A Constraints Led Approach is not ‘just’ Another Game-Centred Approach

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The two previous blogs (Seminar in Stockholm and Seminar in Rotherham) generated some good discussions. However one question that kept coming up was with regard to:

Constraints Led Approach is not small sided games aor game based session design. A game based approach doesn’t mean just play a game.

Welsh National land Hocley coach Danny Newcombe (@dannynewcombe )  emphasises this point:

The Constraints Led Approach (CLA) is not a ‘magic bullet’ and that most coaches don’t understand what it is”.

After many requests I have taken it upon myself (leaning heavely on the work of some colleagues) to try and clarify a few things with regard to the Constraints Led Approach, look at some common misinterpretations and present some practical examples.

Many have mistaken Constraints Led Approach (CLA) for being ‘just’ another game-centred approach (GCA). However, in contrast to GCAs which emerged as a practical solution developed to address key issues such as failure to play games intelligently, or to meet the basic psychological needs of young learners (see Renshaw et al. 2015), CLA differs in that it is built from a theoretical model of motor behaviour. While the two approaches (CLA and GCA) are somewhat harmonious and have key similarities, this interpretation neglects the broader definition of CLA that is very much key to understanding and how we present these ideas in coach education to inform coaches how to implement this powerful approach in learning environments in sport.

As suggested by Renshaw et al (2015)

“In our work with teachers and coaches we are finding that the categorisation of CLA as a games- based teaching approach is a common misapprehension, perhaps due to an early focus of CLA on team games”.

In fact, CLA does not just focus on games but is able to provide a principled approach to skill learning across all sports and in all pedagogical settings (Renshaw & Chow, 2018). Without an understanding of the theoretical framework that underpins a CLA many coaches may interpret it as designing environments under the idea that the ‘game is the teacher’ leading to the development of an over passively pedagogical approach.

CLA is a powerful framework underpinned by ideas in the theoretical framework of Ecological Dynamics and it aims to explain how coordination emerges under constraints (individual, task, environment) that are operating at different timescales (Newell; 1986). Constraints according to Newell (1986) can be conceived as boundaries that shape self-organisation and can be separated into categories, namely, individual, environmental and task constraints. Through the interaction of different constraints – task, environment, and performer – a learner will self-organise in attempts to generate effective movement solutions (Renshaw et al. 2011). Any changes in constraints may lead to changes in the organisation of the system. However, for successful employment of a CLA, an understanding of ecological dynamics (see Chow et al. 2015) is essential as these underpinning concepts manifest themselves as guiding principles for the design of CLA practice environments.

CLA as a theoretical underpinning for a model of the learner and the learning process can serve to enhance the design in a game centred approach. However, in order to implement a CLA an understanding of ecological dynamics is essential as this underpins ideas that inform a nonlinear pedagogy that can be used as guiding principles for the design of practice environments i.e. inform how we use a game-centred design approach.

Ecological Dynamics is a theoretical framework that accounts for human development at sociocultural (Macro; form of life) levels, informs the acquisition of sporting skill in micro environments (Davids, Araújo, Vilar, Renshaw, & Pinder, 2013). It grounds player development, therefore learning within a broader ecological context. An ecological dynamics perspective considers athletes and sports teams as complex adaptive systems and examines the emergence of sports performance at the level of the performer–environment relationship (Araújo, Davids, & Hristovski, 2006) and is distinguished by constraints of each individual performer and physical characteristics of participation locations for athletic activities, but also by social and cultural factors surrounding performance (Araújo et al., 2004, 2005).

Implementing a Game Centered Approach using a Constraints Led Approach

If our approach to GCA’s is underpinned by ecological dynamics as a framework on which to scaffold the implementation of a CLA to develop players to succeed in the game, then there is a focus on considering the mutuality of the individual and the environment when designing environments for learning to play games – The player – environment interaction is the level of analysis. A key consideration in designing such games is that they are relational and representative of the landscape of affordances  of the ‘final product’ (the adult game) and ensure that the abilities developed by young players will be reflective of those needed later (Renshaw, I., & Brendan, M.., 2018 ). Therefore, educating the attention of the learner to enable them to selectively pick up some aspects of the environment while ignoring others (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014) and directing them towards a specific affordance where they can determine the possibilities for action in the environment is a highly required coaching skill when implementing a CLA within a GCA.

Affordances: Affordances consist of environmental properties that afford ‘opportunities for action’ for each individual. A gap between two defenders acts as an affordance for football interactions for a player in possession provided thatt player has the capability to dribble/drive the ball at speed and skilfully. Depending on the dynamic emerging information and the capabilities of the defenders (they may be skifull and quick), the player in possession may consider passing through the gap to on oncoming teammate.

See video example here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C81f8VgC82g&t=26s

Another example of affordances:  For an average size 12-year old, a size 4 basketball affords a 3-point shooting opportunity, whereas a size 6 ball does not (Renshaw & Chow, 2018)

Affordances are opportunities for action in this case football interactions (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014) and are related to an individual’s ability to use available information to regulate and organise actions to develop adaptable behaviours that support expert performance (Esteves, Oliveira, & Araújo, 2010)

This brings us  back to an important point discussed previously in an earlier blog post (see here), the education of the coaches attention. Knowing what information to guide young players too is a skilled ability requiring the coach to understand the game and the current abilities of those playing. Therefore, to better understand and interpret players’ responses a coach needs to be able to perceive these affordances (opportunities for action) from the perspective of the players rather than their own (Fajen, Riley, & Turvey 2009 ). Affordances have a socio- cultural context. For example there is a cultural expectation of what teaching and coaching (and coach education) looks like as well as how players are expected to act in sporting environments (Zevenbergen, Edwards, & Skinner, 2002). For instance as suggested by Renshaw, I., & Brendan, M. (2018) a coach brought up on drill based approaches may lack the game observational skills to work out the key rate limiters in young players’ current performance levels. A player brought up on this approach may never have got the chance to discover their own functional movement solutions to a game problem, a more appropriate characterisation of learning in play (Davids et al., 2013).

Indeed, over constraining using rules in GCA may result in the emergence of less functional intra-and inter individual couplings between co-adapting team mates and opponents. A good example of this is when a coach wants to work on exploiting width and depth through switching the play. A simple 7v7 game including goalkeepers might be set up on a pitch with 3 vertical zones (one big midde zones and two relatively naroow wide zones). The coach sets the challenge that before you score a goal you must play the ball from one wide zone to the other. This is a good example of ‘over constraining’. The defending team may self-organise around the rule and when the ball is in one wide zone they all just move to the opposite wide zone and close off any possibility for the team in possession to make the switch of play necessary before scoring a goal. This behaviour is of course not representative of the game.

Possible Solution: Constrain the opposite side of the ball. Ensure that when a team is defending that it is representative of the real game. If the ball is in one of the wide zones the defending team cannot have a player in the opposite wide zone.

Simply adding in constraints without considering the expected and unexpected impact is a challenge for those keen to develop a CLA. This can be a particular problem for novice practitioners (i.e., student teachers or parent coaches) who may have little experience of implementing the approach and at the same time may have limited understanding of the principles of play of games (Renshaw, I., & Brendan, M.., 2018 ).

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It should be understood that implementing a CLA in child youth football requires a deep understanding of the sport and skill learning, the individual (socio-culturally and psychologically) and the environment (how we design training, and the macro form of life, the social, cultural and historical landscape). In order to successfully implement a CLA and shape the landscape of player development in youth football, an understanding of ecological dynamics is essential. These underpinning ideas inform a nonlinear pedagogy and manifest themselves as guiding principles for the design of practice environments.

Form of Life: The behaviours, skills, capacities, attitudes, values, beliefs, practices and customs that shape the culture, philosophy and climate of societies, institutions and organisations (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014).

