Erling Haaland – As Many as Possible, as Long as Possible, as Good as Possible

As reported in the national Norwegian newspaper VG, Marius Johnsen, a former professional footballer,  carried out research into Erling  Haaland’s journey towards professional football. The results are quite revealing and challenge many culturally pervasive structural and pedagogical assumptions, providing an argument for a re-conceptualisation of player development in youth football.

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For me, this once again highlights the need for an open conversation on evolving a purposeful and supporting culture for young players, parents, coaches, leaders and community in child youth sports. Why are we creating generic linear  models in the hope of finding unique people?

Maruis Johnsen’s thesis can be read here (only in Norwegian) https://uia.brage.unit.no/uia-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2620251/Johnsen%2C%20Marius.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Here are the main points from the thesis as reported in VG

  • Played until he was 16 for his mother club Bryne
  • He was born 2000 but played with the team born 1999
  • His training group consisted of 40 players (39 boys and 1 girl)
  • At 9 they had one training session a week
  • Facilities (indoor and outdoor) were kept open for spontaneous football and many of the kids took the opportunity to play as much football as possible.
  • Not one player dropped out before 16 years
  • Football was understood as a social environment for learning in development and keeping the social group together was a priority
  • At 15 the players were given the choice to decide if they wanted to train 4 times a week (specialized team) or 2 times a week (recreation team). The kids themselves made the choice.
  • 5 national team players and in total 10 professional players emerged from this group
  • Many including high profile youth coaches who assumed that the best must play with the best otherwise they will not develop, questioned Alf- Ingve Bersten’s approach to coaching . Bernsten says “it would be fun to go back and speak to them now”.
  • Bersten believes that what was most important was to include all players and avoid giving in to these culturally pervasive beliefs that have remained unchallenged and unchanged. He admitted that he could not see who will be the best
  • “If you have 40 players and select the best 14 as the 1stteam, 13 as the 2ndteam and 13 as the 3rdteam, then the 1stteam gets the good coaches. Before summer the 3rdteam collapses and then the same thing happens with the second team. Then you are left with 14 of 40 players and of those maybe 5 or 6 will lose interest. Suddenly you have too few players when you are going up to junior football (11 a side). This happens so often”.
  • Bergsten has nothing against top academies, but I doubt the effect of them. Martin Odegaard does not come from an academy. Then you have Erling Halland who played with a girl and 38 boys.

 

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Something to reflect on

There is a fundamental flaw in any system that excludes individuals based on rates of development and does not take into account the complexity and non-linearity of human development & excludes individuals based on rates of development.

Despite the fact that we have been educating coaches, parents, clubs and federations for decades it is hard to imagine any changes (structurally & pedagogically) taking place as long as the structural conditions remain unchanged & unchallenged.  This includes coach education.

Many clubs and even NGB’s are still anchored in a traditional view of sport and competition limiting their ability to think critically and differently, break routines and try new ways  (Håkan Larsson , 2013 )

Skills have history (Baily & Pickford, 2010). Movement solutions in young players cannot be separated from each individuals’ unique bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities their environment offered to them up to that point

 

RIP Andrew Weatherall

Part 2: Considering the Individual -Environment Fit at the Core of Physical Literacy. 

In part 2 of this blog, I will introduce a conceptual realignment of physical literacy that is different from the ‘business-as-usual’ concepts (see part 1), that seemingly underpin the construct in both policy and practice and even as a finally packaged product.

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“Skillful interactions” refers to how a mover 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. Thus, following from Newell (1986), skillful 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 – Phil Kierney (Footblogball,May 2018).

Such an emphasis shifts the narrative away from fundamental to functional, towards developing an adaptive ‘interactor’; considering the individual-environment fit.

 

Introduction

Current literature contains different representations of the concept of physical literacy (Edwards et al., 2016). Due to lacking a clear theoretical foundation, it can be argued that the construct has progressively evolved into something it originally was not (Young, O’Connor and Alfrey, 2019).This adaption of numerous definitions and interpretations across different countries, disciplines and organisation (Shearer et al., 2018), has arguably led to a lack of consensus as to how to employ it in practice (Hyndman & Pill, 2018; Jurbala, 2015).

This vagueness associated with the construct reveals aneed for a comprehensive theoretical rationale to underpin how to apply the concepts and ideas from physical literacy research. One such framework that can support the physical literacy journey is the theoretical framework of ecological dynamics. It has been previously argued by Roberts, Newcombe and Davids (2018) that ecological dynamics can inform how we can evolve the concept of physical literacy, both in policy and physical education curriculum, away from the dominant traditional approaches. I argue, from this perspective, the concept of physical literacy can be enriched and extended within and beyond organised sports and physical education, through the reconceptualisation of the nature of an individual’s relationship with the specific environments they interact with over a lifespan. The establishment of an individual -environment fit across varied movement contexts over a lifespan, should therefore be a central tenet of the concept of physical literacy.

 

An Ecological Approach to the Concept of Physical Literacy

It has been proposed (Allan, Turnnidge and Côté, 2017) that through supporting optimal interaction of the dynamic elements (i.e., activities, relationships, and settings), the long-term outcomes of positive youth development (i.e., performance, participation, and personal development) are likely to be achieved. In other words, through development, a child’s varied movement contexts provide different opportunities or affordances for (inter)action that are fundamental to promoting motor competence (Flores et al., 2019). These contexts invite, permit or inhibit (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1993). This of course extends in to adult life and is relevant throughout a lifespan. The manifestations of the process and the outcomes (i.e., what is performance for an adult?) need to be tailored to the individual’s stage of development.

So, if the concept of physical literacy is to be woven into health education, sport and recreation, in both policy and practice, then it needs to take in to account that individual differences, movement preferences and nonlinear rates of development are as much a function of social milieu in which they have developed as their physiology, anatomy or psychology (Uehara, Button, Falcous, Davids,2014). With this in mind, we can view physical literacy, like motor skill acquisition, as a dynamic process and also a developmental process (Clarke, 1995), that should be viewed as a lifelong process (Allan., Turnnidge, & Côté, 2017).

From an ecological dynamics perspective this implies that physical literacy can be understood not as an entity, but reflected in the individual- environment system subject to changing constraints, emerging as an adaptive functional relationship between the individual and his/her environment (Araújo & Davids, 2011). This calls for a shift in perspectives, from ‘fundamental’ to ‘functional’, from the reductionist interpretation of physical literacy discussed previously (see blog part 1), to one which facilitates the emergence of greater functional relationships between the learner/individual and the environment over a lifespan (Renshaw & Chow, 2018).

 

Ecological Dynamics as a Viable Theoretical Framework

The term ‘ecological dynamics’ captures an approach to studying human behaviour allying concepts from dynamical systems theory and ecological psychology. Dynamical systems theory offers a conceptual framework to understand the emergence of coordination tendencies within complex adaptive systems i.e., the interactions between the nervous system, body, and surrounding environment (Kelso, 1995; Seifert & Davids, 2017). Through combining it with a compatible theory of behaviour such as ecological psychology, the integrated frameowork of “ecological dynamics” was formed.

The theoretical framework of ecological dynamics helps us to understand emerging behaviour at the ecological scale of analysis (Araújo, Davids, & Hristovski, 2006), highlighting the reciprocal relationship between the individual and the environment, as elucidated in the seminal work of ecological psychologist Gibson (1966; 1979). It was Gibson (1979, p. 223) who stated “we must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive”, implying that we can view the individual and the environment as a pair of mutually coupled dynamical systems (Warren, 2006). The environment is perceived in behavioral terms, where objects, places, surfaces, events and other people, provide different opportunities for action (i.e. affordances), depending on action capabilities (Gibson, 1979). Affordances are understood as properties of the individual-environment system, scaled to each individual’s action capabilities (e.g., speed, strength), body dimensions (Davids et al., 2013),and are perceived by the individual as they learn to establish an individual-environment fit. This highlights the idea that humans perceive the environment in relation to its functionality, its meaningfulness detected in affordances, providing insights in to what they learn and know and how they decide to act (Araújo et al., 2006).

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Individual-Environment Fit

The establishment of an individual-environment fit across varied movement contexts over a lifespan should be a central tenet of the concept of physical literacy. Therefore, capturing the construct not as an as end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual.From this perspective, learning a skill can be understood as the emergence of an adaptive, functional relationship between an individual and its environment (Renshaw & Chow, 2019), satisfying a unique set of interacting constraints impacting upon a system (Davids, Araujo, Vilar, Renshaw, Pinder, 2013) over a lifespan.

Constraints shape coordinative patterns within human movement acting as boundaries or limits (Clark, 1995) within which movement systems emerge (Kugler, 1986). Constraints were first categorised by Newell (1986) as individual (e.g., height, weight, speed, motivation, emotions), task (e.g., specific to the activity to be performed, goal of task) and environmental (e.g., light, facilities, social values and societal/cultural expectations). These three constraints don’t operate in isolation, they interact over varying and different timescales. Movement coordination from an ecological dynamics perspective, emerges as an emergent property from interacting individual, task and environment constraints (Seifert, Button, and Davids 2013). This implies that constraints can be manipulated and exploited to provide opportunities for actions (affordances) for behaviour to emerge.

The theoretical framework of ecological dynamics can help inform the concept of physical literacy by elucidating the individual -environment fit. This ‘fit’ is influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual, across varied movement contexts over a lifespan

 

Physical Literacy as an Individual-Environment Fit

From an ecological dynamics perspective the concept of physical literacy can be defined not in terms of the person or the environment, but rather as their degree of “fit”or “misfit”. The level of analysis is the reciprocal interactions between characteristics of the individual and the environment. This perspective avoids problems with definition of physical literacy as a characteristic of the individual (an organismic asymmetry, see Dunwoody, 2006; Davids and Araujo 2010), or as a characteristic of the environment. So, physical literacy can be understood as the degree to which individual and environmental characteristics match in varying contexts over a lifespan.

