We need to coach players to play according to how a game emerges

A typical practice may well be based on a defined theme introduced by the coach. For example, driving in to space with the ball, passing, shooting or defending 1v1 are typical themes. This approach is quite commonly encouraged in most Coach Education courses and of course depending on how it is carried out has great value. Coaches can also design sessions using the logical structure of the game (Attack – Transition – Defending) and the principles of co-adaptability. Deliberate design with the aim to help the young learners learn how to co-adapt (not react) their actions to the moves of other players and the ball,

Many thanks to Keith Davids (co-author of the book Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition and Professor of Motor Learning Centre for Sports Engineering Research, Sheffield Hallam University) for advising me on this piece.

“Practice tasks should be skilfully and thoughtfully designed by the coach so that players need to continually re-organise themselves relative to the actions of teammates and opponent. This is what ‘playing what emerges’ means” – Keith Davids

The player is one part of a dynamic system. The system is comprised of the game/training environment, the task, constraints and the interactions of players in attack, defence and transition. The player acts in context. This dynamic context creates information that needs to be perceived so that the players can regulate their actions. Therefore, it is important to train the perceptual and action systems of young players together. Recognising how the young learner perceives, accepts and or adapts to information sources is of the utmost importance. Information sources for “learning and coaching opportunities” can be designed in to practice but they will also emerge in the practice. This sets great demands on the coach.

“I don’t believe in a cause and effect, mechanistic type of coaching, where if you do this, this will happen. The context is always changing, the opposition is changing, and even the nature of the sport is changing. There are an incredibly complex set of variables within a team sport context” –  High Performance Coach of the Year Danny Kerry (England Women’s Hockey Team Coach)

A session can be designed to be deliberately flexible one that creates a framework where emerging information can help the trainer to coach what emerges.

To design effective learning environments using this approach, the coach must

  • Have a good knowledge of the sport
  • Have a good understanding of learners and the learning process
  • Always take in to consideration that growth and development happens in direct contact with people (individuals) and takes place in a variety of different situations
  • Design training where decision-making is returned to the performer (The traditional passing drill A to B, B to C, C to A does NOT achieve this)
  • Understand that learning is not a linear process and that there will sometimes be periods of steady or sudden improvements as well as periods of regression.

A game like the one below can afford many learning and coaching opportunities. Underpinned by the principles of co-adaptability in this session was deliberately designed for young learners to learn how to play with purpose. In other words, to play with a deliberate “learning” intent even though what exactly is to be learned emerges and is determined by the young players acting in context and what the coach observes.

Co-adaptability: Attacker, defender actions are co-adaptive. One individual evolves the capacity to behave in a certain way. The other individual then has to adapt to that so there is a co- adaptation process going on.

The evolution of this game is 2v1(+GK) and after a goal is scored or the ball leaves play it turns directly in to 3v2(+GK). It is very important to let the game flow for a suitable amount of time before any coaching interventions. This will enable the young players to seek out solutions.

Blog emerge 1

Red passes the ball to blue on the side who then passes too blue in the middle. A 2v1 situation begins where the blues try and score in the big goal and the reds try and score in the yellow goal.

Blog emerge 2

When a goal is scored or the ball goes out of play a 3v2 situation begins.

We go back to the 2v1 situation. Even at this early stage, the coach can observe certain behaviours and decisions being carried out by the young players.

  • How is the body shape of the Blue players as they receive the pass?
  • How is the communication (verbal, non-verbal) between the Blue players as they attack 2v1?
  • How is the communication (verbal, non-verbal) between the goalkeeper and the defenders?
  • How does the Red player turn the 1v2 in to a 1v1?
  • How can the Blue players maintain the 2v1?
  • Do the Blue players shoot when they have a clear view of the goal?
  • Do the Blue players shoot if they see that the goalkeeper is out of position?
  • Can the Blue players use the Red defender to disguise a shot on goal?
  • How are the players behaving and communicating (verbal, non-verbal) in transition?
  • How does the goalkeeper behave when the Reds have won possession?

Blog emerge 3

The questions asked above can also be applied to the 3v2 situation. There are also other learning and coaching opportunities.

  • When the Blue player in the middle has the ball how do the other two Blue players reorganise? Are they implementing the principles of play, creating width with a good body shape and looking to progress the play? Are the wide players in line with the last Red defender and if they are what attacking opportunities does this offer?
  • What options does the player in the middle have when in possession? Pass wide to secure possession? Identify a gap to pass the ball in depth to an oncoming attacker? Drive the ball at the defenders and provoke a reaction?
  • How is the communication (verbal, non-verbal) in transition?
  • What is the role of the goalkeeper when the Red team wins the ball? Positioning? Communication?

“Sometimes we can coach players to stick to a ‘plan’ but typically we need to coach players to play according to how a game emerges. This is because good opposition will identify your plan and disrupt it”- Keith Davids

As behaviours, actions and solutions emerge, regardless of whether they are the best decision for that unique moment or not, possibilities for coach interventions will also emerge. The coach can shine a light on a positive action or a great decision even if the result was or was not the desired outcome.  For example, if the Red player in the 1v2 is struggling (struggle is also emerging information) then it is the coach’s duty to present learning strategies to help that individual.

The coach can try and “nudge” the young learners into constantly trying to adapt new ways to counteract new strategies that opponents are introducing in to the game.

Football is a game of constant decision making based on communication/information. Every training session should have as many aspects of football as possible. The aspects used should interact and should also influence each other.

“…the environment is changing half second by half second, and you have to decide which method or skill to use in which context every time it changes”. High Performance Coach of the Year Danny Kerry (England Women’s Hockey Team Coach)



Encourage critical thinking at all levels of the game (Even if it means rocking the boat)     

Select some eggs. Put eggs in a plastic bag. Throw the plastic bag at a wall. Show the world the egg that doesn’t break – The system works!

Following on from a previous blog We may know what we are looking FOR but do we understand what we are looking AT some more streams of consciousness around complexity of youth development.


“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” – Martin Brody

Due to individual differences during the early period of player development it should be viewed as common sense that as a many of these imperfect individuals are given the opportunity to stay in the system as long as possible. It should also be made clear that those who leave a development programme should be made aware of other opportunities within the sport. For instance, a different part of the system such as coaching, administration, leadership, volunteer or research. The system should promote the fact that there are many benefits to society through participation (health, wellbeing, social interaction/integration) or by promoting and supporting participation (promotion of healthy lifestyles, social interaction/integration and general wellbeing). The long term idea of as many as possible as long as possible in the best possible environment often gets viewed through the short term lens of being financially costly to society.  We can reject this assumption when we look at the long term benefits of a healthy population.