Important points to understand when implementing a CLA in practice

  • A key concept and one that frames all other aspects of ecological dynamics is the concept of the mutuality of the performer and the environment (Gibson, 1986).The CLA is an individual-environment approach to teaching and coaching.
  • A key limitation for adoption of GCAs is the biographies of coaches and coach educators who have developed abilities shaped by the landscape of traditional coaching practices and coach education programmes.
  • Relationship between perception and action, which underpin how constraints shape the behaviours of athletes and sports teams during practice and performance.
  • The importance of context for understanding performance and learning in sport
  • Environmental properties provide affordances for each individual (opportunities for action). Affordances are opportunities for action in this case football interactions (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014) and are related to an individual’s ability to use available information to regulate and organise actions to develop adaptable behaviours that support expert performance (Esteves, Oliveira, & Araújo, 2011).
  • Information regulates action (Gibson; 1979) and one’s actions guide the pick-up of information for further actions (adaptions).

RIP Pete Shelley

References:

Araújo, D., Davids, K., & Hristovski, R. (2006). The ecological dynamics of decision making in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise,7(6), 653-676. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.07.002

Davids, K., Araújo, D., Correia, V., & Vilar, L. (2013). How small-sided and conditioned games enhance acquisition of movement and decision-making skills. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 41 3, 154-61.

Esteves, P., Oliveira, R. d., & Araújo, D. (2011). Posture-related affordances guide attacks in basketball. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12, 639-644.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.06.007

Fajen, B. R., Riley, M. R., & Turvey, M. T. (2009). Information, affordances, and the control of action in sport. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 40(1), 79-107. Retrieved the 8-09-2016 from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3f7f/befb22760fdd956963eb04b54fd3fca55b1 f.pdf

Gibson, J. J. (1979/1986). The ecological approach to perceptionHillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Newell, K.M. (1986). Constraints on the development of coordination. In M.G. Wade & H.T.A Whiting (Eds.), Motor development in children: Aspects of coordination and control, pp. 341-361. Amsterdam: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Renshaw, I., Araújo, D., Button, C., Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., & Moy, B. (2015). Why the Constraints-Led Approach is not Teaching Games for Understanding: A clarification. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy,21(5), 459-480. doi:10.1080/17408989.2015.1095870

Renshaw & J-Y Chow (2018): A constraint-led approach to sport and physical education pedagogy, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2018.1552676

Renshaw, I., & Brendan, M. (2018). A Constraint-Led Approach to Coaching and Teaching Games: Can going back to the future solve the «they need the basics before they can play a game» argument? Ágora para la Educación Física y el Deporte, 20(1), 1-26.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.24197/aefd.1.2018.1-26

Rietveld, E., & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A Rich Landscape of Affordances. Ecological Psychology,26(4), 325-352. doi:10.1080/10407413.2014.958035

 

 

 

Renshaw, I., & Brendan, M. (2018). A Constraint-Led Approach to Coaching and Teaching Games: Can going back to the future solve the «they need the basics before they can play a game» argument? Ágora para la Educación Física y el Deporte, 20(1), 1-26.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.24197/aefd.1.2018.1-26

Fajen, B. R., Riley, M. R., & Turvey, M. T. (2009). Information, affordances, and the control of action in sport. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 40(1), 79-107. Retrieved the 8-09-2016 from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3f7f/befb22760fdd956963eb04b54fd3fca55b1 f.pdf

Renshaw, I., & Brendan, M. (2018). A Constraint-Led Approach to Coaching and Teaching Games: Can going back to the future solve the «they need the basics before they can play a game» argument? Ágora para la Educación Física y el Deporte, 20(1), 1-26.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.24197/aefd.1.2018.1-26

Gibson, J.J. (1986). An ecological approach to visual perception. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin.

 

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Notes from a conference (parts 2) – Contemporary Skill Acquisition Research and Innovative practice in Sports Coaching/Teaching and Training

How contemporary Skill Acquisition research can enhance innovative practice in Sports Coaching/Teaching and Training

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I recently presented and took part in a conference at the Rotherham United New York Stadium in England. Coaches and researchers involved in numerous disciplines (Golf, athletics, football, rugby league, rugby union, Olympic weight lifting, S+C) attended. The discussions were broad, challenging and always interesting. Personally, I got some great insights in to other sports, the challenges they face and how they are facing them especially at child-youth level where ideas around pedagogy, participation and personal development particularly caught my interest.

I don’t like to coach people to be stronger or faster, I like to coach people to have healthier happy lives (Dave Hembrough https://twitter.com/dwhembro)

I wanted to start with this quote from Dave Hembrough who was in attendance at the conference. Dave comes from a multi-sport background (rugby, weight lifting, martial arts) and has coached at multiple levels from professional rugby union, rugby league and golf, worked as an Olympic coach for GB Volleyball in 2012. He has a Sports Science degree and an MSc in Sport therapy and rehab. Dave now runs a Weightlifting club where he coaches students, community folk and has been involved in the development of a few National/International lifters including the British record holder.

The quote above is from Dave’s own personal introduction at the beginning of the conference when those in attendance were asked to give a brief introduction. It stayed with me throughout and I was lucky enough to get him to elaborate on it when we got in touch with each other a few days later.

“I realised that developing and helping people was the enjoyable bit not the strength, fitness or competition. I saw a need in people’s lives for health, fitness, fun and friends. That is what keeps people engaging and coming back. I built my club model around these principles and run programmes for different audiences in line with this, young, old, women only, to be mindfully strong – for mental health and flourishing. My personal interest was always about the individual. As an S&C coach there’s lots of down time to chat. I found the chat as beneficial to my clients as the training. The stuff we’d talk about was often the limiting factor to them improving. From newbie students to world champions” – Dave Hembrough

Dr Joe Stone

Day one started with Dr Joe Stone (@JoeStone26 ) Senior Lecturer in Skill Acquisition and Performance Analysis at Sheffield Hallam). Joe spoke about avoiding problems of early specialisation in sport and why deliberate practice is useful but not as important as we once believed. The flawed message of 10,000 hours of practice leading to expertise (originally done on violinists) was applied to many different situations promoting the idea of the need for early specialisation. The presentation was elegantly rounded off with Joe asking us what affordances the home environment offered i.e. back garden, hallways, garage, alleys between houses where many of today’s top athletes honed their skills.

 

Professor Keith Davids

Keith Davids, continuing on from Joe Stones talk referring to how early specialisation aligns with the deliberate practise approach and that early diversification is theoretically aligned with an ecological dynamics rationale for skill adaption (see Araujo et al., 2010) and can possibly help us to enrich the learners experience their development both as people and as athletes.

The notion of skill adaptation instead of skill acquisition was an interesting point where Keith defined skill adaption as – discovery and exploration of a wide range of affordances of the environment. Players do this by picking up info and regulating movement – if you do acquire anything it’s a functional relationship with the environment.

Keith proposed that coaches should see themselves as learning designers and what they do in practice is underpinned by a theoretical framework as this will give them principles to guide their practice.

It is about designing (learner-environment) interactions in practice, not just repeating actions or reactions to a stimulus appearing.

In a Q&A Keith referred to the idea of an affordance being a constraint as it shapes behaviour – Invitations as you don’t have to accept them. Using the idea of a continuum Keith said that instead of exploring a narrow part of the affordance landscape, which is often the default setting (isolated practice), coaches need to think more about where the athlete needs to be and why.

Here is an excellent interview with Keith Davids https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3316&v=ZpO1ezus42Y

 

Ciaran Toner

Ciaran Toner is an ex professional footballer and now coach with Rotherham United U18s. He is investigating the possibility of implementing Virtual Reality as a complimentary part of practice using an Ecological Dynamics rationale. His area of interest is interactive environments for individual development, utilising technology to compliment current practice to enrich learning and potential of an individual human being.

Traditionally VR training has been designed around cognitive psychological models of human behaviour. The evidence not compelling but future research in VR should look at a theoretical framework for application of VR.

