper I could find that looked at the use of slow motion pictures. It was titled ‘The Slow-Motion Picture As A Coaching Device‘.
I had found a reference to an earlier study of the use of motion pictures but could not access it. I believe Edward Ruffa’s (1935) Masters’ thesis at Stanford University, titled ‘An experimental study of motion pictures as used in the teaching of certain athletic skills‘, was possibly the first study of its kind in physical education and sport.

Roy and William

When Roy and William’s paper was published in the School Review, Roy was a coach at the James A Garfield High School in Los Angeles and William was a member of staff at the University of Southern California.
I have found a picture of Roy in a 1942 yearbook for the James A Garfield High School. There is  some biographical information about William at the University of Oregon. In addition to being an educator, William was a very keen photographer. The archive at the University of Oregon contains pictures he took whilst a student there. These pictues include “the Canoe Fete, a football game against Oregon Agricultural College, baseball, track, women’s field hockey and tennis”.

Slow Motion

Roy and William investigated “the value or the lack of value of slow-motion pictures as a coaching device, with particular reference to the high jump” (1939:192).
There were twenty-six participants in the study. They were students at the Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles. Roy and William matched these students into thirteen pairs “equated as nearly as possible on age, height, weight, leg spring, previous athletic experience and natural ability in jumping as shown by scissors-style jumping” (1939:193).
The study was conducted over a six-week period of the regular track season. I the second week of the study:

the pictures of the champion jumpers were shown to the experimental group. These films were run, re-run and discussed. Both slow and normal speeds were used. The film was stopped at crucial points. Continuous discussion and questioning from the boys accompanied this showing (1939:195)

In week three “slow-motion pictures of the boys in the experimental group were taken during the regular practice period and were shown to that group” (1939:195). There followed “detailed analytic discussion of good form, defects, and co-ordination” (1939:195).
In the final two weeks of the study, the experimental group “saw its own pictures, and also those of the champions again and engaged in further discussion” (1939:195).
Whilst noting the limitations of a small study, Roy and William noted:

  • Marked differences appeared as soon as the different methods took effect.
  • After three weeks, the experimental group outjumped the control group on average by 5.39 inches. After four weeks this extended to 5.96 inches.
  • The control group began to hold its own towards the end of the study. By week six, the average margin was 3.69 inches.

The study introduced a Western Roll technique. The experimental group adapted to this technique quicker than the control group and led Roy and William to suggest that the motion pictures “evidently cut down greatly the initial trial-and-error period” (1939:197).
They observe:

Thus far the evidence indicates that slow-motion pictures are of great value in initial learning but nearly on par with directions, demonstrations, and verbal analyses of faults as the learning period progresses. (1939:197)

They conclude that the use of slow-motion pictures in coaching the high jump:

  1.  made for faster progress and better achievement;
  2. eliminated, to a large extent, the initial period of trial and error;
  3. seemed superior to verbal directions and physical demonstration of good form, particularly during the initial period of learning;
  4. was of definite assistance in aiding performers to change from a familiar form of skill to a new, superior, but unfamiliar form;
  5. enabled the coach to handle effectively a larger number of boys;
  6. contributed definitely to the interest and attention of the boys.

Matters Arising

Roy and William introduce their paper with the suggestion that:

Every day new visual devices are being purchased by school administrators and are being used by teachers who have little or no knowledge of the actual value of the specific aid selected. (1939:192)

They add:

Motion pictures are being used by athletic coaches more extensively each year. the leading high schools, preparatory schools and colleges spend thousands of dollars annually in the taking of motion pictures of athletic contests. Coaches are of the opinion that the showing of these films to the athletes who participated will bring about an improvement in individual or team performance. Coaches have observational evidence of the truth of this opinion but practically no objective evidence. (1939:192)

Their paper was designed to be a contribution to this objective evidence.
I find their paper fascinating. It combines the passion of a coach with the insights of an educator who has a particular interest in still and moving images.
I think that their paper could be used as an excellent catalyst for discussions about research methodology, learning preferences and pedagogy. It is one of the first examples in the published literature. Their paper contains no references to other studies although their final conclusion is “the general conclusions derived from this experiment seem to be in agreement with those derived from investigations of the use of motion pictures in other forms of learning” (1939:198).


Five years before the publication of Roy and William’s paper, Cline Koon completed a report on Motion Pictures in Education in the United States. Three years after the paper appeared, Aileene Lockhart submitted her PhD at the University of Nebraska, The Value of the Motion Picture as an Instructional Device in Learning A Motor Skill.
Aileene’s paper includes nine selected references and is the start of a recorded literature that investigates motion pictures and learning in physical education and sport. One of her references is to Edward Ruffa (1935). Barbara Camp (1969) provided an update of the literature in her study of using loop film in tennis coaching. Her bibliography has thirty-seven references. Brett Mills (1992) provides a review of eight studies that utilised film or videotape “to enhance motor performance through modeling or self-examination of performance”.
To my delight, I found a reference to an old friend in Barbara Camp’s bibliography. In 1948, Lloyd Messersmith co-authored a paper with Howard Brown on the use motion pictures in teaching tumbling. This has set me off on another quest to explore how one of the early pioneers of notational analysis developed his understanding and use of educational technology.
A journey that started with a 1939 paper has brought me back to a 1 September 2015 post by Jane Hart. She includes this Google Collaboration Research graphic:
Jane Hart
I wonder what this graphic would have looked like in 1939 at the time of Roy and William’s research.

Photo Credits

Athlete knocking down the bar (SMU Central University Library, no known copyright restrictions)
Cine Kodak News 1939 (Jenny Scott, CC BY-NC 2.0)
CO 1069-251-13 (The National Archives UK, no known copyright restrictions)


After writing this post, I fined out more about research underway at the University of Southern California under the supervision of William Burton.
Roy Priebe submitted his Masters’ thesis in 1936. It was titled ‘A Laboratory Analysis of the Effectiveness of Slow Motion Pictures as a Coaching Device’. In 1938, Harry Bartruff submitted his Masters’ thesis titled ‘The use of slow motion pictures in teaching tumbling‘.
There were other staff members interested in the use of slow motion film too. Professor Earl Hill used it to demonstrate “the most common errors in flying” to aeronautical students in 1929.


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