It has also been viewed as being costly to the club. There is a fear that if they don’t identify talent early and push available resources towards that talent, then someone else will. A common approach is a talent program based on early talent identification often selling with it the promise of the long term nurturing of that talent.

Recently I saw a tweet where a certain Elite GBO boasted the fact that over 90% of players that had played in the national team at the u17 European championships had come through their elite system. Without reflection this may seem quite impressive and indeed be interpreted as evidence that the system works (if that is how we evaluate a system). Every system will produce an output. On deeper analysis and reflection, we can also argue that there are many shortcomings. The system being referred to is now more or less the only system available (unless you go abroad at a young age). Has it wrestled away other systems that used to emerge naturally to become the only lens through which talent is identified? The system seemingly both physically and emotionally is only meeting the needs of those that satisfy a certain criterion at a certain point in time. Just like Dr Martin Toms said, I too predict that if we colour every child’s hair green then in the future we will have green haired professional footballers.

“We need a flexible framework where our training and planning is designed around emerging information, whilst being underpinned by sound developmental principles” (Mark O’ Sullivan & Al Smith; 2016)

The developmental environment of youth sport is ever changing. Our coaching methods, our curriculum and learning environment (The Learning Space) need to not only be adapted for the development of the individual over time but in some way must respond to the ever accelerating changes in our world, social structures and immediate environment. Many models are developed on the assumption that they can predict and control future out-comes when clearly it is not possible to do this just by knowing the existing conditions. Early “ability” that is identified as talent and used as an indicator of future ability and performance is a common example of this erroneous assumption.

We need to go beyond the information given

In a recent interview Nick Levett (English FA Head of Talent Identification) refers to a conference he attended where someone claimed that they could identify a professional player at 7. Nick’s response to this claim is “Well I can tell you who a liar is. How many people have you said that about and you were wrong?” This is echoed in the article How Systems and Stories Shape Learning by John Stoszkowski (Lecturer in Sports Development & Coaching at University of Central Lancashire). “What you don’t hear in those tales are how many times that scout has thought or said the same thing about numerous other young players who ultimately didn’t go on to make it. Our memory is very selective it seems and, ultimately, it’s only after the fact (with the benefit of hindsight) that we can make such conclusions”.

Much of early talent ID is subjective and as Nick Levett suggests, likely to be influenced by our own view of the world. Perhaps we identify Talent with an unconscious bias and draw our final conclusions by later telling stories (much like the guy at the conference, or that talent scout in twitter) from selective memory.

John Stoszkowski on twitter

Nick Levett on twitter

Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion

Arne Gullich (Department of Sport Science, University of Kaiserslautern, Kaiserslautern, Germany) did a study that explored to which extent the development of German professional football players is based on early talent identification (TID) and long-term nurture in talent promotion (TP) programmes.

The central finding of this study is that the TID/TP system in German football is characterised by sizeable annual turnover of its members at all stages.

  • Most young players selected at a particularly early age were replaced within short time by others who had developed more prosperously outside the youth academies and national U-teams.
  • Most young members did not reach adolescence within the programme, let alone become professional senior players.
  • Despite massive expansion of the programme most professional senior players were not involved in TP at a particularly young age.

This clear imperfection in TID or in TP or both is consistent with the findings of Anderson and Miller (2011) from Premier League academies and with observations from various other sports (Güllich & Emrich, 2012).

Players selected for the national U-teams amount to 0.06% of all registered players within the respective age categories. The places in the youth academies correspond to 0.3– 0.8% of all German players in the respective age categories,

Conclusion: The collective of successful senior players clearly emerges from frequently repeated procedures of selection and de-selection across all age stages (collectivistic approach) rather than from early TID and selection and a long-term continuous nurturing process within the TP programme (individualistic approach).

Both Germany and Iceland have recently been heavily discussed on all media fronts from the point of view of talent development. In my previous blog, football writer and historian Anton Ingi Sveinbjörnsson gave us an interesting and alternative insight in to what lessons we can take from Iceland.

“I think that the main point is that the investment and the infrastructure and the coaching hasn’t taken away from the fact that sometimes sport is just for the sake of sport”.

Icelandic sociologist Dr. Vidar Halldorsson has done some research in to Icelandic athletes. He gives us some insight in to the complexity of what is being missed by many of these media discussions.

There are no clear cut answers explaining the success of Iceland’s international handball or soccer teams. “It is a complex interplay of customs, culture, environment, groups and individuals. Characteristics of Icelandic athletes: Joy of playing, great team players, ambitious and they always have the belief that they can improve. The explanation for this is not found in our genes but rather in our social surroundings, especially in the athletic environment. According to research elite athletes in our country are ruled by intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic. That means that the sport itself has value for them, which then encourages values like joy of playing and atmosphere. That in turn has a positive effect on team unity”.

What we need to encourage is critical thinking at all levels of the game – Jamie Hamilton (These Football Times)

To both paraphrase and quote John Stoszkowski: The German, Icelandic, or wherever else’s models have all been put forth as examples of how it should be done, is inevitably influenced by a range of confirmation bias and hindsight bias. “By trying to reduce this complexity to simplified models or rules, the complexity is lost, and the model is therefore as useless in explaining things”.

We need to go beyond the information given.

Maybe Eduard Schmidt from German tactics blog “Spielverlagerung.de” and “Konzeptfussball” has a point when he said to me in a recent conversation “Germany just using a bigger fishing net”. However, the boat is still the same size!

We’re gonna need a bigger boat!

After thoughts

For an interesting example of analysis and critical thinking check out this great blog post http://learntocoachbasketball.com/on-air-drills-and-negative-transfer

Follow the author  on twitter https://twitter.com/brianmccormick

Critical Thinking Challenge

In relation to Talent ID  I would be interested in your thoughts if we applied  analysis and critical thinking to this:

We may know what we are looking FOR but do we understand what we are looking AT?

it is nothing joined; it flows…..

Streams of consciousness around complexity of youth development, myths, fake fundamentals, coaching, coach education and the talent arms race.

The elimination of England and the success of Iceland at Euro 2016 has awakened many discussions on social media. Both Sweden and Ireland are wondering about the next generation. Holland are absent. Coaches, pundits and journalists are having the usual international “talent arms race” discussion.  Twitter is a constant source of analysis, myths, knowledge, debate, rumors, lies, damned lies and statistics, and of course humor.

iceland shirt


There have been so many articles written in the media about player development in Iceland. On the Second Captains podcast, football writer and historian Anton Ingi Sveinbjörnsson gave us an interesting and alternative insight in to what lessons we can take from Iceland.