 

Rick Shuttleworth

Rick Shuttleworth (@skillacq ) a world renowned skill acquisition expert and coach started his presentation with a call to engage all stakeholders that are involved in the learning process as the coach is not the gold standard, the player is. WHO are we coaching comes before the WHAT, WHY and HOW. Emphasising Keith Davids earlier point Rick Shuttleworth said that the purpose of the coach is to constrain to self-organise and to work along the landscape of affordances to meet the needs of the players. Coaches should also understand that repetition that emerges from a context is more valuable than repetition that. emerges from a structure.

PhD researcher Ben Stafford (@bwstrafford) suggested that within the debate of Deliberate Practice v Deliberate Play, the Athletic skills model (link) may provide a happy medium. Ben, has done some work on the idea of donor sports, a sport you practice to become good at another sport. He has been researching the notion of Parkour as a donor sport for football where he suggests that there is skill transfer through an overlap of affordances. This overlap in basic athletic skills may bring about confidence in movement exploration.

The Round table discussions were open reflective interactions. Here are some of the main points that emerged.

  • Coaching around affordances
  • Co-design: Engaging the learner. Involving the learner in task design.
  • Not rehearsing a process but coming up with one.
  • Mixed ability groups. How do I engage them?
  • What does success look like? Success might be for them turning up twice a week.
  • Reduce fear- increase commitment
  • Mental health problems associated with lack of movement and opportunities/invitations to move offered to us in our environment.

Day two

Danny Newcombe

Danny Newcombe (@dannynewcombe ) is the Welsh national senior Hockey coach and a PhD student and also lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. Picking up on Keith Davids idea that coaches are learning designers, Danny put forward the notion that as a coach you are an environment architect.

Danny is clear to point out that Constraints Led Approach (CLA) is not a ‘magic bullet’ and that most coaches don’t understand what it is. Wherever there is a task, individual in an environment there is a CLA organising a solution. As I referred to recently on twitter (https://twitter.com/markstkhlm/status/1052514250546192386 ) one of the biggest misconceptions is that CLA is SSG’s or game based designs. Danny took up this point saying that while the game is the teacher is a well-meaning mantra, it could lead to practitioners developing an overly passive and hands-off approach. A game based approach doesn’t mean just play a game.

Referring to session design Danny took up a topic that I have also been questioning in my role as coach educator. The notion of theme based sessions. Theme based session give the solution in the theme. Emergent behaviours can be observed and worked on if the session is defined by principles of play. As learning is characterised by the development of effective perception-action coupling this approach sets great demands on the coach. The coach can be viewed as a problem setter and therefore must be careful must be careful not to over constrain or under constrain the task. So how much should the coach let the player know about the intention of the session?

Danny gave an interesting example of a pro club that trains at 10.00am but most of their games are under floodlights and asked the question can we ever truly represent the performance environment in training?

Tim Robinson

Tim Robinson – Head Coach at Scunthorpe Rugby Football Union Club. a staff member and PhD student at Sheffield Hallam opened with the question – What are the landscape of affordances for your sport? Tim challenged us with further questions. What do players see. Can we understand what they see? How they interpret what they see? If Nonlinear Pedagogy is based off a player centred environment then we must think about the idea of ‘ownership’ in the pull between coach and player. The final part of the presentation dealt with designing in real game scenarios i.e. 12-7 down 3-minute time constraint. Must try and convert after try.

Martyn Rothwell

Martyn Rothwell (@martyn_rothwell ) also a Rugby league coach and staff member and PhD student at Sheffield Hallam opened his presentation with the statement -Why every sports organisation needs a department of methodology

Borrowing the notion of form of life from Ludvig Wittgenstein, Martyn suggested that form of life in Rugby League and other sports is driven by social cultural and historical influences and that this has an effect in learning.

Form of Life: The behaviours, skills, capacities, attitudes, values, beliefs, practices and customs that shape the culture, philosophy and climate of societies, institutions and organisations (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014).

Martyn referred to the Victorian age- Taylorism with regard to instructions and highly repetitious activities at the centre of the work culture and how these have spilled over to organised sports and giving rise to different types of attitudes that drive practice. These reductionist approaches have lead to a form of life in sports organisations promoting:

  • A ‘we have always done it this way’ philosophy that has influenced coaching manuals
  • Silos within the organisation where different departments don’t support or communicate with each other (coach and S+C not supporting movement development).

Martyn presented his new research paper where he used Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model to understand the data (micro, meso, macro) to help him find answers to the question – How does the form of life influence task design? In the paper based on Rugby league he traced back form of life back to the macro – replication/ repetition (industrial era)- masculinity, and how these may influence task designs that limited the landscape of affordances thus reducing opportunities for action.

Martyn finished off with how uncovering the theory behind dynamic systems, coupled with exposure to Constraints Led Approach pedagogy and the skill acquisition literature has helped him to rationalise his preferred coaching methodology. Here we end where we started – Why every sports organisation needs a department of methodology.

  • Use a model of learning to drive what you are doing
  • Basic learning principles to guide practice
  • Open and adaptable so that we can check challenges against the model of learning

Martyn’s presentation reflected the work we are doing at the Research and Development department at AIK and throughout the club which was part of my presentation at the conference- for more information see here:  https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2018/10/24/notes-from-a-conference-part-1-aik-youth-football-presentation-at-cif-30-year-anniversary-conference/

 

Conference in December

I would like to draw your attention to another conference coming up soon on Thursday 13th December at Sheffield Hallam University. For more information:

http://2c921b0bb5f8aedb0e4b-2440d3d16553df0fcb022b72ebd3c289.r81.cf3.rackcdn.com/SHU%20PGA%20CPD%20seminar.pdf

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Notes from a conference (part 1): AIK youth football presentation at CIF 30-year anniversary Conference.

Stockholm 15-09-2018

AIK youth football presentation at CIF (Centre for Sports Science) 30-year anniversary Conference.

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 Dennis Hörtin (twitter) and I were honoured to be asked to present the ongoing work and process of evolution at AIK youth football (link). The following is a description of our intentions with the presentation followed by some take home bullet points.

The debate in child youth sport in Sweden is open despite often being polarised and contradictory. One can hope that the current discussions, like those presented  by others at this conference, will help coaches, stakeholders, federal sports organisations at both national and district level and clubs to move beyond the current stalemate and enhance knowledge mobilisation. By this we mean that the act of moving research results into the hands of research users, needs to be a prioritised. However, despite good intentions displayed at operational system level through documents and guidelines there is clearly a need to bridge the theory-practice gap and take it in to active use. For instance, while acknowledging the underlying complex process of the act of moving research into the hands of research users, there is seemingly a limited understanding of how to ensure research and federal sports policies are implemented and used in practice.

The aim of our presentation was to stimulate a broad and informed debate within youth sport and in child youth football in general by emphasising the need to understand the dynamic interrelations between various components if we are to truly live up to the idea of ‘as many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible’. There seems to be an increasing frustration among practitioners and researchers with the inability of traditional methods, models and programs to provide explanations or solutions for persistent problems and misunderstandings in player development and how best to design learning environments in child youth football. The underlying narratives of these frustrations are captured by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a research paper published May 2015 stating that the ‘culture’ of specific sports and youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centred. This elucidates a need to address interactions between athletes, coaching styles and practices, the effects on youth athletes from parental expectations and the view of youth athletes as commodities, which is often intrusive with a fine line between objectivity and sensationalism.

There is a constraining dominance at play here. The grip of convention on player development and practice, on coaching and coach education is seemingly fuelled a cultural inertia making it easier to persevere with and fall back on embedded habits and beliefs. One of the dominant narratives is the focus on the short-term maximisation as opposed the long-term optimisation. This is evident from the pedagogies used in practice to ideas around talent identification and player development. By suggesting that practice task design and learning environments and therefore player development can be re-framed for children we are saying that in essence, the development of children in sport needs to be grounded in research.

Therefore, at AIK youth football (twitter) we are viewing player development from an ecological perspective with the level of analysis being the player- environment interaction. We suggest that further research should look to develop a theoretical framework for child youth football that accounts for the complexity and nonlinearity of human development, essentially, for as many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible.

Main points from presentation:

Earlier that day Jean Côté introduced his presentation as an ecological approach to looking at sport. We used this as a foundation for us to build our presentation on.