 

Both distal and proximal influences impinge on the individual-environment fit. Distal determinants (e.g. national, institutional, political, socio-cultural and socio-economical) are more stable (Flay & Petraitis, 1994), and can play an indirect influence on proximal factors (playgrounds, sports clubs, amenities, open spaces). The individual-environment fit, for better or for worse, will be reflected in the proximal environment, because of its immediacy and emotional salience to human beings (Bradley & Corwyn, 2004). With maturity the nature, type and complexity of these immediate settings change, as certain environmental affordances for movement become more inviting than others. New physical, social and cultural characteristics invite, permit or inhibit reciprocal interactions (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1993) that establish the individual-environment fit. So, while it can be understood that affordances vary with learning and development (Gibson & Pick, 2000), they are just as deeply social as they are related to abilities(Rietveld & Kiverstein 2014; Van Dijk & Rietveld, 2017). For example, in a recent blog, Justin O’Connor (January, 2020) reflected over his thesis on Fundamental Movement Skills. He argued that socio-cultural constraints might limit the opportunities for (inter)action invited to females to access contexts where they could practice the skill of the overarm throw. The simplistic idea of that if we teach the fundamental motor skill (this will develop perceived competence – this will lead to seeking out throwing games – this will lead to playing sports involving throwing), doesn’t address the socio-cultural/environmental barriers

An understanding of the individual-environment fit (or misfit) across varied movement contexts over a lifespan should, therefore, be a central tenet of the concept of physical literacy.

 

Physical Literacy as a Constant Changing State

Two crucial components to consider in motor behaviour and development are the body and the environment. An ecological dynamics perspective as elucidated byAraújo, Davids & Renshaw (2020) involves understanding the whole body (embodied) in close relationship with opportunities for action or affordances offered by the environment (embedded). The current status of the body and the environment affects biomechanical constraints on task performance. Adolph and colleagues (2018), suggested that when infants are learning to walk, their behaviour is shaped from moment to moment by the immediate context i.e., changes in their bodies and in their physical and social environments. This extends in to adult life and is relevant throughout a lifespan, as bodies and environments, their nature, type and complexity are continually changing. This also highlights the socio-cultural constraints that surround individuals, where experiences and attributes on a daily basis are shaped as much by the social milieu as they are by each individual’s physiology, anatomy or psychology (Uehara, et al., 2014). Physical literacy, can therefore be seen as an emergent property from interacting individual, task and environment constraints (Seifert, Button, and Davids 2013), thus accounting for changes in the individual-environment fit over a lifespan. These constraints limit or set boundaries for the system. A change in one, may result in the change in the emergent movement (Clarke, 1995), resulting in changes in the way an individual interacts with the environment. This perspective allows us to conceptualise physical literacy as a construct that changes over a lifespan. It is this window that,according to Clarke (1995), ultimately provides the view, rather than one window of opportunity.

 

Physical Literacy as a Construct that Changes over a Lifespan

The human body can move in many different ways, while at the same time its movement is constrained by its structural organisation. Body structure can enhance (due to growth in size) or limit (due to aging, injury) movement capabilities. From a dynamic systems perspective this acknowledges that different systems might act as rate limiters for different skills (Thelin, 1998), over different time scales, throughout an individual’s lifespan.

 

Environmental features offer different affordances for individuals as they are assessed in relation tous, not according to an objective standard(Konczak, 1990). Our perception of affordances an environment provides (object, surface, place or event) changes as our capability for action changes, in other words, affordances change as individuals change and therefore the nature of our physical literacy changes. This implies that environmental features are framed in terms of body scaling and action capabilities over an individual’s lifespan. For example, a child might not be ableto climb a structure due to short arms and legs. Leg and arm length would be a rate limiter. Until the child reaches a critical level of leg and arm length, the affordance of “climbability” is not perceived. The nature, type and complexity of the settings change as certain environmental affordances for movement (climbing) become more inviting than others. Perception of affordances changes as capability for action changes.

 

One of the key features of practice task design in sport from an ecological dynamics perspective, is to design ‘in’ affordances (Chow et al, 2016) that can enhance the opportunity for individuals to develop stable functional perception-action couplings to support performance. These key concepts can extend beyond organised sports and physical education. For example, in urban planning and recreation, through the designing ‘in’ of rich opportunities or affordances for action, we can support diverse and meaningful movement-based experiences, across varied movement contexts, throughout life. Recently, the UN World Population Prospects report (2019) revealed that the global population of older people is growing at an unprecedented rate. Evidence points to a positive correlation between older adults’ physical activity and well-being (Nimrod 2011). Therefore, cities in particular must adjust (manipulation of environmental constraints) if older people are to maintain quality of life. In a Guardian interview (2016), Stefano Recalcati, project leader behind the report ‘Shaping Ageing Cities’ (2015), based on 10 European case studies, explains that cities must adjust if older people are to maintain quality of life: “It’s important to be conscious of the ageing trend. It is a huge challenge for world cities – they will need to change, to make sure older people continue to play an active role in the community and don’t become isolated. Isolation has a negative impact on health so tackling that is really important.”From an ecological dynamics perspective this is about addressing accessibility. Exploiting the ‘invitational’ nature of environmental affordances through deliberate design, has the potential to offer different opportunities for action to increase (or maintain) healthy behavior over a lifespan (Withagen & Caljouw, 2016). How can we design ‘in’ affordances into landscapes that can enhance the opportunity for an aging population to evolve their ‘own’ physical literacy through establishing an individual-environment fit across varied movement contexts to support their active role in the community and maintain quality of life?

 

Addressing accessibility is an issue for people of all ages. For instance, the ubiquitous “No Ball Playing” signs in modern urban settings give a clear signal to children and are certainly not invitations. We can even consider modern town/city planning projects. Anna Lind (2019), the Swedish Minister for Sports, took this to task from a child’s rights perspective in Swedish national newspaper Dagens Nyheter. She asked, when new homes are built, how often is the child’s opportunity to interact with the immediate environment (e.g. recreation areas) considered and designed ‘in’ to the planning?

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Summary

The vagueness associated with the construct of physical literacy as revealed in the literature (Bailey, Glibo & Koenen, 2019) elucidates aclear need for a comprehensive theoretical rationale to underpin how to apply the concepts and ideas from physical literacy research. I have argued, from an ecological dynamics perspective, the concept of physical literacy can be enriched and extended both in and  beyond organised sports and physical education, through thereconceptualisationof the nature of an individual’s relationship with the specific environmental settings they interact with over a lifespan. This relationship can be understood through the assessment of available affordances for motor skills in those certain settings (Flôres et al., 2019), underpinned by how these contexts invite, permit or inhibit (Bronfenbrenner, Ceci, 1993) an individual-environment fit. Physical literacy can therefore be understood at the level of the individual-environment system, where the dynamic and reciprocal relationships between an individual and their environment can be analysed (Seifert, Orth, Button, Brymer, & Davids, 2017).

The theoretical framework of ecological dynamics can enrich the concept of physical literacy by helping us to analyse the emerging behaviours of humans in ever-changing environments, influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints, throughout a lifespan. The establishment of an individual -environment fit across varied movement contexts over a lifespan, should therefore be a central tenet of the concept of physical literacy.

References

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Allan, V., Turnnidge, J., & Côté, J. (2017). Evaluating Approaches to Physical Literacy Through the Lens ofPositive Youth Development. Quest, 69(4), 515–530. doi: 10.1080/00336297.2017.1320294

 

Araujo, D. & Davids, K., (2011). What Exactly is Acquired During Skill Acquisition?. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 18. 7-23.

 

Araújo, D., Davids, K., & Hristovski, R. (2006). The ecological dynamics of decision making in sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 7(6), 653-676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.07.002
Bailey, R., Glibo, I, & Koenen, K. (2019). Some Questions about physical literacy. International Journal of Physical Education, 56(4), 2–6.

 

Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2004). Life satisfaction among European American, African American, Chinese American, Mexican American, and Dominican American adolescents. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 28(5), 385–400.

 

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Ceci, S. J. (1993). Heredity, environment, and the question ‘‘How?’’: A first approximation. In R. Plomin & G. E. McClearn (Eds.), Nature, nurture & psychology (pp. 313–324). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

 

Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., Button, C., & Renshaw, I. (2016). Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition: an introduction. London ; New York: Routledge.

 

Clark, A. (2001). Being there: putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge, MA:MIT Press.

 

 

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Edwards, L. C., Bryant, A. S., Keegan, R. J., Morgan, K., & Jones, A. M. (2016). Definitions, Foundations and Associations of Physical Literacy: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine, 47(1), 113–126. doi: 10.1007/s40279-016-0560-7

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Newell, K.M. Constraints on the Development of Coordination. In Motor Development in Children: Aspects of Coordination and Control; Springer Science and Business Media LLC: Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1986; pp. 341–360.

 

Nimrod, G. 2011. “The Impact of Leisure Activity and Innovation on the Well Being of the Very Old.” In Understanding Well Being in the Oldest Old, edited by L. W. Poon, and J. Cohen-Mansfield, 240–257. New York: CUP.