“I think that the main point is that the investment and the infrastructure and the coaching hasn’t taken away from the fact that sometimes sport is just for the sake of sport. The fact that they have built football pitches at every school in the country means that there is no inherent strategy, you can play sport if you are unfit or don’t like it and all your friends do, it’s the fact that you can play football when you want where you want regardless of socio economic status or anything. I think especially as with England, the richest football association in the world by far but everything is sink or swim. They have their Wayne Rooney’s that come in at 16 blow everyone away and they discard the late bloomers. With England there is no Klose or Drogba who start playing professionally at 22. There is Jamie Vardy but that is the exception. It is not a system that creates freedom to make mistakes to learn to develop and I think that is what Iceland has done. Iceland has given kids the freedom to develop to grow to makes mistakes, just keep it fun. It’s not all about the end product. You don’t have to create footballers you can also just give kids the chance to play football at ten at night and I think that is the beauty of it. Kids can go home and come later at night and play football with their friends and just enjoy it”.

Anton Ingi Sveinbjörnsson is drawing our attention to the complexity of youth participation and development in sport. When we examine the literature and articles available with regard to the recent development of football in Iceland we can see that it is about various systems interacting over time to influence participation and development. I have discussed this in the blog Investigating the Complexity of Athlete Development and the International Olympic Consensus Statement.See link here.

This sentence that really caught my attention. “I think that the main point is that the investment and the infrastructure and the coaching hasn’t taken away from the fact that sometimes sport is just for the sake of sport”. It reminded me of a quote from an interview I did with Per Göran Fahlström (lecturer and researcher at the Institute for Sports Science at Linneuniversitetet Sweden). “One cannot shape and form children’s sports around small numbers and say that this is what the sport is all about”. See link here.

Anton Ingi Sveinbjörnsson says that the strength of the Icelandic system is that it allows the freedom to make mistakes to learn and to develop. This is echoed in Todd Beane’s excellent blog. See link here.

“A child who is told to stand at one cone, run to another, or pass to a certain player is NOT making a decision. They are obeying the rules.

Design a training that actually demands decision-making and be prepared for a lot of poor decisions until our players perfect the skill of selecting the best options. We are not giving them complete freedom, but we are giving them the authority to play the game with intelligence

We must prioritise learning rather than teaching”.

Todd Beane’s thoughts are reflected in Per Göran Fahlströms Footblogball interview from January 2016 where he describes the trainer’s pedagogical role.

“They (coaches) should create an environment where children want to and can learn – we are again back to that desire to learn. A good learning environment “learns- in” and teaches the kids much more than the coach can teach (learn-out).  Creating a training environment where participants learn from each other. That is the trainer’s pedagogical role”

But what of learning? Mary Helen Immordino- Yang is a professor at the University of Southern California. An excerpt from her book Emotions, Learning and the Brain is available at http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/05/31/why-emotions-are-integral-to-learning/

This line struck a chord with me.

“learning is dynamic, social, and context dependent because emotions are, and emotions form a critical piece of how, what, when, and why people think, remember, and learn”.

It flows directly in to some twitter posts I have recently seen. The referencing of research work done on teaching in the classroom environment and claiming that it directly applies to soccer seems to be quite common..

Richard Bailey (International Council of Sports Science and Physical Education) sums it up nicely when I discussed this topic with him. “One of the foundational principles of learning theory is that there is no necessary transfer across domains. What is true for learning reading, for example, does not necessary apply at all to learning skills”. Richard is well worth following on twitter.

Classroom research can be useful for coaches and inform them about stuff like metacognition but the sport of soccer is a completely different context. We also need to consider that a lot of learning in sport is implicit.



Head of Talent Identification at the English FA Nick Levett went on twitter to challenge some myths that seem to regularly cross his path.

So where does this race to the bottom (starting organised football as young as possible) mind-set come from? There are a few misconceptions that we need to examine.

It seems that this “start them early” campaign is driven by the idea that performance is a function of training time and that talent has all to do with practice. Yes, the flawed 10,000 hour’s theory (popularised in the Malcolm Gladwell book Outliers) has raised its ugly head again. We know that practice is necessary but when should we practice the most? It is worth taking a look at Practice and Play in the Development of German top level Professional Football Players. See link here.

I have seen and heard coaches and journalists debating the need to select the best 8 year old’s and put them together with the best coaches so that they can be taught the `correct’ technique as early as possible. This is the promotion of a coach centred and instruction lead environment driven by explicit instructions. Yet, soccer especially at a young age also relies on implicit learning, which is difficult to achieve soley with direct instruction. This is a very important point taken up by Daniel Memmert when I interviewed him with regard to his book Teaching Tactical Creativity. See link here.

Coaching kids? Could your 1st responsibility as coach be to inspire them to play independently of you?

A key challenge for coaches is to design training and create learning environments that result in sustainable motivation. So that the learner will deliberately want to improve (intrinsic).

This fascination of doing as much football (in the organised practice sense) as possible as young as possible that Nick Levett refers to brings us into the domain of early specialisation. Driven by the 10,000 hour’s concept this is potentially harmful to kids in the long-term. Often leading to physical and psychological burnout.


The Relationship Between Deliberate Practice and Performance in Sports-A Meta-Analysis (Brooke N. Macnamara, David Moreau, David Z. Hambrick )

The “productification” of Youth Sports

Early competitive pressure driven by feeling of falling behind if you don’t practice drives the start age down and the training volume up in early years. This is more than often reflected in a coach centred philosophy where the training environment is dominated by drill orientated sessions. The child (just like those selected 8 year olds with the best coaches) is already seen as an investment for the future, a product. But the product needs to be developed. This is where the “Lords of Technique” step in. Selling the erroneous assumption that there is a typical or ‘normal’ way of performing an action. One size fits all “technique” coaches selling products and teaching fake fundamentals. 10,000 hour’s costs X per hour.

The perfect technique is a myth, it is really an average technique, one that we teach kids through monotonous repetitions of the same movement without context. There is no, one size fits all, there is no singular answer, there is no perfect technique.