  • AIK considers its players and teams and wider ecology as complex adaptive systems
  • We start from where we are not from where we want to be
  • Implementing a Research & Development Department to merge in club knowledge + experience with knowledge from the research.
  • The goals: (1) The wellbeing of children (2) Align with key documents (UN convention on the rights of the child, guiding governing policy documents) (3) Facilitate an environment for the emergence of healthier people and better football players.
  • AIK views player development from an ecological perspective.
  • Grounded in the theoretical framework of ED coaches at AIK are encouraged to adopt A Constraints Led Approach (CLA). Individual- environment- task constraints don’t operate in isolation, they interact over different timescales. CLA is not a magic bullet.
  • CLA is not small sided games or game based session design. This is a common misinterpretation often leading to ideas of the game as the teacher – this can lead to over passive coaching. A game based approach doesn’t mean just play a game.
  • Implementing a CLA requires a deep understanding of the sport and skill learning, the individual (socio-culturally-psychologically) the environment (how we design training and macro form of life, the social, cultural, historical landscape).             Form of Life: The behaviours, skills, capacities, attitudes, values, beliefs, practices and customs that shape the culture, philosophy and climate of societies, institutions and organisations (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014).
  • Theme based sessions are too vague. Emergent behaviours can be observed and worked on if the session is defined by principles of play. Encourage coaches to design sessions that can shine a light on one behaviour without excluding the affordance for others.
  • Principles of nonlinear pedagogy can be useful for coaches to inform their session designhttps://footblogball.wordpress.com/…/designing-a-learning-…/
  • The player – environment interaction is the level of analysis- therefore we propose the idea of Football Interactions

Football Interactions (using a definition conceptualised by (O’ Sullivan & Kearney) are how an athlete coordinates their behaviour within the performance context (the game), in relation to that environment, on the basis of not only physical and informational (i.e., situational) demands, but also on the basis of historical and cultural factors. Football Interactions (dribble, drive, pass, shoot, movement without the ball …….
The best players have a high ability to connect perception and action and select relevant information to utilise football interactions for that situation
Therefore, training design should include information representative of the game to enhance the connection of perception and action and utilization through football interactions of relevant information.

 

Designing a Learning Space: Football Interactions

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As a preface to this blog I would like to introduce a ‘typical argument’ that was so eloquently dealt with by Rob Gray (Twitter) on his excellent Perception Action Podcast series. I have added some extra points to this discussion.

  • You must know ABC before you can learn to write
  • Should you try to teach “Calculus” to a student without first learning them basic math first?

This argument is often used in relation to the idea that we need to teach the children the “basics” (basic technique) first through repetition and corrections with the goal of reducing variability before you can get good at a sport.

Some points need to be addressed

  • As highlighted by Rob, learning ABC and mathematics are very cognitive skills that require learning a lot of undeniable facts. As a new beginner, I’m not free to bring my own answer to 2 + 2 or which letter comes first in the alphabet. But this type of learning is completely different than learning perceptual motor skills where the building of declarative facts is not needed and the young player is free to bring his own solutions in a certain context.
  • Learning is continuous: The best youth coaches understand that young learners do not follow some predictable linear progression. Instead, these coaches look to create an environment where young players learn to understand that they will never stop learning what they can do with their skill.
  • The nonlinearity of human learning should help us understand that young players don’t necessarily need to start at the same place and don’t progress at the same rate. Skills stutter and stagger into young player’s repertoires, with variable trajectories that oscillate between skill expression and non-expression over several days, weeks, or months and even years. The simplistic linear approach of starting with A, moving on to B and then C, may suit the coach but not necessarily the learner. There is increasing acceptance that individual differences among learners need to be accounted for when we plan our training sessions and coaching interventions (Chow & Atencio, 2012).
  • Skills have history: If it is understood that movement solutions performed as solutions to a problem cannot be separated from the environment in which it takes place then it should be understood as hypothesised by Baily & Pickford (2010) that skills have history. Movement solutions performed in these early organised sports environments cannot be separated from each individuals’ unique bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities their environment offered to them up to that point. It is important for coaches to reflect on the idea that we should not lock players in to a “bio-mechanical template” because it does not take into full account of the physiological, psychological and social differences. ( Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction)

Rob Gray sums up his argument- Expert players have very little variation in the “outcome” of their action and this is what traditional coaches look at. They assume they have to coach the “basics” through repetition and no variation. This is one of the most misunderstood concepts in “skill acquisition and motor learning”. The problem is that the coach is looking at the result, not the process. While expert players have very little variation in the outcome of their actions, they have quite a big variation in the “process” that leads to the outcome. They can organize their movement to each unique situation. Therefore, the idea of ​​Bernstein’s “repetition without repetition” and repetition of variation and self-organization under constraints’s are basic ideas that coaches need to understand when designing exercise for young players

Designing a Learning Space

The following is a description of various principles and concepts some coach colleagues and I are using when designing learning environments for kids 8-12 years at our club (AIK in Stockholm Sweden). This is followed by a task skilfully designed by my colleague Linus Wennberg (Twitter) and implemented together with our colleague Alex Lomas (Twitter) at a recent player’s camp. The design emerged from discussions based on the concepts and principles shown below.

A philosophical Base

What is Football?

  • In Possession
  • Recovering the ball

How do we train football?

Football Interactions are how an athlete coordinates their behaviour within the performance context (the game), in relation to that environment, on the basis of not only physical and informational (i.e., situational) demands, but also on the basis of historical and cultural factors.

  • Football Interactions (dribble, drive, pass, shoot, movement without the ball …….
  • The best players have a high ability to connect perception and action and select relevant information to utilise football interactions for that situation
  • Therefore, training design should include information representative of the game to enhance the connection of perception and action and utilization through football interactions of relevant information.

In possession: Search, Discover, Exploit space and gaps. (Football interactions that emerge: Dribble, drive, pass, shoot, movement without ball)

Recovering the ball: Close space, minimise possibilities for opponent’s football interactions and win the ball. (Football Interactions that emerge: Press, tackling, movement without the ball)

Principles of Nonlinear Pedagogy

 

  • Representative learning – Are what the players doing and feeling representative of the game?
  • Repetition without repetition (movement variability) – Repetition with variation
  • Keep perception and action coupled – Information in the session design should reflect aspects of the real game
  • Promote an external focus of attention

 Some considerations for Learning Design

  • Boundaries – size and shape of pitch
  • Scoring – shape size and orientation of goals
  • Players – number and allocation
  • Start position of players
  • Start position of ball feed
  • Point scoring system
  • Additional rules and regulations

Design a Task that Simulates an Aspect of the Performance Environment

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4v4 (with Goalkeepers)

This task is designed to help players to implicitly understand the value of concepts such as width, depth (forward and back), ubication (body profile and position) and how to direct the young players attention to information to utilise gaps/space. We want to develop players with a better understand IN the game rather than just of the game. We can achieve this through the deliberate designing IN of key affordances with which learners can interact during practice (Chow et al, 2016). By making the learning space affordance driven learning opportunities can be designed ‘in’ to practice by including information representative of the game to enhance the connection of perception and action to encourage the utilization of relevant information through football interactions. Affordances are opportunities for action in this case football interactions (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014) and are related to an individual’s ability to use available information to regulate and organise actions to develop adaptable behaviours that support expert performance (Esteves, Oliveira, & Araújo, 2010). Football interactions (dribble, drive, pass movement off the ball) are tuned by environmental information to function specifically in each unique situation emphasising the need to understand the nature of the information that constrains movement. Through the designing ‘in’ of affordances the coach can educate the attention of the young player to enhance the connection of perception and action and utilization through football interactions of relevant information.

When working with young players (who in general want to be near the ball or have tendencies to always move towards the ball) we do not need to explicitly tell them to create width and depth. Instead, we can give value to the idea of moving away from the ball by deliberately designing the environment to be more compatible with the action capabilities of the young learners we help the player to learn through perceptual ‘attunement’ how to acquire the ability to scale information to their own action capabilities (i.e. calibration) (Fajen, Riley, and Turvey 2009).