 

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Roberts, W. M., Newcombe, D. J., & Davids, K. (2018). Application of a Constraints-Led Approach to pedagogy in schools: embarking on a journey to nurture Physical Literacy in primary physical education. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 24(2), 162–175. doi: 10.1080/17408989.2018.1552675

 

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Shearer, C., Goss, H. R., Edwards, L. C., Keegan, R. J., Knowles, Z. R., Boddy, L. M., … Foweather, L. (2018). How is physical literacy defined? A contemporary update. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 37(3), 237–245. doi:10.1123/jtpe.2018-0136

 

 

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From Fundamental to Functional: Investigating the Concept of Physical Literacy

If we are to embrace the concept of Physical Literacy, then it should be viewed not as an end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual

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” There is a lack of any empirical evidence related to PL. And this is undermined by the fact that nobody can agree what it means. So, all of the claims should be treated as conjectural. In practice, the claims made about PL and health are based entirely on claims made about fundamental movement skills and health”. (Richard Bailey)

We can view health and wellbeing as a dynamic constant changing state that is multidimensional in nature. While research has largely supported the idea of physical activity as a means for young people to develop physically and psychosocially, we lack the direct empirical evidence connecting the concept of physical literacy with health outcomes. Therefore, the only way that physical literacy can influence health outcomes is via its impact on physical activity, where rich interactions between the individual and the environment across varied movement contexts invite different opportunities or affordances for action. So, if the concept of physical literacy is to be woven into health education, sport and recreation, in both policy and practice, then it needs to be positioned in order to take in to account various multi-level biological psychological, social, cultural, historical and environmental influences. If we are to embrace the notion of Physical Literacy, it should not be viewed as end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual

 

Introduction

Physical Literacy is not a new term, it has been referenced as early as the 1900’s and again in the 1950’s (Corbin, 2016, p.15). The term has gained increased attention within physical education, sport and public health literature, evolving to mean different things to different people in different contexts (Young, O’Connor & Alfrey, 2019). Broadly speaking ‘literacy’ means becoming educated (Richards, 2016, p.1). Lounsbery and McKenzie (2015) identified the similarity of the terms “physically literate” and “physically educated” and, from a definitional perspective, found little difference. Hardman (2011) suggested that a physically educated person is a physically literate person. Often referred to in metaphor form, likening movement fluency with language literacy (Jurbala, 2015), the term physical literacy has lacked a clear theoretical foundation, enabling various interpretations and definitions of the term. Young, O’Connor and Alfrey (2019) have suggested that over time, it is likely that physical literacyhas progressively evolved into something it originally was not. This adaption of numerous definitions and interpretations across different countries, disciplines and organisation (Shearer et al., 2018), has arguably led to a lack of consensus as to how to employ it in practice (Hyndman & Pill, 2018; Jurbala, 2015).

Despite lacking direct empirical evidence connecting it to health outcomes (Cairney et al., 2019), many involved in youth sports programming, policy making and physical education are rallying around physical literacy and promoting it globally (Young, O’Connor & Alfrey, 2019; Jurbala, 2015).

Physical education in the United Kingdom provided the platform for the emergence of the original conceptualisation of physical literacy (Whitehead, 2001). Margaret Whitehead first discussed the term in a 1993 paper (Whitehead 1993, August). More recently she has defined physical literacy as ‘the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and engage in physical activity for life’ (IPLA, 2017). As a concept it has gained traction in recent years in both academic and nonacademic domains (Allan., Turnnidge, & Côté, 2017) and has been adopted into sport systems in North America (Roetert & Jefferies, 2014). It has been highlighted as an important component of physical activity and sports programs, often underpinned by the assumption that sport represents an ideal means for positive development among youth. While research has largely supported sport as a means for young people to develop physically and psychosocially, leading to success within sport and other domains in life (Allan., Turnnidge, & Côté, 2017), it should also be understood that participation in sport does not necessarily guarantee positive outcomes (Fraser- Thomas, Côté, & Deakin, 2005).

Publications on physical literacy are often produced by government funded organisations and departments (Lynch, 2019, p.78), and in general are underpinned by the strong correlation in the research evidence between health and physical activity (Lynch, 2013). Interestingly, children in countries that promote physical literacy (USA) are according to Curran (2014) “among the unhealthiest in the world” (UNICEF, 2007), which suggests how the concept of physical literacy is implemented may be a form of reactive panic rather than proactive, strategic forward planning (Lynch, 2019, p.50).So, while the concept of physical literacy is beginning to become part and parcel of many national physical education programs, what is not so clear is how practitioners might be advised to deliver its well-meaning aims (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018).

Despite lacking empirical evidence how it can be employed to stimulate participation or be a functional basis for activity programs, interest in physical literacy among sport and physical activity practitioners and policy makers continues to rapidly grow (Jurbala, 2015). In the Netherlands physical literacy has been promoted as a stepping stone to elite performance (Way et al., 2014, p. 23), while in Canada as “the cornerstone of both participation and excellence in physical activity and sport” (Way et al., 2014, p. 23). In the UK physical literacy has been described as an aim that every child needs to achieve (Sport England, Strategy, 2016), framing physical literacy as a set of capabilities or achievements. This can be seen in the stage- based models of motor development that underpin many government sports policy programs. These policies are seemingly grounded in the hypothesis of a causal chain of increased motor skill, where early mastery of fundamental movement skills (FMS) are viewed as a prerequisite for increased activity, development of complex sport skills or improved physical fitness. However, Holfelder and Schott (2014) argued that while high levels of FMS relate to higher levels of physical activity among children, they are of low predictive value for level of activity in adults. They further suggested that there is a need to consider the multifactorial complexity of development of movement skills such as, perceived competence, socio-economic status and others (Holfelder & Schott, 2014, p. 389).

 

Physical Literacy: What’s in a Name

In a commentary on physical activity and health (2016), Thomas L. McKenzie and Monica A. F. Lounsberyreferred to a lack of consensus with regard to what constitutes physical literacy. If international physical activity/fitness experts are uncertain what physical literacy is, how can we expect policy makers, school teachers, coaches and the public to clearly define it? McKenzie and Lounsbery (2016, p. 1) asked the question “What’s in a name? Is physical literacy simply a rose by any other name?”.They argue that, as many cannot discriminate among terms such as physical activity, physical fitness, and physical education, adding yet another term (physical literacy) may only add to the confusion

 

Physical Literacy: What’s in a Metaphor

This metaphor of likening movement literacy with language literacy (Jurbala, 2015), is in itself problematic. It has promoted in the media the notion that children should be taught physical literacy in the same way that they learn to read and write (see here). Designed to appeal to educators and policy makers (Jurbala, 2015), the metaphor arguably captures the dumbing down of the concept of physical literacy, something which Almond (2013) has criticised. Like click bait to capture public attention, the metaphor also positions physical literacy as a testable and measurable phenomenon which seemingly influences how it is being carried out in practice. This highlights a tendency to over-simplify, by promoting the view of body-as-object (Lloyd, 2012) using generic assessments of physical literacy (Tremblay & Lloyd, 2010), that reflect the traditional standardised testing of reading and writing. Lundvall and Tidén (2013) identified similar conflicts with physical literacy in practice in the Swedish PE curriculum, noting the need for approaches to move away from the traditional normative assessment where students are catagorised, towards the development of embodied knowledge, where learners learn to reflect on their development and potential.

 

Different Perspectives on Physical Literacy

Definitions of physical literacy have seemingly resulted in an oversimplification of the concept (Whitehead, 2010), bringing about an unsatisfactory reductionist application of physical literacy in practical settings (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018). For example, physical education content being based primarily on the development of fundamental movement skills and little else. In the light of this, Almond (2013) called for a broader discussion to clarify what is implied by associating fundamental movement skills with physical education. However, some value has been placed on Whitehead ‘s own definition (Edwards et al. 2017),which has been refined over the years from its original definition in 2001.

As appropriate to each individual’s endowment, physical literacy can be described as a disposition to capitalize on the human embodied capability, wherein the individual has the motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to value and take responsibility for maintaining purposeful physical pursuits/activities throughout the life course. (Whitehead, 2013, p. 29)

 

According to Allan and colleagues (2017), physical literacy can be viewed from two different perspectives: (i) The holistic approach (Whitehead, 2001), and (ii) the performance- orientatedapproach, where physical literacy principles are implemented within the programming of curriculums for national sports organisations (Higgs, 2010). Whitehead’s holistic approach (2001) to physical literacy conceptualises all human conditions as an integrated whole, focusing on the embodied dimension of human existence through enriching experience (Whitehead, 2007).This promoted the notion of embodiment, emphasising the inextricable relationship between mind and body, thus rejecting the Cartesian view of mind and body as separate entities. In contrast the delivery of physical literacy within North American sport programming focused almost exclusively on the body and performance (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018). Whitehead took the stance that human potential can be achieved through rich interactions between the individual and the environmentand sport represents just one context in which embodied capacities are both challenged and celebrated (Whitehead, 2001, 2007).  So, physical literacy should be seen as a journey (Green et al. 2018) extending beyond sport and physical education, throughout an individual’s lifespan (Whitehead and Murdoch, 2006)

The performance-oriented approach that has seemingly been favoured by governing bodies, is concerned with the mastery of movement skills as building blocks for more complex skills throughreductionism and thedecontextualisation of movements from the environment (e.g., Lloyd, 2011).It has been suggested that this approach aligns closely with the concept of deliberate practice(Allan, TurnnidgeandCôté, 2017).As suggested by Roberts, Newcombe and Davids (2018), these reductionist approaches, with an over-reliance on fundamental movement skills have been a barrier to the development of a complex dynamic and embodied understanding of the individual physical literacy journey. Whitehead’s (2007) holistic approach argued for a move away from these types of curriculaand strategies, promoting diverse interactions with the environment delimited by individual constraints, cultural norms and opportunities to interact with the environment (Whitehead, 2013).

 

Health and physical activity

This strong correlation between health and physical activity in the research is influential in how policy makers construct their programs in response to various health problems. For instance, Quennerstedt, Burrows and Maivorsdotter (2010) suggested that Health Education is guided by obesity discourses, which is now recognised as a world-wide problem (Cale & Harris, 2019). Anarina Murillo and David B. Allison (2016)when contributing to a discussion on obesity asked the question: “Are there any successful policies and programs to fight overweight and obesity? (2016)”. They argued that public policies dealing with this matter despite the best of intentions, might have limited success if these programs do not take in to account the social norms, values and culture of the targeted community. This, as highlighted by Rogers and Collins (2012), signifies a need to determine which programs have proven successful and for whom. So, despite many efforts at the local, national, and international levels, there is little evidence that existing programs are both effective and sustainable.

Lynch and Soukup (2016) have previously highlighted a problem regarding physical education practice and policies. They argued that many discourses have been underpinned by the idea of the “body as an object”, an ideology that has been referred to as ‘healthism’. This has led to the perception of health problems as individual problems that can be unproblematically dealt with through individual effort and discipline (Crawford, 1980), while failing to recognise the social and environmental influences. It has previously been argued that healthism can form a belief that caused guilt for those who do not fit the “exercise = fitness = health idea (Kirk & Colquhoun, 1989).