“Anyone can learn to duplicate a technique, but that’s not creative expression. What’s interesting is true development. It’s not something that happens over, like, a couple of weeks or a year. To create true understanding of produce and technique, it’s a long process. Most chefs don’t even think about that as the chef’s job, and that’s not very constructive. It’s actually very lazy. “It’s very important to not just accept things the way they are, but actually go and investigate. Like what is there and why? And if it doesn’t make sense, how can it be transformed to become greater.”- Swedish Master chef Magnus Nilsson

Early Talent ID

Part of this race to the bottom is early talent identification. Recently a hot topic of discussion on social media, TV and newspapers (usually when a country exits a tournament like the Euros 2016). Early talent identification is based on the assumption that early performance is seen as a good predictor of future performance. Again we are back to that previous reference of selecting the best 8 year olds and putting them together with the best coaches. We see speed, strength, co-ordination and size. These are all functions of maturity. I recently had a meeting with a young ambitious coach who was reflecting a lot over his role. I was very impressed (and somewhat jealous) that someone half my age possessed such a good knowledge of learning design for young kids. He had moved away from the isolated drill technique training of his previous club and already was seeing the motivational benefits of a more global approach. However, he was now employed by a club that had an academy selection policy for 9 year olds. I asked him if he could send me the dates of birth for the players selected to his academy team. 66% of the players selected were born the first 3 months of the year. This is often referred to as Relative Age Effect (RAE) and it does seem to give us a false picture of early performance. The difference between a child born in January and December is almost chronologically one year. For an 8 year-old that is one eight of their life. If we complicate things even further and introduce the influence of biological age then it gets even more complex. An 8 year- old can have a biological age of say 7 or a biological age of 10. So a child born in January with the biological age of 10 can be 3 years older than a child born in December. Early talent identification is often observed through a false lens where the coach sees ability that in reality is merely function of maturity. The club, the association or Governing Body then proceed to pump most resources in to performers that are relatively older.

Is the coach educator capable of delivering this?

Navigating the complexity of working with children in sport is demanding. We must have high goals and these goals must be expressed in the NGB Coach education curriculum. Is the coach educator capable of delivering this? This is a very important question that is asked in the research and analysis paper Developing expert coaches requires expert coach development: Replacing serendipity with orchestration (Abraham, A., Collins, D., Morgan, G., & Muir, B. 2009). See link here.

“This may sound obvious, but our experience is that often people have not recognised how they may limit the development of others. We are not suggesting that this has been a deliberate attempt to undermine the development of others it is just the reality of the situation. Sports have often been guilty of putting people in charge of major educational initiatives who simply don’t have the expertise to complete the task. This is often the reason why the short term fixes, that Druckman and Bjork (1994) refer to emerge. People without expertise try to fix the most obvious thing that is wrong and often fail to see the underpinning problems that are really the issue (Abraham and Collins, 1998). After all, we only know what we know, our decision making is constrained by personal theory which in turn is built on our personal ‘repertoire’ of experience (Gilbert and Trudel, 1999).”

What, Who, Where, Why

Our ability to look at sport involvement as a system of integrated personal and social variables that interact with and shape development can go a long way to explaining participation and performance of our young learners/players. What are you looking at (performance criteria-maturity, awareness, strength speed, skill, decision making, passion, desire, communication)- Who are you looking at (what do you know about these young people, their background, socio-economic, socio-cultural situation?) –Where is this taking place (context, environment) – Why are you here (why are you coaching children)? These are all relevant questions that coaches should ask ourselves as they engage with the young learner.

So perhaps instead of thinking that we know what we are looking FOR (which we may well do), perhaps we need to understand what we are looking AT. Well, we are looking at children and children are not mini-adults.

I will sign off with this from the excellent John Kiely (twitter)

What do you believe?                                                                                                                        

Why do you believe it? Because it’s conventional; because it’s comfortable; because it’s been passed down in a path-dependent way; or because you have reflected deeply and it best fits your current state of learning and experience?

Are your beliefs flexible?

If not, why not? Because you are so certain of their truth that you refuse to consider they may be in error? Because you are emotionally attached to them? Because you have invested so much in them that even contemplating change is too uncomfortable?

If your beliefs are either set in stone; or chop and change in response to fads and fashion or gimmicks or shiny toys, maybe you need to review the ‘threshold of evidence’ necessary to motivate you to re-align your philosophy.





Henok Goitom – Portrait of a Professional Footballer as a Child

Footblogball returns to its essential interview series with a childhood portrait of professional soccer player Henok Goitom. Henok has played in Spain (La Liga) in Italy (Seria A) and in The Swedish Premier League (Allsvenskan).

Enrique Henok

Henok (far right) with Costa Rican international Celso Borges on the left and RCD Espanyol coach Enrique Mattheo in the middle

“How can a child know what is good or what they are good at if the world is not presented to them?”

“While sports science and research tends to focus upon the biological and psychological training necessary to become an elite performer, success in sport is much more complex than this. Underpinning any athlete’s “bio-psycho” make-up is the socio-cultural environment in which they are brought up” (Dr Martin Toms)

One thing that always struck me when watching Henok Goitom play soccer is his understanding of space. Through the local club he helped to start, his beloved Kista Galaxy he is creating a community development space between the pitch and society. Even when in conversation he is the master of the use of space between words and sentences.

In that space between dreams and reality Henok Goitom developed to become a professional footballer.

Fun and more fun – that was what was important to us

Henok Goitom had already been playing street football for four years before he began with any form of organised football.  In the Stockholm suburb of Tensta, it was on the streets that legends were made and identities carved out on the asphalt playgrounds or the gravel pitches of his childhood. Heroic deeds were relived, exaggerated and re-told long into the endless Swedish summer evenings and the dark long winter nights.  Friendships were formed, bragging rights were won and the game was learned.

When he turned 9 he joined a local team coached by his Father, Goitom. The young Henok was still drawn back to the streets. Almost directly after training, an impromptu game of soccer would break out somewhere in the neighbourhood. In 1993 if you were a boy in Tensta there were slim opportunities to play other sports apart from soccer.

Shortly after his 10th birthday the family moved temporarily to the nearby suburb of Hässelby. Henok continued to play football but soon other worlds opened up for him. This new environment offered him the possibility to sample three other sports, basketball, handball and floorball (indoor hockey). In school, Henok was lucky enough to have a creative P.E. teacher. Each week a new sport was tested or a new game devised. Henok’s father, a firm believer in a more versatile, all-round comprehensive training, introduced the football team to skipping ropes and gymnastics.

Within two years the family returned to Tensta. During one winter the football team doubled as a basketball team. This all got very complicated when they reached the basketball league final. Their opponents were Henok’s real basketball team. “We were just playing. Nobody thought that we were cheating until we met in the final!”

The authorities were not happy and the final was never played. They didn’t mind, it was just a fun activity to keep the soccer team together during the cold winter months. So while other soccer clubs were training with an almost sole focus on football for nearly 11 months of the year, Henok and his friends were testing other sports, keeping up their street soccer and generally having as much fun as possible. “Fun and more fun-that was what was important to us”.

Looking back Henok firmly believes that he benefited from the skill transfer between the different sports he played. He feels that it gave him a versatility of movement and an increased tactical awareness.

“In basketball I felt very confident with the ball in my hands. I looked up more”. He learned to constantly scan the court as things could change in an instant. It was a fast paced game in a small space. “You blink! – You lose the ball and the opponent scores “.