If you are stepping in to the learning process, then you better add value.

  • Through task design and manipulation of task constraints (number of players, pitch size etc.) we can challenge players to answer the question- Is it harder to defend a large space or a small space? What implications does this have for the team in possession? The kids in the video decided that when in possession they had to try and create a large space (how large is of course uniquely situation dependent) to play in (they want to make it hard for their opponents to recover the ball). Here we are giving value to the idea of moving away from the ball. When the team in possession behave like this, learning how to optimise space, they are creating opportunities and opening up possibilities for football interactions. These affordances emerge and decay in the dynamic evolving environment.
  • When in possession, can you find time and space to receive the ball with the foot furthest away? Note no mention of left or right foot (we want to minimise any internal focus of attention). The focus (external) is on finding and creating space and the time. The idea of receiving the ball in time and space and possibly with the foot furthest away is situation dependent can implicitly develop the emergence of a good body profile while finding the time and space to do this implicitly develops the emergence of good positioning, all this while promoting an external focus of attention.
  • What are gaps and how do we exploit them? A gap between two players can give the player in possession the opportunity to use football interactions such as dribble or pass the ball through the gap depending on the situation. How players perceive and utilise football interactions on a similar affordance (a gap between two players) is subjective and highly individualised. Skills have history and learning is continuously shaped by interaction of task, environmental & individual constraints (Newell, 1986).  Gaps may well afford a player like Messi the opportunity to dribble through the gap or a player like Xavi to pass through the gap to an oncoming forward. These individual differences in perception and thus utilisation of football interactions is influenced by their unique personal “effectivities”, or put another way, capabilities to act on the possibilities invited by the dynamic affordances in the environment.

Skill viewed as an Interaction

Skill when viewed as an interaction is how learners affect change through the utilisation of affordances using football interactions (dribble, pass, off ball movement) as they search, discover and exploit information in response to what the game is asking of them. In other words, learning to become skilfully attuned to each situation that the game presents to them. This idea of ongoing adaption or ‘skill attunement’ elucidates the idea that coaches should create an environment where young players learn to understand that they will never stop learning what they can do with their skill.

The acquisition of skill by a young learner involves what Gibson (1966, 1979) referred to as ‘educate their attention’. The process of educating attention crucially involves the designing of tasks that simulate aspects of the performance environment and to selectively introduce the young player to the right aspects of the environment and their affordances. The young player is provided with the opportunity to learn what possibilities for action an aspect of the environment provides. Perceiving an affordance is to perceive how one can act using football interactions. This dependence of affordances on abilities and expressed in football interactions can help inform the coach about the young players, their learning process, the level of skills they possess and therefore how to design practice

References

Araújo, D., Davids, K., & Hristovski, R. (2006). The ecological dynamics of decision making in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise,7(6), 653-676. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.07.002

Araújo, D., & Davids, K. (2011). What exactly is acquired during skill acquisition? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 18, 7 23.

Bailey & Pickard (2010) Body learning: examining the processes of skill learning in dance, Sport, Education and Society, 15:3, 367-382, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2010.493317

Chow, J. Y., & Atencio, M. (2012). Complex and nonlinear pedagogy and the implications for physical education. Sport, Education and Society, 1–21.

Chow, J. Y. (2013). Nonlinear Learning Underpinning Pedagogy: Evidence, Challenges, and Implications. Quest,65(4), 469-484. doi:10.1080/00336297.2013.807746

Davids, K., Araújo, D., Correia, V., & Vilar, L. (2013). How small-sided and conditioned games enhance acquisition of movement and decision-making skills. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 41 3, 154-61.

Davids, K., Güllich, A., Shuttleworth., R., & Araújo, D. (2017). Understanding Environmental and Task Constraints on Talent Development, In J. Baker, S. Cobley, J. Schorer & N. Wattie (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport. Abingdon: Routledge.

Development of Walking: 15 suggestions. Trends in Cognitive Science (2018) http://psych.nyu.edu/adolph/publications/AdolphHochCole-2018-15Suggestions.pdf

Esteves, P., Oliveira, R. d., & Araújo, D. (2011). Posture-related affordances guide attacks in basketball. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12, 639-644.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.06.007

Gibson, J. J. (1979/1986). The ecological approach to perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Newell, K.M. (1986). Constraints on the development of coordination. In M.G. Wade & H.T.A Whiting (Eds.), Motor development in children: Aspects of coordination and control, pp. 341-361. Amsterdam: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Rietveld, E., & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A Rich Landscape of Affordances. Ecological Psychology,26(4), 325-352. doi:10.1080/10407413.2014.958035

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Present is Never a Clean Slate

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In a previous blog, guest writer Phil Kearney (Twitter) summed up his article by suggesting that the skill acquisition specialist works at a variety of levels (individual athlete, coach-athlete interaction, club structure, broader socio-cultural constraints) and on a variety of timescales (a session, a season, a career), to develop individuals capable of skilful interactions. The concept of many interactions at different timescales through time seems central to this. Phil gives an eloquent definition of interactions (skilful interactions) based on the concept of football interactions first defined here on this blog. The term “interactions” refers to how an athlete coordinates his/her behaviour within the performance context, in relation to that environment, on the basis of not only the immediate physical and informational (i.e., situational) demands, but also on the basis of historical and cultural factors.

Skilful interactions are therefore seen as the totality of tasks making up the pattern of activity of a community (Ingold; 2000 p325), from (in team sports) the co-presence of teammates and opponents whose own performance have a bearing on the activity of each individual, the situational demands as well as historical and cultural factors.

As suggested in a previous blog post and hypothesised by Bailey & Pickford (2010), skills have history. However, when we take into consideration the ideas proposed above there is evidently a need to shine a light on the influence of historical and cultural factors and broader socio-cultural constraints. By reflecting on the idea that ‘the present is never a clean slate’ it can be suggested that we gain insight in to how historical and broader socio-cultural factors have had a profound effect on skilful interactions, how they are learned, developed, coached and how we structure our athlete development systems.

The present is never a clean slate

One of the main tenets of human complexity is that, for better or worse we find it hard to shake off history, leaving us vulnerable through time to an historical appeal that seemed perfectly logical at the time. It can be argued that our present and future possibilities in ways of evolving practice and development in sport are impacted by philosophical underpinnings that have evolved through the integration of diverse influences and have remained unchallenged and unchanged. Since many of these fundamental assumptions first emerged, research has moved our understanding forward leading to a need for the re-conceptualisation of the processes of athlete development and expertise in life including in sport. It can be argued that part of this re- conceptualisation process first requires the liberation of a practitioner from the dominant historical and cultural ideas and tendencies of a society, which will be discussed in more detail later.

The World That Concerns us

The world that concerns us is one that is continually novel and changing, a non-ergodic world. This implies that we cannot expect whatever data sets that exist today to reliably inform and guide future outcomes (Paul Davidson Uncertainty, International Money, Employment and Theory: Volume 3: Page 281). When we examine the obsessive search for a single, defined structure for environments to develop athletes in (i.e. I wonder which country will have their development plan heralded as the new way, the truth and the light after the 2018 World Cup?), this in itself seems paradoxical and the question is, why do we try to create generic models to find unique people? ( Att finna och att utveckla talang  – en studie om specialidrottsförbundens talangverksamhet, 2011).

So, what is the root of this constraining dominance that is the need to concern ourselves with issues of certainty and normalise ways as to how we structure development systems promoting the assumption that they can consistently be applied through time and in other environments?

This question is rather eloquently investigated by Jean Boulton in one of her blog posts .

We have taken over one particular form of science, one theory from physics – the idea that things operate like machines – into the social world as it gives us the feeling that we can predict the future and control outcomes. But in fact, the world operates more like an ecology than a machine – interconnected, quirky, evolving, organic, affected by the particularities of context and history.