 

Health andPhysical Literacy

In 2012, Vandorpe et al. (2012) claimed that there is no direct empirical test of the effect of physical literacy on health. However, in recent years there seems to be increasing interest in physical literacy in the field of public health [Dudley, Cairney, Kriellaars,  Mitchell, 2017].  Cairney and colleagues (2019) presented a model of physical literacy as a determinant of health, with the aim ofstimulatingincreased discussion and further empirical research.They identified a need to open up to a broader perspective regarding the links between education and health at a population level. The example question they posed; “what community-based infrastructure is needed to support diverse and meaningful movement-based experiences for children?”- echoes the need for a more holistic and culturally sensitive approach to the implementation of physical literacy in government funded programs.

Acknowledging that health behaviour is closely related to social and cultural factors” (Ruskin, Fitzgibbon, & Harper, 2008), recognises the interactions between many dimensions (physical, social, emotional and mental) and that health is dynamic, a constantly changing state (QSCC, 1999). Therefore, when promoting wellbeing it has been proposed that we need to view it as multidimensional in nature (OECD, 2017). This implies that curriculums (and strategies) regarding youth development, need to be connected to the child’s world and everyday interests (Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett, & Farmer, 2015), “where children are learning through their interactions, as well as adopting and working through the rules and values of their own cultural group” (Arthur et al., 2015, pp. 99–100).

Summary

We can view health and wellbeing as a dynamic constant changing state that is multidimensional in nature. While research has largely supported the idea of physical activity as a means for young people to develop physically and psychosocially (Lynch, 2013), we lack the direct empirical evidence connecting physical literacy with health outcomes (Cairney et al., 2019). Therefore, the only way that physical literacy can influence health outcomes is via its impact on physical activity, where rich interactions between the individual and the environment across varied movement contexts invite different opportunities or affordances for action. Physical literacy as suggested by Jurbala (2015), should be viewed as an avenue to reject traditional approaches to skill development, where it has often been viewed as a brief window of opportunity instead of as a journey throughout a lifespan that extends beyond organised sports and physical education.Therefore, we should view ‘skill learning’ as a dynamic and developmental phenomenon, where, as argued by Clarke (1995, p.173), “we understand that we cannot limit our focus to one period in the life span, or to tasks that are not rich in context and complexity and real in their adaptive significance. Motor skill behaviour changes over a life span and it is that window that ultimately provides the view”.

If the concept of physical literacy is to be woven into health education, sport and recreation, in both policy and practice, then it needs to take in to account that learner’s individual differences, movement preferences and nonlinear rates of development are as much a function of social milieu in which they have developed as their physiology, anatomy or psychology (Uehara, 2014). This calls for a shift in perspectives, from ‘fundamental’ to ‘functional’. From the pursuit of the reductionist application of physical literacy (Roberts, Newcombe & Davids, 2018), to one which facilitates the emergence of greater functional relationships between the learner/individual and the environment (Renshaw & Chow, 2018).

 

Main points

  • There is a lack the direct empirical evidence connecting physical literacy with health outcomes
  • Despite this, interest in physical literacy among sport and physical activity practitioners and policy makers continues to rapidly grow.
  • What is not so clear is how practitioners might be advised to deliver its well-meaning aim
  • The metaphor of likening physical literacy with language literacy is problematic. This has positioned physical literacy as a testable and measurable phenomenon which influences how it is being carried out in practice.
  • This has led to an oversimplification of the concept bringing about an unsatisfactory reductionist application of physical literacy in practical settings with an over reliance stage- based models
  • This has been a barrier to the development of a complex dynamic and embodied understanding of the individual physical literacy journey.
  •  Despite lacking direct empirical evidence, many involved in youth sports programming, policy making and physical education are rallying around physical literacy and promoting it globally.
  • For physical literacy to influence health outcomes it needs to impact on physical activity,
  • Sports governing bodies, policy makers, sports clubs, coaches and coach education need to promote and facilitate rich interactions between the individual and the environment across varied movement contexts that invite different opportunities or affordances for action.
  • Physical Literacy should not be viewed as end point, but presented as a journey influenced by a unique set of interacting constraints imposed upon an individual

 

Quiz question: Who had a huge hit with a cover of this song?

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The Quiet Revolution and its Evolution (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to Become Law in Swedish Sport on January 1st 2020)

 

IMG_3119

In 2009 The Swedish Sports Confederation (RF) recommended that youth sports must be based on a child’s rights perspective, that is, to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Idrotten Vill, 2009).On the 1stof January 2020 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will become law in Sweden and therefore law in youth sport. Here I examine how this has come to be, why it was deemed necessary, how it will possibly be implemented and the possible consequences for clubs and organisations that do not follow its basic principles. I will also include some thoughts on some inherent system issues that need to be addressed if the Convention is to be successfully implemented.

Introduction

Sweden,with a population of just over 10 million (SCB; 2017),is one of the world’s leading sporting nations, relative to geography and population. More that 3 million inhabitants are members of a sports club and an estimated 2.4 million are actively involved in sports. There are about half a million coaches and sports leaders, the majority being volunteers. The Swedish Sports Confederation, known as Riksidrottsförbundet (RF), is an umbrella organisation for what is known as the ‘Swedish Sports Movement’. Within the sports movement are 72 special sports associations, 20,000 different clubs and organisations. RF only admits democratic and non-profit associations as members. The main task for RF is to work as effectively as possible for its members, so that they can devote maximum time to sport itself. RF represents the sports movement in contact with authorities, politicians and other decision makers dealing in grants, tax regulations, sports grounds and facilities, development of club democracy and leadership training.

Swedish sports clubs are publicly financed (Norberg, 2012), with roots in volunteerism and are characterised by a social value system linked to public health, democracy and education (Fahlén & Sjöblom, 2012). This model has in recent years been challenged by more commercially organised ventures (Center for Sports Research, 2015 p.7) and attempts to structure and professionalise talent development (Ronglan, 2015). Clubs that successfully develop elite players can enjoy both financial gain and recognition (Henriksen, 2011), increasing the pressure to identify and develop young players.

In 2015, the International Olympic Committee released a consensus statement raising some significant concerns regarding practices in youth athlete development. The statement questioned the validity of early talent identification programmes, while also referring to the problematic nature of early specialisation, parental pressure, coaching styles, media sensationalism, and the view of youth athletes as commodities (Bergeron et al, 2015). It should therefore be understood, that player development is a complex process (Williams & Reilly, 2000). However, this complexity is often contradicted by the paradoxical nature of methods used to identify talent. Lund& Söderström (2017) argued that Swedish coaches’ talent identification is guided by what feels “right in the heart and stomach”; but what feels right is greatly influenced by their experience of previous identifications, interpretations of what elite football entails, and the coaching culture in which they find themselves. These subjective methods have been criticised due to selection on the grounds of physical development (Peterson, 2004) and a bias towards the selection of players born earlier in the age category year (Glamser & Vincent 2004; Helsen et al., 2005).Thomas Peterson’s critical report from 2004:Selektions- och rangordningslogiker inom svensk ungdomsfotbol(2004 ) referred to ‘a silent agenda’, indicating that selection on the grounds of physical development was already at work in groups of 5-12 year olds. An even more extensive study by Tomas Peterson examining the selection and ranking mechanisms in Swedish child-youth football was published in 2011.The study examined the Swedish Football Association’s (SvFF) education system. The system resembled “a pyramidal ladder, where each higher staircase is narrower than the previous one“. The results show that the likelihood of being selected for district and national team camps is greater the earlier in the year you are born. The young people who are selected early by their clubs are the ones being scouted by coaches and district and national representatives from the Swedish FA. A more recent example that echoes Peterson’s concerns is regarding national youth team selection carried out in 2018 under the guidance of SvFF. Radiosportens (Swedish Sports Radio) Richard Henriksson (2018) reported:

“- of the 100 players selected for the Swedish boy’s national youth teams for players born 1999, 2000, 2001, only two were born in the last monthly quarter”.

Despite the low predictive value of future performance in football (Williams & Reilly, 2000; Meylan et al., 2010) the identification and selection of the most promising young players to facilitate long-term development is a central tenet of talent development programs around the world (Güllich, 2013). So, despite lacking a scientific foundation, many sports organisations continue to invest time, effort and resources into early talent identification initiatives (Collins & MacNamara, 2018). P.G. Fahlström in 2011, brilliantly summed up this paradox when he questioned the use of these systems in youth sport in Sweden:

“-why are you trying to create generic models to find unique people?” (2011, p. 7)

Screenshot 2019-11-10 at 16.34.51

Figure 1: Child and youth sports in relation to ideals, governing documents, actors,adult sports, change processes (adapted from: https://centrumforidrottsforskning.se/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Barn-idrott-FNs-barnkonvention.pdf

 

Implementing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Swedish Sport

On the 1stof January 2020 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will become law in Sweden and therefore law in sport. This international agreement contains 54 articles and states that children are individuals with their own rights, not the property of parents or other adults. In accordance with guidelines set by RF, all sports for children must be based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as stated in the confederation’s statutes. All member clubs and associations of RF are obliged to follow these guidelines and it is a prerequisite for being a member.How this new law will be applied is still unclear and will depend on how it is interpreted in the court of law. However, through its incorporation the Convention receives the status of Swedish law and must be taken in to account by courts and other authorities in their decision processes and cases concerning children (Schiratzki, p. 30). There is an abundance of material available  on the Convention provided by The Swedish Sports Confederation-RF (see here) and UNICEF (see here). Local district associations in various sports, have since early 2019 offered and provided education to clubs, board members, coaches and parents on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in sport. During these education evenings, four main principles are highlighted indicative of how the whole is to be interpreted. Articles 2, 3, 6 and 12 are called the four main principles.