“Handball taught me how to defend”. Closing off and killing space. With floorball I had to learn how to change direction with explosive movements. Again if you were not aware of what was happening around you the punishment was swift. You were still in no-man’s land while your opponents were celebrating a goal.

“Playing other sports gave me a broad experience of society”.

It was in the wealthier areas of Stockholm that the best indoor basketball courts could be found. My team would regularly play in these areas. On the court I knew we were all equal.” It didn’t matter how rich you were because all that mattered is what happens on the court now”.

“Where I come from you needed to develop mental strength. Nobody outside your immediate family and closest friends believed in you. So you must develop a belief in yourself. You must solve the details yourself. Your football boots were falling apart? Fix them with tape”. Asking your parents for money for a new pair was a last resort.

“We had simple family rules and it kept me grounded. I was taught to be humble and always give something back”.

During meal times for example the family always ate together. Nobody dared sit and eat in front of the TV. If a telephone bill arrived that was higher than it should have been, a family meeting would be called and everyone would have to somehow contribute, either financially or by simply been economical with the use of the phone.

An environment where soccer was inevitable

 “We had a street attitude and we searched out fun and mainly found it on the streets in the form of soccer. As kids in Tensta we were very conscious of our image. We liked to give the impression that we were not very serious but that we could still win. It had to be fun. This was very important to us”.

The street provided an environment where your failures and successes were greeted with the same applause and humour. This is how Henok learned much of what he took with him in to his professional career. The street games were open to all ages. You had to be creative and find your own solutions especially when playing against older guys. Street ranking was important. Nobody cared if you made a mistake but if you didn’t play well, then next time you could be picked last. This meant that you were the goalkeeper. Of course one way of always avoiding this was to actually own the ball.

Set up, monitored and designed by children to maximise enjoyment the environment encouraged Henok and his friends to be creative. There was no coaching. They invented games.” Goal to goal with two touches was our way of practicing shooting”. If only 3 players turned up, we played “tunnel”. A point was awarded when you played the ball between your opponent legs. The constant evolving game situations encouraged more decisions, more failures and more successes. When Henok describes these daily rituals that were the street games of his childhood his eyes light up and his voice changes character. He is there. He hears the voices in that cage with the small sand pitch. He is there come rain, snow or sunshine taking on all-comers, trying to beat the elements and forgetting time. Child initiated play tends to have its own sense of time.

Henok and his friends actively sought out other sports. “There was always a classmate heading to play basketball or handball at some local club”. You just followed and joined in. It was very social. This way of just turning up and joining in was the social norm at the time. Your friends played so you played. Most of all it was fun. By testing other sports I realized that football was my thing”.

Frequently in this interview Henok refers to how absorbed he was in playing the game. He was absorbed in the process. This probably explains why still today he has a very strong growth mind-set. “If you asked me what I wanted to be I would say a professional soccer player. But when I was playing football I was just focused on enjoying it. If I was playing badly, I never thought to myself- you will never become a pro. Instead I thought, I didn’t play well today, how can I play better the next time?”

When Henok was 13 his team trained three times a week with at least one game at the weekend. His focus was more on football but he still took part in other sports, especially basketball.

“My father was my coach and this meant I got feedback”. Henok wanted feedback. Not necessarily as confirmation of his abilities but to be used as a tool to enhance his development. With his father’s support Henok developed a focus, “My father assured me that I did not need to go to the top clubs in Stockholm to develop. The most important thing was that I got to play and improve. I didn’t think about winning games, just playing good football”.

Henoks father is an ex basketball pro from Eritrea. He represented his country on numerous occasions. He knew what hard training was and was aware of the hard training that would be awaiting Henok later in his teenage years. He kept Henok focused on the process. Learn to play the game. “Our culture was more honest with regard to criticism. That is why I was open to it. The Swedish culture was more -well done for taking part”.

Henok took the discipline that family life gave him in to soccer. He was never late for training or games. Soccer was always the most fun. Nearly all my friends played in my team and the same friends played on the street.  “The focus was not to be professional footballer but to have fun”. The simple joy of playing on the streets is about the process not the outcome. “I carried this philosophy with me in to the competitive games I played with my team”.

It was when he was 16 that Henok decided to focus solely on football. He joined Stockholm Division 1 club Essinge. Encouraged by the support of his father and the coaches at his youth football club Henok made the move to senior football. He needed a new and bigger challenge. Youth football was not giving him what he wanted anymore. “They thought I was good they believed in me. Someone believing in you at what can prove to be a vulnerable age is a big thing”.

He was now training and playing organised football 6 times a week. The first year with his new club was very hard. He was only selected to play in two games. Henok missed playing with his friends but he was determined. Sacrifices were made. The temptations and distractions of teenage life were kept to a minimum. The social bonds he formed through football with his childhood friends remained intact despite the fact that he operated on a different schedule to them. As the training volumes increased Henok’s spare time was taken up with schoolwork, resting and preparing for the next game or training session. It is quite clear from speaking with Henok that the foundation for this ownership of his development was discovered during childhood where he fell in love with the game through play. Here he developed the intrinsic motivation required to take the whole process to its potential.

 “I had an inner drive, the result of everything that had gone before.” 

Henok feels that if he was a 10 year old in 2014 he would have found it harder to develop as a footballer. “Other things may have taken up our attention”. The use of “our” here is very interesting. It is very “street”. He is acknowledging the importance and influence of social factors, his peers, friends who he spent nearly every single day with. Talent does not develop in a social vacuum. Today maybe the obvious distractions could have divided the opinion as to what Henok and his friends would like to do with their spare time. X box or the local cage for a game of street football?

“We didn’t have mobile phones or computers. We went down to the local pitch and hoped that someone was there. It wasn’t important who. If the local pitch was being used, we would find a solution. We played on every surface, asphalt, sand. It wasn’t even important where we played just once we played”. The football of Henok’s youth was for those who can and those who want to. It was less adult-centric. Today, various socio-economic factors, pressure to focus on one sport and a counter-productive culture that drives the specialisation age down is narrowing opportunities for those who want to. Those who can perform early in development get to play the organised game.

“If I had a youth football club, I would actively seek out other sports in the area. I would visit those clubs with a view to starting a co-operation. Today you must nearly force children to try another sport. Maybe they will love it. How can they know what is good or what they are good at if the world is not presented to them?”

So what was the glue that stuck the young Henok to his personal development process?