A paradigm not based on a model of learning but a socio-cultural-historical constructed form of life

As with any social phenomenon, the extent to which history influences socio-cultural practices cannot be ignored. What is of interest is how some ideas filtered into cultural practices in institutional programs in education and sport (Rothwell, Davids, & Stone, 2017) and how they are sheltered by an ideological inertia therefore, requiring us to excavate the deep-seated often-forgotten foundations upon which traditional assumptions are supported (Kiely, 2018). The intuitively appealing logic of Frederick Winslow Taylor as captured in his book The Principles of Scientific Management describes Taylors production line ethos and systematized approach to industrial efficiency that has influenced workplace practice and behaviours, shaping training methods in later years (Lyle, 2002). For example, John Kiely (2012) in his paper Periodization Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition-Driven? suggested that at a deeper level, sports models such as periodisation share a deep-rooted cultural heritage underpinned by a common set of historically pervasive planning beliefs and assumptions and their shaping influence remains deeply embedded. The attraction of a sense of order and control from this mechanistic view has a culturally pervasive and historical appeal, leading to a dominant thinking that has been extrapolated in to sporting forms of life.

This fragmentation of task and reductionist nature of Taylor’s methods are reminiscent of Classical Thinking and the second maxim from Descartes’ “Discourse on the Method”: fragmenting a problem into as many simple and separated elements as possible (Mallo, Complex Football; 2015). Descartes’ dissertations echo Newton’s mathematical reasoning and their assumed universal relevance that also philosophically underpin Taylor’s system of scientific management. As suggested by Mallo (2015), while Newton’s theories of motion have helped us to build many essential mechanical structures they have also helped to form an atomistic interpretation of our world, a mechanistic world view. The deterministic nature (future state can be predicted from a previous state) of Newton’s mechanical systems is highly seductive as it suggests that the whole can be divided in to separate parts offering the promise of control and predictability.

Unchallenged influences bleeding in to athlete development environments?

I think that the problem is that people always want to separate things. It’s as if, if we do not separate them out we are not able to see them (Juanma Lillo; 2011, https://www.theblizzard.co.uk/article/brain-spain)

Although not universal, isolation of knowledge in team sports has in the past been relatively common. Fitness coaches prepare the physical capacity of the athlete away from the sporting context and use tests to predict fitness before putting the athlete back in the game with little knowledge of other constraints that can affect performance. Technique coaches focussing only on relationship between player and the ball, the dichotomy of conception and execution in decision-making process models in some coach education programs and sports psychologists separating the subject and object. These are no more than sectoral and analytical assessments of individual parts of the process, and the truth is that the athlete’s progress will only take place when all the structures progress in balance (Seirul.lo, 2002).

In a recent interview in El Pais Portuguese football coach Carlos Queiroz, formerly of Manchester United and current Iran national coach reflected on his early years as a coach and studying the game. He understood while doing his thesis that, “in the end, what we were offering children in education was not football”. It was not based on a model of learning but a socio-cultural-historical constructed form of life that emerged from deeply embedded pervasive historical beliefs and assumptions, a model of learning that according to Queiroz “told us that the sum of the parts makes the whole. That has been a disaster for football”. Further elucidating the conception and execution dichotomy, Queiroz suggested that these reductionist methods promoted during his formal coach education missed out on a very important component, which is the freedom of decision. The training environment was essentially coach centred; “Because we became game directors. We did not want players with decision-making skills. And, those imaginative and creative players are built by stimulating freedom of decision”.

While in general sport-related phenomena (talent development, talent identification, participation, injuries, stress) are recognised as complex, the focus on one sub-discipline, which typically is drawn from physiology, biomechanics or psychology, may provide relevant research results, but might also offer conflicting practical information (Balagué, Torrents, Hristovski & Kelso, 2016).  We know that these factors change over (through) time, we also understand that components behave differently when they are isolated to when they are interacting in an entire network of processes (Noble, 2006).  Araújo (2013), called for a more holistic and integrated view on sport behaviour research, where psychology, physiology, biomechanics, neurosciences, and sociology address together sport phenomena. However, Balagué et al (2016) refer to an illusion of integration, that despite great advances and growth, sports science has mostly produced further specialisation and fragmentation (Hristovski et al., 2016).

Athlete development Form of Life

The world that concerns us is one that is continually novel and changing. “World”, of course, does not mean something outside as opposed to inside, the external world against the internal or mental world. It is rather the totality of life in the sense of an all-embracing framework of meaning in which a person’s experience, thinking and acting are embedded (Fuchs, 2007), shaped in a form of life. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used the term form of life to describe the behaviours, skills, capacities, attitudes, values, beliefs, practices and customs that shape the culture, philosophy and climate of societies, institutions and organisations (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014). Rothwell, Davids and Stone (2017) noted that forms of life are founded upon specific socio-cultural, economic and historical constraints that have shaped the development of performance in a particular sport or physical activity. For good or bad, these dominant forms of life shape the culturally dominant climate in and around athlete development at all levels, both in how it is perceived, how training is designed and carried out and how development for better or for worse is understood. Swedish researcher Karin Redelius suggested that culture in a particular club or sports organisation is partly a result of a historical process influenced by the development of society and the views of individual leaders (Spela Vidare: Att vilja och kunna fortsätta om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet, p. 33).

Therefore, athletes involved in organised sports should also be understood as an imbedded feature of their broader context, culturally defined, enabled and constrained.

Taking in to account historical factors and broader socio-cultural constraints, the question I am now reflecting on is, how can we design learning environments with the adaptive efficiency to work effectively not just at a moment in time but through time? Learning environments for as many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible.

References

Araújo, Duarte, The study of decision-making behavior in sport. RICYDE. Revista Internacional de Ciencias del Deporte [en linea] 2013, IX (Enero-Sin mes) : [Fecha de consulta: 2 de julio de 2018] Disponible en:<http://www.redalyc.org/articulo.oa?id=71025585001> ISSN 1885-3137

Att finna och att utveckla talang  – en studie om specialidrottsförbundens talangverksamhet, 2011

Bailey & Pickard (2010) Body learning: examining the processes of skill learning in dance, Sport, Education and Society, 15:3, 367-382, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2010.493317

Barab, S. A., & Plucker, J. A. (2002). Smart people or smart contexts? Cognition, ability, and talent development in an age of situated approaches to knowing and learning. Educational Psychologist, 37(3), 165-182.

Mallo (2015) Complex Football: From Seirul·lo´s Structured Training to Frade´s Tactical Periodisation

Dunwoody, P. T. (2006). The neglect of the environment by cognitive psychology. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, 26(1-2), 139.

Fuchs, Thomas. (2007). Psychotherapy of the lived space: A phenomenological and ecological concept. American journal of psychotherapy. 61. 423-39.

Hristovski, R., Aceski, A., Balagué, N., Seifert, L., Tufekcievski, A., & Aguirre, C. (2016). Structure and dynamics of textual contents in European sports science: An analysis of ECSSabstracts (1996–2014). European Journal of Sport Science.doi:10.1080/17461391.2016.1207709

Ingold, T. (2011). The perception of the environment. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Kiely, j. (2012). Periodisation Paradigms in the 21st Century: Evidence-Led or Tradition Driven? International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance7(3), 242-250. doi:10.1123/ijspp.7.3.242

Kiely, J. (2018). Periodization Theory: Confronting an Inconvenient Truth. Sports Med (2018) 48: 753. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0823-y

Müller, L., Gehmaier, J., Gonaus, C., Raschner, C., & Müller, E. (2018). Maturity status strongly influences the relative age effect in international elite under-9 soccer. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 17 216–222.

  1. Balagué, C. Torrents, R. Hristovski & J. A. S. Kelso (2016): Sport science integration: An evolutionary synthesis, European Journal of Sport Science, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2016.1198422

Paul Davidson Uncertainty, International Money, Employment and Theory: Volume 3: Page 281

Rietveld, E., & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A Rich Landscape of Affordances. Ecological Psychology,26(4), 325-352. doi:10.1080/10407413.2014.958035

Seirul-lo, F. (2002). Sistemas dinámicos y rendimiento en deportes de equipo. In 1st Meeting of Complex and Sport. INEFC-Barcelona.