Article 2 deals with the equal value and rights of all children. No one is allowed to be discriminated against. The Children’s Convention applies to all children who are in a country that has ratified it.

Article 3 states that it is the best interests of the child to come to the forefront in all measures concerning the child. What is best for the child must be decided in each case and the child’s own opinion and experience must be taken in to account.

Article 6 underlines each child’s right to life, survival and development. The article is about the child’s physical health, spiritual, moral, psychological and social development.

Article 12 highlights the child’s right to form and express their views and to have them taken in to account in all matters that concern him or her. When their opinions are taken in to account, the child’s age and maturity must be taken in to account.

 

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Swedish Football

IMG_0347

In 2014 the Swedish Football Association (SvFF) introduced the C Diplomaas the new first step for coaches beginning their education pathway. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is introduced at the beginning of the course book. The four main principles are interpreted from a football perspective.

Article 2

Football should be as open and accessible to all, regardless of sex, colour, language, sexual orientation or disability. This is a principle of non-discrimination.

Article 3

“Childs best” means adults and children together create an environment where children have fun, concentrate and do their best, but not pressed too hard by coaches and parents. It can also involve varied training where learning is central.

Article 6

All children have the right to develop physically, mentally, socially and athletically.

Article 12

All children have the right to participation, to influence training, to be heard and to make their own decisions

 

Selection, “Topping” and the UN Convention on the rights of the Child

RF’s (2005) definition of “topping” reads: “the best players are selected for matches while the less good players are not selected. It may also be that playing time in a match is unevenly distributed as the best players are allowed to play more than other teammates”. Selection means that the team is shaped on the basis that some children and young people are considered better than others and thus receive benefits during a match or tournament. These benefits can be, for example, a given place in the team, more playing time or a position on the field that is considered attractive (Redelius, 2002).

Henrik Persson (2019), an expert on children and youth sports at RF,believes that the way selection and “topping” is practiced in many youth sport clubs today is in conflict with the convention and does not believe that it will survive this change in the law. Children’s rights expert Kirsten Sandberg, who has been a member of the UN Children’s Rights Committee has suggested, that not complying with Article 12 can have tangible consequences for the clubs and associations that today “top” and select within their teams. She has also suggested that this type of selection should not happen until the children themselves can have a clearer opinion about whether they want to be exposed to it. Selection should be made on the basis that it is for the child’s and not the club’s best interests. Should the Swedish courts interpret the Children’s Convention in this way, Kirsten Sandberg claims that it would be illegal for associations not to offer the same training opportunities to girls as boys.

Lawyer Louise Hammarbäck runs the organisation Pacs (Protection and Action for Children’s rights in Sports), which works on strengthening children’s rights in sports. She told Sportbladet (2019) that no one today knows how the Swedish judicial system will interpret the new laws as they have never been tried in court, but it will definitely make a difference.

“It will make a difference because with national legislation there will also be criminal liability. This means that the Children’s Convention alone can form the basis of a judgment and I believe that many associations that have children and youth activities will be more cautious”.

Sports Minister Amanda Lind when asked in Sportbladet (2019) if the law will provide more concrete tools to deal with the key issues in child-youth sport answered:

“When the Children’s Convention becomes law, these issues will be high on the agenda.”

Some final thoughts

The debate on youth sport in Sweden is out in the open, often polarised and contradictory. In recent years discussions on youth sport have featured regularly on prime-time TV, radio and in national and local newspapers. One can hope that the current discussions, concerns and available evidence, as presented here, can help clubs, coaches, stakeholders, sports organisations at all levels, to move beyond the current stalemate. However, it is hard to imagine any changes taking place as long as structural conditions remain unaltered and unchallenged. For example, many clubs, associations and federations are still anchored to a traditional view of sport and competition, limiting their ability to think critically and differently, break routines and try new ways (Håkan Larsson, 2013).

Long-term athlete development involves highly complex processes in which there are an almost incalculable number of interactions that can influence the rate and magnitude of development of young athletes (Kirkland, O ‘Sullivan, 2018). Whilst there are anecdotal examples of great athletes being ‘talent spotted’ early in their development, we know that systems used to predict the future athletic success of pre-pubescent children are of questionable validity (Ford et al., ).

The International Olympic Committee (Bergeron et al., ) has recognised that the ‘culture’ of specific sports and youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centered.There are many social norms and organisational pressures present within the facets of professional sport that are being perpetuated in youth sport. For example, the use of words such as ‘elite’ has added to the development of an artificial mythology in and around the culture of child youth sports programs (see here).Early talent ID programs, so called elite grassroots coach education programs and private commercial ventures, regularly been marketed using sensationalistic language, could well be aiding the preservation of these embedded habits and beliefs.

It can be argued, that the introduction of the UN Convention on the rights of the Child into law in Swedish sport, emerged as a response to some of the concerns highlighted here. Despite good intentions and strategical procedures displayed at operational system level through documents and guidelines, there seems to be a limited understanding of how to ensure that research and federal sports policies are implemented and used in practice. This knowledge gap remains problematic (Ross. et al, 2018; Fahlström, 2011).We simply cannot just make the Convention law and ‘will’ it into existence in practice and hope that the courts will take care of it. RF’s ambition that youth sports must comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child raises the bar. It sets new levels of expectations on coaches, many whom are volunteers, board members, clubs, coach educators and federations. Key to its success does not lay within the courts, but in each federations ability to enable knowledge mobilisation – the act of moving the research and federal sports policies into the hands of research users to effect change (Gainforth et al., 2014). Knowledge after all cannot be treated as an organisational asset without the active and voluntary participation of the communities that are its true owners.

Social systems like youth sports clubs are open systems, so a change in one area is likely to create changes elsewhere in the system. As with all social phenomena, sports coaching and the development of young people are influenced by broad political, social and cultural contexts, where abilities are acquired thanks to a history of interactions (Rietveld 2008a). For good or for bad, local interactions,if allowed to occur on a regular basis through proximal processes and their interactions,affect neighbouring agents and can eventually influence other systems and distal processes (Heylighen, 2009), making learning in the system inheritably social. Swedish researcher Karin Redelius (2013) captured this when she 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 and how this affects the design of practice, who is considered talented, what distinguishes a good leader and what is considered success.

As already highlighted, there is a constraining dominance still at play that we need to overcome if the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is to help guide the future of Swedish sport. The grip of convention, as highlighted by Håkan Larsson (2013),on player development, pedagogical approaches, coach behaviours and coach education may well be fuelling a cultural inertia, making it easier to persevere with and fall back on embedded habits and beliefs. This could prove problematic when you consider the ambiguity of Article 3. The risk is that it will be an adult making the decision for the child based on their own personal beliefs and biases. It can therefore be argued that our current and future opportunities to develop youth sports are influenced by philosophical assumptions and culturally resilient beliefs that have been developed through the integration of various influences that remain uncontested and unchanged. These clearly need to be excavated and investigated. I believe that this is what P.G. Fahlström is calling for when he asked “why are you trying to create generic models to find unique people?” (2011, p. 7).

The aim of this piece is to stimulate a broad and informed debate within child-youth sport in general, by emphasising the need to investigate and understand the dynamic interrelations between various components from micro (pedagogy, practice task design, selection policies) to macro (cultural patterns), if we are to truly live up to the idea of ‘as many as possible, as long as possible, in the best environment possible’. This slogan is very much central to the future development of Swedish sport and its long-term vision. The introduction of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in to law on January 1st2020 may yet prove to be a key factor in supporting this noble endeavour.

The Mighty Quark – Fade out for the Medaza Boys

References:

Bergeron, M. F., Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Chia, M., Côté, J., Emery, C. A., . . . Engebretsen, L. (2015). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine,49(13), 843-851. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094962

Centrum för idrottsforskning (2015). Retrieved from https://centrumforidrottsforskning.se/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Idrottens-pris.pdf

Collins, D., & MacNamara, A. (2018). Talent Development: A Practitioner Guide. New York: Routledge.

Cited in ref: Riksidrottsförbundet (2009) Idrotten vill– Idrottsrörelsens idéprogram

Cited in ref: SCB (2017). Manniskorna i Sverige. Retrieved from http://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/sverige-i-siffror/manniskorna-i-sverige/

Cited in ref: SvFF (2014). Svenska Fotbollförbundets Tränar – och Spelarutbildning;. Urban Hammar om nya barn – och ungdomstränarutbildningen. Retrieved from https://utbildning.sisuidrottsbocker.se/fotboll/tranare/

Den allvarsamma leken (2018). Retrieved from. https://www.expressen.se/sport/qs/den-allvarsamma-leken/

https://www.aftonbladet.se/sportbladet/a/ngE6VJ/tror-inte-toppning-overlever-nya-lagen(2019)

https://www.aftonbladet.se/sportbladet/a/oRrO87/svensk-idrott-bryter-mot-barnkonventionen(2019)

Fahlén, J. & Sjöblom, P. (2012).Good sport environments: A study of collective fundamental values and their importance for activity principles in Swedish club sport. Swedish journal of sport research, 1: 1-28.

Fahlström (2011, p.7). Att finna och utveckla talang. Retrieved from: http://www.rf.se/globalassets/riksidrottsforbundet/dokument/elitidrott/att-finna-och-utveckla-talang_sf.pdf

Ford P., De Ste Croix M., Lloyd R., Meyers R., Moosavi M., Oliver J., Tilk K., Williams C. (2011) The Long-Term Athlete Development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of Sports Sciences 29(4), 389-402. [PubMed] []

Gainforth, H. L., Latimer-Cheung, A. E., Athanasopoulos, P., Moore, S., & Ginis, K. A. M. (2014). The role of interpersonal communication in the process of knowledge mobilization within a community-based organization: a network analysis. Implementation Science, 9(1). doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-9-59

 

Glamser, F., & Vincent, J. (2004). The relative age effect among elite American youth soccer players. Journal of Sport Behaviour, 27(1), 31–38.

Güllich, A. (2013). Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion. European Journal of Sport Science,00(00), 1–8. http://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2013.858371

Helsen, W. F., Van Winckel, J., & Williams, A. M. (2005). The relative age effect in youth soccer across Europe. Journal of Sports Science, 23, 629–636.