Luck, coincidence, opportunity you can call it what you want but no two elite player development paths are the same. There is no magic talent model or formula. It is nature and nurture in an unpredictable, extremely complex and sensitive process. The early narrative demonstrates a world revealed to us through the single aperture of play- “to experiment with different movements and tactics and the opportunity to learn to innovate, improvise and respond strategically”. (Côté, Baker & Abernethy, 2007)

Henok and his friends sought out fun in the street games they played. From a young age he got to play and experience many different sports. The development of movement, tactical, technical and cognitive skills was all about opportunity. Perhaps it could be argued that it was also about the opportunities that Tensta didn’t offer. There was less distractions and to prevent boredom from setting in you had to be creative. Henok’s expectations were intrinsically motivated enabling the smooth transition from the playful environment of the streets to a more organised coach led environment.

He had a strict and supportive father who always tried to appeal to his son’s intelligence. He was a man with a good understanding in how to deliver analysis, criticism and praise while instilling a belief that the focus should be on the process.

“This worked because my father was always with me”.

Henok always believed in the process. That process was development and learning, a synchronisation of biological, psychological and social factors in the context of sport. It needed time, it needed encouragement, it needed respect, it needed support and it needed space.

In that space between dreams and reality Henok Goitom developed to become a professional footballer.

Deliberate Design and Tactical Creativity for a Deliberate Learning Intent

The player is one part of a dynamic system. The system is compromised of the game/training environment, the task, constraints and the interactions of players in attack, defense and transition. The player acts in context. This dynamic context creates information that needs to be perceived. Therefore, it is important to train the perceptual and action systems of young players together. What information sources are designed in to practice is of the utmost importance.

We want to help learners to develop understanding IN the game as opposed to just an understanding OF the game.

Training sessions should be deliberately designed for young learners to learn how to play with purpose. In other words, to play with a deliberate “learning” intent. The training design is deliberately flexible, allows for the manipulation of task constraints and affords various actions for the young player. Skill emerges as a solution to the problem in that moment.

We need to design training sessions that allow for a variation of solutions to emerge as opposed to the same solution being repeated time and time again. It is vital that the training environment reflects the performance environment

Design a task that simulates an aspect of the performance environment

defending game 1

Prevent your opponent from scoring using defensive football actions (individually and collectively)

A goal is scored by dribbling the ball through the coned goals

Goal in red goals = 1 point

Goal in Yellow goal = 2 points

The game starts in this case with Red playing the ball to Blue (Note Red have width and Blue are compact). The red team then move up-field in an effort to win the ball.

How does the Blue team behave when they receive the ball?

How does the Red team behave when the Blue team receives the ball?

I designed this training for a group of 13 year olds I worked with recently

I let the young players play the game for about 10 mins and then called them all in for a quick discussion and to show them two photos that I took with my mobile phone.

image (5)This photo was taken at the start of the session. The blue team have received the ball and the red (orange J) team have collectively moved up field to try and win the ball.


image (6)The blue team found it easy to identify a gap to pass the ball through to a player making a run in depth behind the defensive line.

I felt that while at times some players may have been correct with their individual actions they rarely acted collectively to solve the problem. I asked the players to quickly analyse the photos and to come up with some suggestions as to how they can use collective and individual football actions to prevent their opponent from scoring. We first placed a particular focus on the actions of the team as they moved up-field to try and gain possession of the ball.

Player and coach reflections from two quick group discussions  and individual feedback during the session

  • Neither team has control of the ball as it is kicked up-field
  • The need to collectively press up-field without leaving large gaps between players
  • When the opponent receives the ball and we have collectively moved up-field ensure that there is defensive balance, stability and we are also prepared to deny space behind us. (Do we hold and organise or do we immediately press?)
  • The defender nearest to the player in possession presses. What information does this player communicate to his teammates with the decision how the pressing action is carried out? How do the other defenders react to this to maintain the defensive balance?

The movements of team mates and opponents provides information that drives our own movements. For instance, players can communicate and share information with each other verbally or non-verbally. Isolated drills can lack the inter-individual communication of essential information This session also uses the principles of co-adaptability at the scale of performance and learning. What defenders do impacts on what the attackers do and what the attackers do shapes what the defenders do. The coach can try and “nudge” the young players in to constantly trying to adapt new ways to counteract new strategies that opponents are introducing in to the game.

“Football actions” are underpinned by

  • Communication
  • Decision
  • Execution of Decision

Football is a game of constant decision making based on communication/information. Every “football action” involves a decision.

A recent blog  (see here) hosted on the inspiring Player Development Project homepage, the excellent Todd Beane coincidentally refers to a similar idea that I have been using while giving coach education courses here in Sweden. When the topic of skill acquisition and training environment is been discussed I write the “football action” points below on a whiteboard and I ask the coaches which one of these do players use the most during a game.

  • Pass
  • Dribble
  • Decision
  • Shoot
  • Tackle

The unanimous verdict is “Decision”. We are also in general agreement that players are constantly making decisions during a game (both on and off the ball). So why remove it from training? This is also echoed in the ideas of innovative Swedish goalkeeper coach Maths Elfvendal who promotes a more integrated approach to goalkeeper training.

Football is a game of constant decision making based on communication/information. Every training session should have as many aspects of football as possible. The aspects used should interact and should also influence each other.

There’s only one moment in which you can arrive in time. If you are not there, you are either too early or too late (Johan Cruyff)

Resources and inspiration

Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition (Jia Yi ChowKeith DavidsChris ButtonIan Renshaw; Routledge December 9, 2015)

Periodization, planning, prediction: And why the future ain’t what it used to be! (John Kiely)

Richard Shuttleworth: Decision Making in Team Sport (Sports Coach Vol 30, No 2, Pages 25-27; 2015)

Teaching tactical creativity in sport research and practice (Daniel Memmert; Routledge April 2015)

Daniel Memmert: Interview Footblogball (footblogball.wordpress.com) July 2015 (https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/teaching-tactical-creativity-dr-daniel-memmert/)

Shane Pill https://twitter.com/pilly66 http://learningthroughsport.blogspot.se/


A quiet revolution – Swedish youth football and the idea of avoiding exclusion


The developmental environment of youth sport is ever changing. Our coaching methods, our curriculum and learning environment (The Learning Space) need to not only be adapted for the development of the individual over time but in some way must respond to the ever accelerating changes in our world, social structures and immediate environment. Many models are developed on the assumption that they can predict and control future out-comes when clearly it is not possible to do this just by knowing the existing conditions. Early “ability” that is identified as talent and used as an indicator of future ability and performance is a common example of this erroneous assumption.

A quiet revolution is taking place in Sweden. The Swedish FA has reformed child and youth coach education. They have translated both national and international evidence based findings into guidelines for coaches and coach educators. The emphasis is on the young person, their perspective, their learning, development and needs.  A common problem when presenting evidence based material is that the academic language is not appropriate for the dissemination of information. The language used in the new coach education curriculum ensures that the content is accessible for coaches, parents and coach educators.