Sid Lowe (2011) The Brain in Spain https://www.theblizzard.co.uk/article/brain-spain

Spela Vidare: Att vilja och kunna fortsätta om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet,

The Dynamic Process of Development through Sport (Jean Côté, Jennifer Turnnidge, M. Blair Evans, Kinesiologia Slovenica, 20, 3, 14-26; 2014)

Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (1998). Dynamic systems theory. In W. Damon & R R. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychologyVol1 (pp. 807–863). New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Thelen, E., & Smith, L. B. (2006). Dynamic Systems Theories. In R. M. Lerner & W. Damon (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 258-312). Hoboken, NJ, US: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

 

Guest Blog: Phil Kearney (MSA Ireland) What is Skill Acquisition?

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I had the pleasure of spending some time in the company of Phil Kearney when I guested as a speaker at the Movement and Skill Acquisition Ireland (@MSAIreland)  conference in Cork City Ireland in early April.  The opportunities for interactions between speakers and delegates facilitated by Phil and his partners at Movement and Skill Acquisition Ireland, Ed Coughlan, Olly Logan and Alan Dunton made it one of the most professionally rewarding and enjoyable conferences I have been involved in.

I was very happy that Phil accepted my invitation to write a guest article for Footblogball, especially as it connects nicely with my last blog piece Coaching, Interactions and The Workmanship of Risk

Phil Kearney is Teaching Assistant in Sport & Exercise Sciences at the University of Limerick. He is passionate about skill acquisition, and inspiring the next generation of sport scientists and coaches to apply the core principles of skill acquisition in the development of athletes. A Fellow of the Higher Education Authority, Phil committed to excellence and innovation in teaching. His research focuses on developing coaches and athletes, to enhances his practice as a sport scientist and the quality of his teaching. Phil Kearney is Co-founder of Movement and Skill Acquisition Ireland (@MSAIreland).

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What is skill acquisition?

Alongside strength & conditioning, nutrition, or performance analysis, the term skill acquisition (in the UK or Australasia) or motor behaviour (in North America) refers to a sub-discipline of the sport & exercise sciences. In offering the following definition, I am drawing heavily on an excellent article by Mark Williams and Paul Ford (1), which is my first recommendation to all those looking to better understand this discipline. So, what is skill acquisition:

Skill acquisition refers to the study of the development, performance, and refinement of skilful interactions over short (e.g., one coaching session), medium (e.g., one season), and long (e.g., duration of a talent development pathway) timescales, focusing on (a) what the athlete does (e.g., self-regulation), (b) coach-athlete interactions (e.g., provision of feedback), (c) the meso-environment (e.g., club organization/policy, such as delayed streaming), and (d) the socio-cultural macro environment (e.g., place of birth effect).

Perhaps the phrase I changed most when writing this definition was the central objective: “skilful interactions”. Terms such as movement, technique, or perceptual motor skill, have a long history of being debated by academics and coaches/teachers/instructors. The term interactions (2) was initially defined specifically in relation to football (soccer). However, I believe that its application beyond invasion games would be useful to many coaches and athletes. The term “interactions” refers to how a mover coordinates his/her behaviour within the performance context (i.e., game, race, ascent, etc) in relation to that environment, on the basis of not only the immediate physical and informational (i.e., situational) demands, but also on the basis of historical and cultural factors. Within my own context of track and field, conceiving of a hurdler as “interacting” with not only the track surface, wind, hurdles, relative position of other athletes, and consequences of earlier movements to solve the movement problem that he/she is currently facing emphasises the complexity and emergent nature of movement. Such an emphasis shifts the coaching narrative away from guiding the learner towards a predetermined optimal technique that he/she can reproduce at will, towards developing an adaptive performer. Thus, following from Newell (3), skilful interactions are sufficiently optimal solutions to the movement problem faced in terms of safety, efficiency and/or effectiveness for that individual at that moment in time.

Performance refers to both the process by which a movement emerges (often referred to as motor control) as well as the process by which a movement is produced when it matters: in the performance context. Such performance contexts may be a sporting competition, or the descent of rapid on a river miles from aid. The work of a skill acquisition specialist focuses on the nature of the practice activities that, in the long term, prepare an athlete for those contexts. Thus, the skill acquisition specialist may work with a coach to promote implicit learning (4), or to create training situations that mimic the arousal and anxiety of competition (5). In terms of refinement, the work of Howie Carson and Dave Collins (6) suggests that when players develop well-learned habits, the process by which further development is made is subtly but importantly different from the process by which skills are initially developed. Carson and Collins’ Five-A Model provides a useful stimulus for reflection for coaches who deal with such problems.

An alternative way of categorising the questions that a skill acquisition specialist investigates is to consider the level of analysis. I suggest that there are four key levels at which a skill acquisition specialist works:

  • What the athlete (learner) does: Although scanning through the contents page of most skill acquisition texts will reveal a heavy emphasis on what the coach/teacher/instructor does (e.g., instruction, practice design, feedback, etc), I am in agreement with Donald Finkel (7) who argued forcefully that the key to learning lies in what the instructor can incite the learner to do. Research has consistently revealed that experts practice differently (e.g., 8), and this finding holds whether we are discussing expert sportspeople, musicians, writers, or university students (9). Thus, the skill acquisition specialist can work to enhance the individual learner’s use of key strategies (termed self-regulation) which have been consistently associated with effective learning such as goal setting, use of task strategies, imagery, self-instruction, time management, help seeking, environment structuring, self-evaluation, and self-consequences. Such strategies have consistently proved effective when explicitly taught to athletes (10).
  • Coach-athlete interactions: As mentioned above, textbooks on skill acquisition are often dominated by what the coach does. There is much valuable research and guidance on the optimal design of instruction, practice organization, and provision of feedback. A useful “golden thread” to understand the beneficial and interacting effects of these different coach behaviours is the Challenge Point Framework (11). One crucial lesson from Challenge Point is that two coaches may apply very different behaviours (e.g., simple activity and low feedback v complex activity and high feedback) to produce the same beneficial thought processes in their learners, resulting in equally effective outcomes. Consequently, it is more important to analyse why coaches are doing what they are doing than to simply examine their behaviours (12). An intriguing development in this area is the use of “Think Aloud” protocols (13).
  • Sustained effective coaching is rarely the result of an individual coach acting in isolation, but the development of a community that interacts to create a rich environment for developing athletes. Thus it is vitally important that skill acquisition specialists research and intervene at the level of the club/school. Borrowing from Bonfrenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, this level is described as the meso-environment of the developing person. Research has provided rich guidance as to what effective youth development environments should look like (14), including factors such as encouraging a philosophy of deliberate play within and beyond organized sport, delaying streaming of athletes by current performance level, promoting interaction between different age groups, the primacy of team competitions for a track and field/swimming/golf team, avoiding early positional specialisation, etc. Case studies of effective youth development organizations (e.g., 15) are providing valuable guidance as to how such communities may be developed.
  • Finally, broader socio-cultural constraints (the macro-environment) have an important influence on the developing athlete. Examples of where the influence of such broad constraints is seen include:
    • The Relative Age Effect (16): the national organization of competition structure results in biases in favour of individuals born at certain times of the year which may have a long lasting impact on performance and participation.
    • The Place of Birth Effect (17): The characteristics of where you spend your developing years can shape your development in a significant way.

Understanding such effects are important as they provide valuable guidance on how to shape the meso-environment (e.g., through club structures/policies).

In summary, the skill acquisition specialist works at a variety of levels (individual athlete, coach-athlete interaction, club structure, broader socio-cultural constraints) and on a variety of timescales (a session, a season, a career), to develop individuals capable of skilful interactions.