Henriksen, K. (2011). Talentudviklingsmiljøer i verdensklasse. [World class talent development environments]. Viborg: Dansk psykologisk forlag.

Idrotten Vill (2009). Retrieved from: https://www.rf.se/globalassets/riksidrottsforbundet/nya-dokument/nya-dokumentbanken/rfs-verksamhet/idrotten_vill_2015_webb.pdf

Larsen, C. H., Alfermann, D., Henriksen, K., & Christensen, M. K. (2013). Successful talent development in soccer: The characteristics of the environment. Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, 2(3), 190–206.

Lund, S., & Söderström, T. (2017). To See or Not to See: Talent Identification in the Swedish Football Association. Sociology of Sport Journal, 34(3), 248–258. doi: 10.1123/ssj.2016-0144

Manchester City under-5 elite squad branded as madness (2018). Retrieved from: https://trainingground.guru/articles/manchester-city-under-5s-elite-squad-described-as-absolute-madness

Norberg, J. (2012).En översikt av det svenska elitidrottssystemet. I J. Norberg (Red), För framtids segrar. En analys av det svenska elitidrottssystemet. Stockholm: Centrum för idrottsforskning.

Peterson, T. Talangutveckling eller talangavveckling? 2011.

Peterson, T. (2004). Cited in: http://idrottsforum.org/articles/peterson/peterson040831.pdf

Redelius, K. (2002). Ledarna och barnidrotten: Idrottsledarnas syn på idrott, barn och fostran. (Doktorsavhandling). Stockholm: Lärarhögskolan i Stockholm. Tillgänglig: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:737/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Redelius, K. (2013) Att vilja och kunna fortsätta – Om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet (s. 19-40), i Spela vidare: en antologi om vad som får unga att fortsätta idrotta, Stockholm: Centrum för idrottsforskning.

Rietveld, E. (2008a). Situated normativity: The normative aspect of embodied cognition in unreflective action. Mind, 117(468), 973–97.

Riksidrottsförbundet. (2005) FoU-rapport Toppningstudien. Hämtad 2014-04-17 från http://www.rf.se/ImageVault/Images/id_146/scope_128/ImageVaultHandler.aspx

Riksidrottsförbundet (2009) Idrotten vill– Idrottsrörelsens idéprogram

Ronglan, L. T. (2015). Elite sport in in Scandinavian welfare states: legitimacy under pressure? International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 7(3), 345-363.

Ross, E., Gupta, L., & Sanders, L. (2018). When research leads to learning, but not action in high performance sport. Progress in Brain Research Sport and the Brain: The Science of Preparing, Enduring and Winning, Part C,201–217. doi: 10.1016/bs.pbr.2018.08.001′

There is no such thing as an international elite under -9 soccer player (2018). Retrieved from : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6243622/#ref8

Williams, A. M., & Reilly, T. (2000). Talent identification and development in soccer. Journal of Sports Sciences, 18(9), 657–667. http://doi.org/10.1080/02640410050120041

 

Towards an open conversation on evolving a purposeful and supportive culture, for players, children, coaches, parents, leaders and community in Irish youth soccer

Screenshot 2019-06-25 at 20.04.24

People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true –Steven Pinker

While the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) have metaphorically been fumbling in the greasy till, having its governance rightly questioned and investigated, one should also ask the question when will child-youth soccer in Ireland come to sense?

The ongoing FAI conduct and governance investigations (see here) has encouraged many displays of “political enthusiasm” and calls for reform within Irish soccer. However, there seems to be no attempt to start an open conversation on evolving a purposeful and supportive culture in and around Irish youth soccer, for players, children, coaches, parents, leaders and community. Instead, generic linear pathways, early selection and scouting and a deep uncomfortable tension seems to be at present a dominant feature of the Irish youth soccer landscape.

Are we denying children the intrinsic values of ‘their’ sport, though the promotion of adult constructs such as earlier and earlier talent identification and a type of premature professionalism?

A Culture of Tension

The excellent work of Laura Finnegan (2019) has highlighted tensions that exists within the SFAI (Schoolboy Football Association of Ireland) and outwardly to the FAI (based on leadership capabilities, financial tensions and a lack of perceived organisational justice).Unfortunately, there is also tension spilling out on to the pitch. Recently referee Harry McCann (link) quit after four years of abuse and violent threats from parents and coaches.

The Race to the Bottom

A recent post by The Coach Diary on his Facebook group and twitter feedis worrying. It reveals a culture that is accelerating the race to the bottom(earlier and earlier talent identification), and a form of premature professionalism.

“it is vitally important that we start to identify potential players for next season. Player ID and Recruitment is an important part of managing/coaching a Premier / A team…..Please note that when we are attending the various tournaments / mini world cups over the next few weeks, please be as discreet as possible (no ******* gear) particularly in the early stages of the events. Checklist Be organised –cover all tournaments comprehensively. Be discreet and use your “eyes and ears”. Identify the best players only. Make a note of any distinctive features (colour of boots, first name, club shorts etc..) and try and obtain his name. Try and identify his parents. Use the network of people within the club and/or current or past players to see if anyone knows the parents/boy if we need to make contact after the 1st July. Use our own Mini World Cup to introduce the club to the player/parents. Can each Premier / A team manager please send me a weekly list of potential players that we may try and recruit (after the 1st July) in the coming weeks”.

As with any social phenomenon, sport coaching and player development practices are habituated by wider political and cultural contexts (Day, Carter, & Carpenter, 2013) that promote or nurture (Reed 1993) and influencethe norms of the player development process within a specific national sports culture (Araújo et al., 2010). For instance, as suggested by Dr. Martin Toms (2014), children see the sport and activity and how it is managed, coached and reflected in the club. Just like their family backgrounds, they accept what they perceive as the norm. I would argue that the ‘perception of norms’ within Irish youth soccer also influences adult coaches to willingly act as scouts to recruit young children and parents to accept these practices as the norm.All this despite the research revealing considerable data that show the ineffectiveness of early talent identification (Collins & MacNamara, 2018).So, while  there are anecdotal examples of great athletes being ‘talent spotted’ early in their development, we know that systems used to predict the future athletic success of pre-pubescent children are of questionable validity (Ford et al., ). Still, a dominant theme emerging from the numerous Irish media discussions on youth player development is the quite unimaginative and linear idea of the “best” must be with the “best” as early as possible.

A much clearer ‘pyramid’ pathway started to take form recently when the FAI implemented an U13 national league. Bailey & Collins (2013) referred to this “pyramid model” as the Standard Model of Talent Development (SMTD). They claim that it is a structure that is based on erroneous presumptions. (i) Development and performance are essentially linear. (ii) Early ability that is identified as talent indicates future ability and performance. Despite an inherent paradox i.e. the implementation of a generic linear pathway in the hope of finding unique people, it is being touted by the FAI as “factors guaranteeing the correct learning and development” (2018). A bold statement indeed! The legitimacy of this development model/pathway, taking in to consideration the unique set ofsocial, cultural and institutional conditions and constraints evident in Irish sport, has rightfully been questioned (2018).

The reality is that an u13 league (presumably with the same teams as the u15 league will have 24 teams that means that 264 players will start a game at this level each week. In line with best practice we must keep more boys within the talent development system at this age, the manta of ‘as many as possible for as long as possible’ must be taken into consideration. Other players at this age must continue to receive quality coaching. Understandably the lure of being attached to LOI clubs might draw quality coaches from surrounding areas but the FAI must not forget about the schoolboy league clubs, they must be supported. Due to maturational factors, adolescence is an exceptionally difficult time to ‘select out’ players from an already narrow base (see insights on the Relative Age Effect here). There must be flexibility within the pathway to allow players to join later, links with schoolboy league clubs to allow flexibility for players to gain game time, the ability of players to get into the u15 squad without necessarily having come through an u13-u15 league.(https://talentdevelopmentinirishfootball.com/2018/03/04/football-tug-of-war-when-choosing-means-losing/)

Richard Bailey (2014) reminds us that there is a significant conflict between how children learn and how these type of generic “elite” programmes work. “Until very recently, talent development programmes were designed without any reference or consideration to healthy development, and treated children like mini adults.  Let’s be honest, though, most elite sports programmes are not designed to meet children’s needs; they are designed entirely for adult ambitions”.

International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement on Youth Athlete Development

The phenomenon of youth development in sport has been transformed during the past two decades. Against the background of significant concerns, and, in an effort to advance a more unified and evidence-informed approach to youth athlete development, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) organised a consensus meeting of experts in the field in November 2014. A critical evaluation of the current state of science and practice of youth athlete development was presented in May 2015 (Bergeron, et al, 2015). As indicated in the IOC consensus statement, child-youth sports have become disproportionately both adult- and media- centered, reflecting an urgent need for us to question the culture, organisational structural mechanisms and underlying philosophy for developing youth athletes:

“There is also an urgent need to extend our views of youth athlete development to include the ‘culture’ of specific sports and youth sports in general, including the underlying philosophy for developing youth athletes, the systems of specific sports and 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” (IOC Consensus statement,  2014)

Alan Byrne a Uefa B coach with a BSc in Sports Science and a MSc in Teaching & Learning echoes the sentiments expressed in the International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement.

“The biggest issue I see from a culture point of view at the moment is in the lack of any evidence-based practice in youth coaching practice. Presently we have a structure in place that promotes an ‘elite’ pathway from the ages of under13, officially. Unofficially though this approach creates an environment whereby parents place their children in single sport participation from a very early age in the belief that they are missing out on a place on this pathway. The evidence suggests this is not best practice and ultimately leads to burnout and drop out during early teenage years. Best practice is simply not being followed. We are now in a climate where schoolboy football sees children as commodities within a framework design for an by adults for adult outcomes. The environment is toxic with very little child centered coaching taking place. It is the adultification of schoolboy football. The governing bodies have done nothing to counter this, instead opting to shoehorn children into an adult orientated structure”. (Alan Byrne, Director of Coaching, Lourdes Celtic Football Club, Dublin)

Towards an open conversation on evolving a purposeful and supportive culture, for players, children, coaches, parents, leaders and community.