“Children and young people who devote themselves heart and soul to football deserves responsible and knowledgeable leaders- We have high goals. A children’s rights perspective and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are the basis for the wording in our curriculum” Urban Hammar (Swedish FA Head of Coach Education)

With the aim of keeping as many as possible as long as possible viable and playing football the municipality’s Skåne and Halland have decided to abolish their district teams. Traditionally seen as a shop window for scouts and National youth team selection the “District elite” selection process, training camps and national competitions are beginning to be viewed more as an optical illusion. It seems that the decision taken by the districts of Skåne and Halland is based simply on the idea of avoiding exclusion. Is this a reaction to a system and structure that is been understood as counterproductive and in conflict with development (biopsychosocial) and the young player’s natural learning process?

The idea of avoiding exclusion

“We took this decision for the sake of the children, it was a very easy decision. Our mission is not to exclude children and young people. We have a wide mandate and that is to protect football in Halland” says Johan Johqvist, Chairman of Halland District Football Association. Daniel Oredsson (Zone leader Hässleholm, Skåne) simply said that “our decision is based on the idea of avoiding exclusion.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) in an effort to advance a more unified and evidence informed approach to youth athlete development organised a consensus meeting of experts in the field in November 2014.They critically evaluated the current state of science and practice of youth athlete development. In a research paper published May 2015 the IOC presented recommendations for an approach that is sensitive to the conditions required to aid the evolution and emergence of healthy, resilient and capable youth athletes/people, while providing opportunities for all levels of sport participation and success. This statement is analysed is a precious blog “Investigating the Complexity of Youth Athlete Development and the IOC consensus Statement”

The International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement on Youth Athletic Development (2015) stated something that is very relevant to this discussion. Youth athlete development is contingent on an individually unique and constantly changing base of normal physical growth, biological maturation and behavioural development, and therefore it must be considered individually.

Traditionally the most common models used in talent identification  is the Standard Model of Talent Development (SMTD). In the research paper The Standard Model of Talent Development and Its Discontents (Bailey, R.P; & Collins, D.) It is suggested that  “the apparent success of this pyramid structure is ultimately an optical illusion as there is no way of knowing who might have succeeded through different systems, and who were de-selected from the system but might have (under different circumstances) gone on to achieve high performance”.

Development is nonlinear, learning is nonlinear. Therefore, talent is nonlinear.


Many pyramid structures (SMTD) based on early talent identification discriminate against those born later in the sporting calendar year. This phenomenon is often referred to as the Relative Age Effect (RAE) and is one that often creates a false picture of early performance.

Relative age effect (RAE): A bias that seems to favour a higher participation rate amongst those that are born early in the selection period.

The decision taken by the districts of Skåne and Halland is about removing a system of selection and exclusion where statistics show that children born early in the year often have an advantage. The selection process is done at the cost of the wider group where focus is placed on those who have been identified as talented.  Sport Scientist Ross Tucker refers to in his excellent presentation on Talent Identification. We base our selection on the illusion of often seeing ability as a function of maturity. The result is that the majority of resources are provided to “better” performers who happen to be relatively older.

I would advise anyone involved in youth sport to watch Ross Tucker’s (twitter) presentations on Talent Identification, training, early specialisation. Start here

http://sportsscientists.com/2016/01/talent-id-video-series-1-fundamental-concept-and-definition/ and work your way through these excellent 6 episodes.


Hancock, Adler, & Cote in a study from 2013 suggested that RAE is more than just a physical advantage. The research suggested that there are also some powerful social influences at play.

Parents (Matthew effect) – The rich get richer. Those who are perceived to have ability are given preferential treatment and extra support. This in turn increases that ability which leads to more support.

Coach (Pygmalion effect) – The higher the expectation placed on people the better is their performance. Those who are perceived to have ability are given more attention. Others feel neglected.

Athletes (Galatea effect) – A player may see that she is able to perform better than her peers. This performance can be due to due to early maturation A player’s opinion about her ability and his self-expectations about her performance largely determine the performance.

Johan Johqvist Cairman of Halland football association says that we do not want a system that supports the exclusion of children. “I am convinced that under the present system we are losing young people that can become elite players. Having district teams is going against much what the research is suggesting”.

However, the next step is crucial. How will the available resources be used? With the aim of as many as possible participating as long as possible a more flexible framework will be needed. As a person moves from infant to adolescence and in to adulthood various transformations take place. Traits slowly appear and differentiate over time. Individual needs change at different stages of development. The importance of constraints such as motivation, strength, speed, peers and family vary, fade and emerge over time. Understanding this is critical.  In the blog post “Participation in sport is a human activity with all its baggageParticipation in sport is a human activity with all its baggage” there are suggestions for a flexible framework where our training and planning is designed around emerging information, whilst being underpinned by sound developmental principles. One that puts a focus on the learner and the learning process.

For me this quiet revolution that is happening in Swedish Football is challenging a narrow way of thinking. Level one of the Swedish Football Associations coach education curriculum, the one that most parent coaches will attend sets the agenda for the future by encouraging the development of a more “informed opinion” around the subject of the child in sport. I believe that the development of a more informed opinion is key in closing the gap in what has become a polarised debate. With more informed opinions come bigger questions. Hopefully this will lead to more informed decisions that help us navigate the complexity of working with children in sport. As Swedish FA head of coach education Urban Hammar says “We have high goals”. This of course sets even greater demands on coach educators.

Youth participation in sport is a human activity with all its baggage. Today within youth sports programs we have many people who talk the talk but they don’t apply it. For to wave the flag with the slogan “As many as possible as long as possible” like many clubs do, then their model and its contents need to promote a more inclusive sporting structure.  At the heart of this structure there must be a commitment to learning, a commitment to creating high quality learning environments.