 

Further reading

  1. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640410902874737?journalCode=rjsp20
  2. https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2017/10/07/linking-practice-and-theory-complex-systems-in-sport-barcelona/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/284931789_Coordination_Control_and_Skill
  4. http://www.sportsciencesupport.com/implicit-learning/index.html
  5. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00025/full
  6. http://clok.uclan.ac.uk/13804/1/Implementing%20the%20Five%20A%20Model%20of%20Technical%20Refinement%20Key%20Roles%20of%20the%20Sport%20Psychologist.pdf
  7. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Teaching-Your-Mouth-Donald-Finkel/dp/0867094699 
  8. http://eprints.brighton.ac.uk/14994/1/How%20experts%20practice-%20a%20novel%20test%20of%20deliberate%20practice%20theory.pdf
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Barry_Zimmerman/publication/233047013_Academic_studing_and_the_development_of_personal_skill_A_self-regulatory_perspective/links/549b67790cf2b80371371ad7/Academic-studing-and-the-development-of-personal-skill-A-self-regulatory-perspective.pdf
  10. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1740898042000124
  11. https://www.science.mcmaster.ca/kinesiology/images/stories/Guadagnoli202620Lee20JMB202004.pdf
  12. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259691014_An_investigation_of_the_practice_activities_and_coaching_behaviors_of_professional_top-level_youth_soccer_coaches
  13. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305500820_’Think_Aloud’_Toward_a_Framework_To_Facilitate_Reflective_Practice_Amongst_Rugby_League_Coaches
  14. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271927285_Evidence-based_policies_for_youth_sport_programmes
  15. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01187.x
  16. https://www.ukcoaching.org/sites/default/files/91331%20scUK%20RAE%20Guide.pdf
  17. http://ojs.acadiau.ca/index.php/phenex/article/viewFile/1445/1229

Coaching, Interactions and The Workmanship of Risk

Killian Sam jpg

Adaptation of our knowledge, skills and understanding is a challenging and confronting process. David Pye’s idea of the ‘workmanship of risk’ emphasises the idea that this process should go on throughout our lifespan. Think of an artist working on a painting, a sculptor chiselling out the finer details or indeed a young player learning to become skilfully attuned to the multiple possibilities for action in each unique situation, the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making and learning. This is a rich description of how child-youth football environments should look in practice and elucidates the idea that interactions between coach and learner(s) are of the utmost importance as they constitute a learning system.

The best youth coaches look to create an environment where young players learn to understand that they will never stop learning what they can do with their skill.

What is skilful performance?

Successful performance (skilful performance) in sport is predicated on the constraints of an individual’s perceptual and action capabilities, selecting among affordances to guide football interactions (dribble, pass, off ball movement…) during performance (Araújo et al., 2006). Affordances are opportunities for action in this case football interactions (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014) and are related to an individual’s ability to use available information to regulate and organise actions to develop adaptable behaviours that support expert performance (Esteves, Oliveira, & Araújo, 2010). Football interactions are tuned by environmental information to function specifically in each unique situation emphasising the need to understand the nature of the information that constrains movement. Practice should highlight informational constraints to improve the coupling of perception and action in players and promote the utilization through football interactions of relevant affordances.

Environment Design for Skilful Performance – Design the task and coach around affordances

Skills or football interactions (dribble, pass, running off the ball) require extensive practice but the design of practice is of great importance in the sense that it needs to contain relevant informational variables (opportunities for football interactions) so that young learners learn how to become skilfully perceptually attuned to relevant information as perception plays an on-line role in tuning football interactions and therefore the young players learning. This links in with the ideas put forward by Araujo & Davids in 2010 when they suggested that the main focus of learning in sport should be on a process of ‘skill attunement’. Echoing Gibson (1966, 1986) this implies that the coach should consider perception and action jointly as continuous interactions rather than treating them as separate problems that can be solved independently and afterwards connected. From a coaching perspective, it can be argued that this is about educating the attention of the young learner. But just as importantly, this in turn means that the coaches focus of attention must also be educated! Here we challenge the coach to identify relevant information available to the learner, to skilfully educate the young player to attend to certain features of the learning context so that they can learn how this information can be utilised using football interactions. Design the task and coach around affordances.

Skill when viewed as an interaction is how learners affect change through the utilisation of affordances using football interactions (dribble, pass, off ball movement) as they search, discover and exploit in response to what the game is asking of them. In other words, learning to become skilfully attuned to each situation that the game presents to them. This idea of ongoing adaption or ‘skill attunement’ elucidates the idea that coaches should create an environment where young players learn to understand that they will never stop learning what they can do with their skill.

Skills Have History

The diversity of human motor behaviour should help us to understand how motor solutions emerge from a given set of constraints. This is particularly pertinent with young learners. Young children arrive at training each with their own unique individual bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities. Two kids living in a block of flats. On the 10th floor lives a single mother with a child that is taken care of by his elderly grandmother so that she can go to work. On the bottom floor a child of the same age gets to regularly play daily with his older siblings in the common garden area. The two kids are friends but the opportunities afforded to them to play, move and express their bodies are influenced by different constraints. If it is understood that movement solutions performed as solutions to a problem cannot be separated from the environment in which it takes place then it should be understood as hypothesised by Baily & Pickford (2010) that skills have history. Movement solutions performed in these early organised sports environments cannot be separated from each individuals’ unique bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities their environment offered to them up to that point.

This is a simple example how constraints as highlighted by Rothwell et al; 2017 may influence a young player’s development and how they interact with a performance context and elucidates a key principle of ecological dynamics in player development. That is the interacting influence of task and environmental constraints on a young players’ ability to become attuned to the opportunities for action invited by objects, surfaces, features, terrains, and other people in a performance setting. This key principle as touched on earlier in this article is known as affordances in ecological dynamics (Davids, Güllich, Shuttleworth & Araújo, 2017).

The Workmanship of Risk

The essential idea of ‘the workmanship of risk’ is that that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making and learning. This is a rich description of how child-youth football environments should look in practice, emphasising patience and implying a mutual creation of meaning which arises from the “between”, or the system, of learner and coach (Fuchs; 2007). Unlike more traditional reductionist approaches the diverse range of the affordance landscape in expertly designed learning environments in child youth football is one ‘in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on judgment, dexterity and care which the maker (coach and players) exercises as the work is inherently more pleasing (Pye; 1986). So, the process of ‘making and learning’ through coach – player(s) interactions such as manipulation of constraints, using feedback or players themselves continuously adapting their football interactions in the deliberately designed environment is a coach bringing sensitivity to the different experiences, opportunities, biographies and histories of learners. This implies that the coach must have a deep understanding of the sport, skill learning, the individual (psycho-socio-cultural being) and the environment (learning space, broader social-cultural landscape). If you are stepping in to the learning process, then you better know how to add value.

References

Araújo, D., Davids, K., & Hristovski, R. (2006). The ecological dynamics of decision making in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise,7(6), 653-676. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.07.002

Araújo, D., & Davids, K. (2011). What exactly is acquired during skill acquisition? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 18, 7 23.

Bailey & Pickard (2010) Body learning: examining the processes of skill learning in dance, Sport, Education and Society, 15:3, 367-382, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2010.493317

Davids, K., Güllich, A., Shuttleworth., R., & Araújo, D. (2017). Understanding Environmental and Task Constraints on Talent Development, In J. Baker, S. Cobley, J. Schorer & N. Wattie (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport. Abingdon: Routledge.

Esteves, P., Oliveira, R. d., & Araújo, D. (2011). Posture-related affordances guide attacks in basketball. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12, 639-644.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2011.06.007

Fuchs, Thomas. (2007). Psychotherapy of the lived space: A phenomenological and ecological concept. American journal of psychotherapy. 61. 423-39.

Gibson, J. J. (1966). The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Gibson, J. J. (1979/1986). The ecological approach to perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Rietveld, E., & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A Rich Landscape of Affordances. Ecological Psychology,26(4), 325-352. doi:10.1080/10407413.2014.958035

Rothwell, M., Davids, K., Stone I. (2017). Harnessing socio-cultural constraints on athlete development to create a form of life. Journal of Expertise.

Pye, D. (1986) The nature and art of workmanship (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).