Player development programmes should be dynamic and interconnected due to the dynamic and multidimensional nature of sport talent. This implies taking in to consideration the potential to develop rather than to exclude children at an early age. Therefore, a central question should be how can we design environments around ideas of adaptive efficiency towork effectively, not at a moment in time, but through time? We must think in terms of creating not only a structure that will improve the environment today but a structure with built-in flexibility so that it can adjust to the tensions, strains, and unanticipated circumstances of tomorrow. This elucidates the importance of an idea central to this discussion. Flexible talent development frameworks should arise in interaction with the socio-cultural environment in which they are embedded, ensuring that any framework is inherently contextualized and co-created from the bottom up as much as the top down.

So, it’s not an either-or argument. Itis about thinking critically how certain beliefs arise, why and by whom they are maintained and just maybe willing to accept an inconvenient truth as a great learning opportunity.

Where should the conversations begin?

  1. Start where people are at, not where you want them to be
  2. Within this debate the goal is to connect, collaborate and integrate. It is not about winning, it is about connecting.
  3. The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child. (Make it law in sport)
  4. International Olympic Committee Consensus Statement on Youth Athlete Development (A useful and informed point of departure for a discussion)
  5. Make efforts to advance a more unified and evidence-informed approach to youth player development embracing both experiential and empirical knowledge.

References

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

Bergeron, M. F., Mountjoy, M., Armstrong, N., Chia, M., Côté, J., Emery, C. A., . . . Engebretsen, L. (2015). International Olympic Committee consensus statement on youth athletic development. British Journal of Sports Medicine,49(13), 843-851. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094962

Collins, D., & MacNamara, A. (2018). Talent Development: A Practitioner Guide. New York: Routledge.

Day, D., Carter, N., & Carpenter, T. (2013). The Olympics, amateurism and Britains coaching heritage, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19, 139-152.Doi: 10.1080/13527258.2011.651742

https://www.fai.ie/domestic/news/expressions-of-interest-sought-for-new-national-u13-league

https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/interview-with-dr-martin-toms/

https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2014/11/24/some-words-with-richard-bailey-ph-d/

https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2015/02/27/survival-of-the-fittest-or-survival-of-talent/

https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2017/01/25/the-race-to-the-bottom-adventures-in-early-and-earlier-talent-id/

https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/reviewing-the-reviews-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-seven-reports-into-fai-conduct-and-governance-38221062.html

https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/today-i-had-a-manager-attempt-to-strike-me-young-referee-quits-and-hits-out-at-fai-38244757.html

https://talentdevelopmentinirishfootball.com/2018/03/04/football-tug-of-war-when-choosing-means-losing/

Ford P., De Ste Croix M., Lloyd R., Meyers R., Moosavi M., Oliver J., Tilk K., Williams C. (2011) The Long-Term Athlete Development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of Sports Sciences 29(4), 389-402. [PubMed] []

Laura Finnegan, Jean McArdle, Martin Littlewood & David Richardson (2018) Somewhat united: primary stakeholder perspectives of the governance of schoolboy football in Ireland, Managing Sport and Leisure, 23:1-2, 48-69, DOI: 10.1080/23750472.2018.1513342

Reed, E. S. (1993). The intention to use a specific affordance: a framework for psychology. In R. Wozniak, & K. Fisscher (Eds.), Development in context: Acting and thinking in specific environments (pp. 45–75). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

 

The Phenomenon of Path Dependence in child-youth Sport

 

IMG_3236

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.For many years a dominant feature of child-youth football training has been an approach where a session would progress from an isolated drill with explicit demonstrations of how to execute the ‘correct’ technique (Williams & Hodges, 2005),to eventually a game, with explicit feedback from the coach (O’Connor, Larkin, & Williams, 2018). As highlighted by Mckay & O’ Connor (2018) team invasion sports training session typically comprise of deliberate structured sequential patterns and repetitive drills. This structured, prescriptive coach -centered approach (Ford et al., 2010) has been the dominant paradigm in child-youth football coaching and can be described as a path dependency. The phenomenon of path dependence as highlighted by John Kiely (2017) captures the notion that often ‘‘something that seems normal today began with a choice that made sense at a particular time in the past, and survived despite the eclipse of the justification for that choice’’ (McWorther j, 2017).

In 2008, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Paul Krugman for a body of work illustrating the hidden path-dependent influences shaping industrial trade patterns. Krugman, amongst others, suggests path-dependent phenomena are pervasive in life. Operating not only within socio-industrial settings but whenever prior solutions become enshrined in practice and are routinely perpetuated, despite a change in the underlying circumstances from which those solutions arose. Put plainly, path dependence emphasizes that where we go next depends not only on where we are now, but also where we have been (Liebowitz SJ, Margolis SE, 1995).

John Kiely’s insights in to periodization are well worth checking out. They confront an inconvenient truth, especially with regard to linear periodization models made popular and turned in to a product by some ‘expert’ coach educators.

It is not an either-or argument,

A coach centered philosophy where the training environment is dominated by drill orientated sessions has influenced coaching cultures that advocate technique focused, direct instruction of athletes (Light, Harvey & Mouchet, 2012) and has contributed to coach’s assuming that players learn best through persistent repetition of movements (Hornig et al., 2016; O’Connor et al., 2017). This approach embodies a perceived priority of developing technical aspects that need to be mastered before game play (Evans, 2006 ). Previous research has also suggested that these overly prescriptive approaches to instruction as exemplified by this approach can be detrimental for learning (Ford et al., 2010 ), can result in significant motivational problems (Renshaw et al, 2012) and islikely to promote the false assumption that there are no other possible alternatives (Balagué &Torrents, 2011).

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 the coach from the dominant historical and cultural ideas (i.e. premature professionalism, ‘productification’ of childrens football by ‘gurus’) and tendencies of a society.

So, it’s not an either-or argument. It is about thinking critically how certain beliefs arise, why and by whom they are maintained and just maybe willing to accept an inconvenient truth as a great learning opportunity.

I will finish with a quote from John Kiely (2017):

Path dependence reminds us that the philosophical bedrock of many inherited doctrinal beliefs often remain shielded from skeptical scrutiny, sheltered by an ideological inertia. Sometimes, consequently, re-evaluating embedded belief systems requires we excavate the deep- seated often-forgotten foundations upon which traditional assumptions are supported.

Happy Birthday Marvin Gaye!

References:

Evans, J. R. (2006). Elite level rugby coaches interpretation and use of game sense in New

Zealand. The Asian Journal of Exercise & Sports Science, 3(1), 17–24.

Ford, P.R., Yates, I., & Williams, A.M. (2010). An analysis of practice activities and instructional behaviours used by youth soccer coaches during practice: Exploring the link between science and application. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28(5), 483–495. PubMed ID: 20419591 doi:10.1080/02640410903582750

Hornig, M., Aust, F., & Gullich, A. (2016). Practice and play in the development of German top-level professional football players. European Journal of Sport Science, 16(1), 96–105. PubMed ID: 25440296 doi:10.1080/17461391.2014.982204

Kiely, John. (2017). Periodization Theory: Confronting an Inconvenient Truth. Sports Medicine. 48. 10.1007/s40279-017-0823-y.

Liebowitz SJ, Margolis SE. Path dependence, lock-in, and history. JL Econ Org. 1995;11:205.

Mckay, Jim & O’Connor, Donna. (2018). Practicing Unstructured Play in Team Ball Sports: A Rugby Union Example. International Sport Coaching Journal. 5. 1-8. 10.1123/iscj.2017-0095.

McWorther J. What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit? Path dependence. 2011. Available from: http://www.edge.org/response-detail/10852. Accessed 16 Nov 2017.

O’Connor, D., Larkin, P., & Williams, M. A. (2018). Observations of youth football training: How do coaches structure training sessions for player development? Journal of Sports Sciences, 36(1), 39-47.

O’Connor, D., Larkin, P., & Williams, A.M. (2017). What learning environments help improve decision-making?Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 22(6), 647–660. doi:10.1080/17408989.2017. 1294678

Renshaw, I. (2012). Nonlinear Pedagogy Underpins Intrinsic Motivation in Sports Coaching. The Open Sports Sciences Journal,5(1), 88-99. doi:10.2174/1875399×01205010088

Williams, A. M., & Hodges, N. J. (2005). Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23(6), 637-650.

 

 

 

 

Towards a Player-Environment Centred Approach- some theory and practice

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Those of you who are frequent readers of this blog will know that the pedagogical framework I propose endorses the importance of a continuous, intertwined relationship between decision-making and action, perception and cognition in football (e.g. Davids, Araújo, Vilar, et al. 2013). This is of course in conflict with the seductive computer metaphor of Information Processing (IP) which has framed ideas of decision making in skilled performance for many years. A typical example of IP would be a linear sequential model which would include:

Input- Decision making – Execution of decision

It can be argued that this separation of decision making and execution of decision is a dualism. Information Processing approaches work well for simple behaviours but fail to explain the issue of complexity where both the biological system itself and the environment it finds itself in are complex (Clark, Jane; 1995). Basically, IP fails to account for understanding IN the game (as opposed to just OF the game).

Taking this in to consideration it implies that coaches need to design a learning space to interact with learners and facilitate interactions (football interactions) between them and it is through these football interactions that coaches should become better informed how to design in future opportunities for interactions (Correia et al; 2018). This approach places great demands on the coach.

Relevant to this, is a recent discussion with Todd Beane on The Coaching Journey Podcast (see here for link). This podcast will provide listeners with some valuable insights into dominant flawed training paradigms, coaching myths (you can’t play until you learn the technique first) that fuel a cultural inertia in child youth football making it easier to persevere with and fall back on embedded habits and beliefs. This seemingly has a constraining grip on some coach education curriculums and even coach and parent understanding as to what learning is and what it can look like. Programs and ideologies based on the latest World Cup success story are also discussed. These are often turned in to commercial ventures and sold under the banner ‘this is what they do here, look at their success, you need to also do this’. All this while not taking in to consideration the socio-cultural and historical constraints that has influenced player development in that country. The idea that we can then drop a model from one country in to the coaching culture of another country and expect success is a highly flawed (yet profitable for some) approach.

