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)

 

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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)

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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

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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

 

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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

 

Richard Shuttleworth: Understanding the Learner and the Learning Process (Notes from a Kobe Bryant interview)

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Richard Shuttleworth is someone who I am lucky enough to consider a colleague and a friend. When I started to become curious about skill acquisition and coaching from a more academic/theoretical perspective, it was Rick’s many articles and various social media video clips/presentations that helped me to bridge my own personal research-practice gap. In the last few years I have had the pleasure of presenting theory and practice together with Rick at various seminars and symposiums. Most of his work is associated with Rugby but Rick has vast experience of working in other sports such as Olympic sailing, soccer, archery and land hockey. As a world-renowned coach, coach educator and skill acquisition expert Rick’s insights are of great value to any coach at any level in any sport.

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Follow on Twitter https://twitter.com/skillacq

This week Rick and I discussed an excellent interview with ex NBA star Kobe Bryant. I suggested that Rick should comment on the interview and that we make his notes publically available on my blog. I am very happy that he agreed to share his personal notes on how we as coaches can gain a greater understanding of the learner and the learning process.

Advice from KOBE BRYANT | Skill Learning & Coaching | Shared Opportunities | Think Global & Play Local | Spice it Up | Basic Tactical Actions to Problem Solve

 

Advice from KOBE BRYANT | Skill Learning & Coaching | Shared Opportunities | Think Global & Play Local | Spice it Up | Basic Tactical Actions to Problem Solve

Rick’s Notes

  • Stresses importance of valuing anecdotal evidence of a true legend of the game as to what is important for a learner to experienceso they can develop the skills and learn to use them to achieve their aspirations and dreams.

 

  • Don’t always try and impose your perspective and realism of the world or situation and what excellence is, simply try and observe and listen to the learners’ behaviour (interpretation of) and in it which determines how you guide 

 

  • Importance of learning simple tactical actions through socially fun task related interactions(under constraint) to amplify the skills needed to solve problems now and potentially for the future demands of the game. (see example here)

 

  • Embrace your own and your learners’ curiosity, imagination in everything we do so that learner learns to authentically move, feel, express and perceive the world and situation for what they think it really is (transfer effect).

 

  • Learn when to get out of the wayof the learning process (as a coach) enable the emergence of self-determining learning moments through learner-task-environment interactions and don’t feel you need to manufacture them,

 

  • Support learning by passing on ideas to receive their read on it and use questions to support their tactical thinking of how it can provide opportunities.

 

  • Never be condescending or abusivein delivering information to learners as it only reveals your own personal frustration with your inability to facilitate learning.

 

  • Support learners with skills to pick up relevant informationfrom everyone around, team mates, opponents, other coaches, teachers, friends and parents and use to better your own capabilities.

 

Two other things worth knowing about Rick:

  1. He has just completed his PhD so now he is Dr. Rick!!! So, a big congratulations.
  2. He is crap at pub quizzes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As suggested by Renshaw et al (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

Implementing a Game Centered Approach using a Constraints Led Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important points to understand when implementing a CLA in practice

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

RIP Pete Shelley

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Joe Stone

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

 

Professor Keith Davids

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ciaran Toner

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

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

 

Rick Shuttleworth

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

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

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

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

Day two

Danny Newcombe

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

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

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

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

Tim Robinson

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

Martyn Rothwell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Conference in December

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

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

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