“We need a flexible framework where our training and planning is designed around emerging information, whilst being underpinned by sound developmental principles” (Mark O’ Sullivan & Al Smith; 2016)

References and Inspiration

Bailey, R.P: & Collins, D., The Standard Model of Talent Development and its Discontents Kinesiology Review, 2, 248-259

Côté J, Vierimaa M. The developmental model of sport participation: 15 years after its first conceptualization. Sci sports (2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scispo.2014.08.133

Early Sport Specialization: Roots, Effectiveness, Risks (Robert M. Malina Department of Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX; Department of Kinesiology, Tarleton State University, Stephenville, TX)

International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development (Michael F Bergeron, Margo Mountjoy, Neil Armstrong, Michael Chia, Jean Côté, Carolyn A Emery, Avery Faigenbaum, Gary Hall Jr, Susi Kriemler, Michel Léglise, Robert M Malina, Anne Marte Pensgaard, Alex Sanchez, Torbjørn Soligard,  Jorunn Sundgot-Borgen, Willem van Mechelen, Juanita R Weissensteiner, Lars Engebretsen; May 2015)

Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition (Jia Yi ChowKeith DavidsChris ButtonIan Renshaw; Routledge December 9, 2015)

Sports Specialization in Young Athletes: Evidence-Based Recommendations (Neeru Jayanthi, MD, Courtney Pinkham, BS, Lara Dugas, PhD, Brittany Patrick, MPH, and Cynthia LaBella, MD)

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











Participation in sport is a human activity with all its baggage

Human systems are made up of people and people make decisions for complex reasons; moreover, they learn, they interact and they live in complex environments which themselves are constantly changing (Jean Boulton, Complexity and the Social Sciences; June 2010)

Humans are not systems that behave like machines. They are dynamic, not static and not predictable in their behaviour. Humans (in this case as individual athletes and sports teams) are complex adaptive systems

“Complex from the perspective they are comprised of multiple systems that interact in non-linear and unpredictable ways. Adaptive, from the perspective that they are capable of spontaneously modifying behaviour in order to accommodate unexpected change or sudden perturbation” (John Kiely; Periodization, Planning, Prediction: And why the future ain’t what it used to be!)

Cultural beliefs and assumptions

“It’s as if, if we do not separate them out we are not able to see them “. This line from innovative coach Juanma Lillo (once mentor to Pep Guardiola) explains his thoughts on clubs, coaching and society. Traditionally, through a reductionist approach we have been spoon fed the illusion of predictability and control.

Let’s take the example of trying to perform a technique exactly the same way through repetitive drills. By narrowing and standardising everything we have been placing a focus on decontextualized technique training. Here, the learning process is emphasised by the amount of time spent rehearsing a specific technique and usually involves the use of explicit teaching methods with verbal instructions. This does not simulate the performance environment and may narrow the focus of attention for the learner. We challenge this pedagogy and promote the influence of context. Daniel Memmert’s takes this approach to task in his excellent book “Teaching Tactical Creativity”. Coaches should avoid obsessing over correction of technique at a young age as this is likely to induce a more internal focus.

“We know from studies that technical training is not as effective as combined technical-perception training. It is important that children experience in which situations or constraints they have to evaluate which technique they use. Only then they will be able to apply those techniques in real complex game forms or the real match” Daniel Memmert, (Footblogball interview; July 2015)

Reflecting on a previous blog, Maths Elfvendal and I challenged the traditional approach to goalkeeper coaching. The role of the goalkeeper is broken up in to its structural components and it is proposed that the goalkeeper needs to work in isolation. We suggest the need for a better understanding of the goalkeeper’s functional role in the modern game. This will help coaches in designing a more integrated goalkeeper training, therefore meeting the needs and the demands of the role of a modern goalkeeper. We need to design training sessions that allow for a variation of solutions to emerge as opposed to the same solution being repeated time and time again.

“It is not about maintaining a specific set of wiring connections it is about trying to maintain the capacity to perform a specific function – Learning organises the perception- action system with respect to what happened” (http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.se/2011/08/theres-more-than-one-way-to.html)

From my experience as a coach educator I see that many blame the failure of the performance of a technique on the fact that the young learners whom they assume will react in the same way did not behave like they should. The reductionist approach seems to be focussed on teachers and coaches as they attempt to organise, control and manage the complexity of working with young children in sport.  However, it does not work as well for the learner as learning is highly individualised.

In the excellent book Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition the individualised differences in learning are discussed. Some constraints that can have a profound influence on the young learner are suggested.

  1. Physiology 2. Morphology 3. Aptitudes 4. Needs 5. Personality 6. Attitudes

These constraints change over time due to developmental differences. These variables have an impact on each individuals training (and learning) response.

“… the potential to shift the dominant paradigm from that of the still-dominant mechanical world view towards a view of the world as interconnected: where variation cannot be ignored, where new eras and behaviours can emerge, where change is not predictable and understandable in simple single-dimension relationships”. (Jean Boulton, Complexity and the Social Sciences; June 2010)

A flexible framework where our training and planning is designed around emerging information. One that puts a focus on the learner and the learning process.

CLA BLOGThe Constraints Led Approach

A Constraints – Led approach, I find is a useful framework to help us integrate vast amounts of complex and emerging information to give us an understanding of skill learning during practice and play. Constraints whilst not always negative or limiting are boundaries that channel the learner to explore and search for functional movement solutions. Constraints are factors that can influence learning and performance at any moment in time

Individual Constraints:

Physical aspects: Height, weight, limb length, genetic make- up, strength, speed,

Functional aspects: Motivation, emotions, fatigue, anxiety

It is important that the coach can identify rate limiters (lack of strength, flexibility).

Environmental constraints:

Physical environment: Light, wind, surface, temperature

Socio-cultural: Family, support networks, peers, societal expectations, values and cultural norms.

Task Constraints:

Rules, equipment, playing area, number of players involved, teammates. Opponents, information sources

Coaches have more control over the manipulation of task constraints than individual and environmental constraints. Representative Learning Design (discussed in a previous blog) and manipulation of task constraints are cornerstones of nonlinear pedagogy.

The constraints that need to be satisfied by each learner will change according to the needs of different individuals at different stages of development. Constraints decay and emerge over time meaning that their importance can vary.

“We need a flexible framework where our training and planning is designed around emerging information, whilst being underpinned by sound developmental principles” (Mark O’ Sullivan & Al Smith; 2016)

 References and inspiration

Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition (Jia Yi ChowKeith DavidsChris ButtonIan Renshaw; Routledge December 9, 2015)

Periodization paradigms in the 21st century: Evidence-led or tradition-driven? (John Kiely; International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance 2012, 7, 242 – 250

Periodization, planning, prediction: And why the future ain’t what it used to be! (John Kiely)

Richard Shuttleworth: Decision Making in Team Sport (Sports Coach Vol 30, No 2, Pages 25-27; 2015)

Teaching tactical creativity in sport research and practice (Daniel Memmert; Routledge April 2015)

The Brain in Spain (Sid Lowe, Blizzard issue 1, 55-64, 2011)

The Newtonian Paradigm (Jean Boulton, May 2001)

Complexity and the Social Sciences (Jean Boulton; June 2010)

Daniel Memmert: Interview Footblogball (footblogball.wordpress.com) July 2015 (https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/teaching-tactical-creativity-dr-daniel-memmert/)

Notes from Two Scientific Psychologists http://psychsciencenotes.blogspot.se/2011/08/theres-more-than-one-way-to.html

Endless twitter conversations!