An underpinning theoretical framework

This conversation, for me accentuated the importance of something that we are actively working with at AIK youth football. Player development pathways, coach education programs and session designs that are underpinned by research and experiential knowledge can help clubs and governing bodies to implement, more flexible structural mechanisms, become more aware of trends and commercial ventures that capture popular opinion (Moreau, Macnamara, & Hambrick; 2018) and provide coaches with principles to guide their practice.

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The area of overlap is the space that we should inhabit to inform how we design a learning space – Hopefully over time this space gets bigger.

Ecological dynamics (ED) informs a Constraints Led Approach (CLA) and is a powerful theoretical framework that can help us to understand that expertise and therefore learning can be best explained and conceptualized through how a number of interacting constraints— individual (e.g., height, weight, body composition, motivation, emotions, anxiety, self-confidence, fatigue), task (e.g., the goal of the task, rules that implemented, coaching styles and methodology) and environmental (e.g., temperature, light, altitude, facilities, social values, peer groups and societal expectations)—interact over time at different timescales to shape behaviour. From this we can argue that the attributes and skills that are appreciated in young players are culturally embedded in pedagogical approaches, organisational settings and structural mechanisms founded upon specific socio-cultural, economic and historical constraints (Rothwell, Davids and Stone; 2018) in which development in child-youth sport occurs Why does a player succeed in one environment yet fail to perform in another? Why are some players having difficulty adapting to the environment and why are some succeeding? Does your culture have an early selection/ talent identification bias towards bigger, faster stronger? This perspective from the point of view of training design proposes that understanding individual performance requires an appreciation of the types of behaviours that a performer’s environment affords (Gibson, 1979).

Approaches to Practice Design                                                                                  

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Traditional pedagogical approaches (that you find in many coach education courses) are underpinned by a culturally dominant planning paradigm. Essentially a rule based planning process, where the coach is taught to decide beforehand the specific theme, instructions, time length and sequence of each section of the session, the space, rules and conditions. To borrow from John Kiely (2012), a culturally pervasive planning heritage that seeks to control future outcomes (ex only coaching attack and not coaching defence to improve the attack- co-adaptability) through the decomposition of the overall process to a series of distinctly focused sequential units arranged in a predetermined order.

A more learner-environment centred approach as advocated in a Nonlinear Pedagogy embraces the idea of session design planning being underpinned by principles of play and allowing for a more emergent, adaptive and individualised approach. Emergent behaviours can be observed and worked on if the session is defined by principles of play. This notion of being more flexible and adaptive as a coach towards the planning and monitoring of a session where learning is characterised by effective perception- action coupling, sets great demands on the coach. By underpinning their session design with principles rather strict planning, rules and themes that are dictated from the outset, coaches are inviting the players to take part in the conversation, a dialogue of interactions.

So, while traditional approaches may just place a focus on attacking or defending, a more creative coach may apply the principles of co-adaptability to try and “nudge” the young learners in to constantly trying to adapt new ways to counteract new strategies that opponents are introducing in to the game. A simple example would be in a session where the coach is working on high pressing the opponent’s full backs, and despite the early success one team solves the situation by pushing full backs up high, splitting the centre backs with a midfielder dropping in between. A creative coach would see this as a great learning opportunity and not over constrain the team in possession by limiting their interactions i.e. forbidding the full backs from pushing up. Instead the coach should challenge the pressing team to solve the situation by co-adapting.

Coach as a Designer

The coach can be viewed as a problem setter and therefore must be careful not to over constrain or under constrain the task. Welsh national team land hockey coach Danny Newcombe asks the question, ‘how much should the coach let the player know about the intention of the session’? Some learning designs may ‘under constrain’ (the game is the teacher) and others may over constrain (limiting touches in football) the young learner’s behaviour. For example, the idea of limiting players to 2 touch in football may lead to the defending team self-organising their behaviour around the rule in a way that is not representative of the game.

A key point is to use game forms in training sessions that “directly talk to the players”. This means that feedback is directly “coming from the game forms”, so that the coach has to give less feedback from the outside by providing instructions that reduce the player’s breadth of attention – Daniel Memmert (Footblogball interview)

Representative Learning Design

Representative design (Brunswik; 1956) is one of the principles that needs to be considered when applying a Nonlinear Pedagogy. Task constraints used in training design should be representative in order to promote learning to improve player and team performance. For example, the rule that everyone must touch the ball before a goal is scored is not a representative task constraint (Correia et al; 2018). In this case, the team in possession are not attuning to the information that will enable them to exploit an imbalance in the opponent’s defence to penetrate and score. Instead both teams are self- organising around a rule that is not promoting effective perception- action coupling.

A key limitation may be the biographies of coaches (and coach educators) who have developed abilities shaped by the landscape of traditional coaching practices and coach education programmes (Renshaw et al; 2018). For instance, if a session is planned (in the traditional sense) around the theme of ‘Overlaps’ it is possible that the coach or coach educator may judge the success of the session solely on the amount of times the player performing the overlap receives the ball. Thus, not considering the fact that a player overlapping can also destabilise the defensive organisation creating gaps for teammates to exploit. This focus on the idea that the overlapping player must receive the ball may well result in the defending team organising its defensive strategies in a way that is not really representative of the performance context but will solve their task under the present constraints. Therefore, the planned design, rules and feedback used in this situation is over constraining. Player interactions are highly constrained and the opportunity to educate the attention of the learner to perceive and utilize relevant information sources is compromised.

Another example worth looking at comes from a UEFA coaching course. The theme is ‘switching the play’. The session design is 7v7 with goalkeepers and two vertical corridors, one on either side of the pitch. The rule is that the team in possession must play the ball from one corridor on one side to the corridor on the other side before they can score a goal. This is another example of over constraining as the defending team may solve this by deciding that when the attacking team has the ball in one corridor they just occupy the other corridor. This brings us back to Danny Newcombe’s point ‘how much should the coach let the players know about the intention of the session’? Is it really necessary to tell the players that the theme of this session design is ‘switching the play’ as this is also giving away the solution! Maybe a better approach would be to constrain the defence. If the ball is in one vertical corridor then no player from the defending team can occupy the opposite corridor. This means that the defending team will interact in a way that is representative of the performance context. It also implies that the affordance to switch the play is offered to the team in possession who can still

utilize relevant information sources as they search for solutions (i.e. exploit gaps, attack centrally/out wide) to penetrate and score as they are no longer over constrained by a rule.

What football interactions does your culture promote or nurture?

What is argued here with regard to session design is that the dichotomy of ‘perception and action’ is non-existent (Gibson; 1979) and that opportunities for perceiving and acting on relevant information sources should be situated within the session design. Therefore, as learning is based on effective perception action couplings, the coach should ‘design in’ opportunities for action (affordances) that are representative of the performance context or aspects of the performance environment.

We also need to consider as pointed out by Reed (1993), that there are also socio-cultural and historical constraints, those actions that a culture promotes or nurtures. These can have also constraining dominance on coach education, practice design and player development. 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 cannot be separated from each individuals’ unique bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities their environment offered to them up to that point. For instance, a young player’s decision making can be influenced by socio-cultural historical constraints. Years of training dictated by explicitly coached patterns of play from an early age (PlayStation coaching) may lead to players learning to play the pattern as opposed the information. For example, a left back plays the ball in to a crowded central midfield (the practiced pattern) instead of exploiting the affordance of the space offered in front of him/her. Strict game models imposed top down early in a player’s development may in the future lead to players making decisions based on the game model as opposed to the information presented to them in the game.

As with any social phenomenon, sport coaching and player development practices are habituated by wider political and cultural contexts (Day, Carter, and Carpenter, 2013). It has been argued (Redelius, 2013) that culture in a particular club or sports organisation is partly a result of a historical process (path dependency) influenced by the development of society and the views of individual leaders. In turn this influences the way clubs and governing bodies implement structural mechanisms, how coaches design their training sessions, how young players are taught skills, how coach education and player development is shaped and delivered and how the theory- practice gap evident in child-youth football is dealt with.

Essentially what is proposed here is no silver bullet but a player-environment centred approach underpinned by both empirical and experiential knowledge that always considers player development in the context of the environment (Araújo et al. 2014; Gibson 1986) for – As Many as Possible, As Long as Possible As Good as Possible.

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

Brunswik, E. 1956. Perception and the Representative Design of Psychological Experiments. 2nd ed. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Day, D., Carter, N., & Carpenter, T. (2013). The Olympics, amateurism and Britains coaching heritage, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19, 139-152.Doi: 10.1080/13527258.2011.651742

Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Clark, Jane. (1995). On Becoming Skillful: Patterns and Constraints. Research quarterly for exercise and sport. 66. 173-83. 10.1080/02701367.1995.10608831.

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

Moreau, D., Macnamara, B. N., & Hambrick, D. Z. (2018). Overstating the role of environmental factors in success: A cautionary note. Current Directions in Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/ 0963721418797300

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.

Redelius, K. Spela Vidare: Att vilja och kunna fortsätta om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet, p. 33 https://centrumforidrottsforskning.se/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Spela-vidare.pdf

Reed, E. S. (1993). The intention to use a specific affordance: a framework for psychology. In R. Wozniak, & K. Fisscher (Eds.), Development in context: Acting and thinking in specific environments (pp. 45–75). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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

Rothwell, Martyn & Davids, Keith & Stone, Joe. (2018). Harnessing Socio-cultural Constraints on Athlete Development to Create a Form of Life. Journal of Expertise.

Vanda Correia, João Carvalho, Duarte Araújo, Elsa Pereira & Keith Davids (2018) Principles of nonlinear pedagogy in sport practice, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2018.1552673