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

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

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

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

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What is skill acquisition?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Further reading

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

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

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

What is skilful performance?

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

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

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

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

Skills Have History

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

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

The Workmanship of Risk

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

State of Play (part 3) Form of Life & Culturally Resilient Beliefs

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A year on from an article I wrote in the Irish Times on the State of Play in Child Youth Sport I have returned to reflect and give some thoughts on what is presently occupying my time, mind research and work.

Few areas of sport are as complex yet imbedded in inertia as child youth football.

There is a clear need to ground child youth development in football within a broader ecological context as clearly our systems still do not account for the complexity and nonlinearity of human development (Davids, Handford, & Williams, 1994; Vaughan, Lopez-Felip, O’Sullivan, & Hortin, 2017).

There are few areas of sport as complex yet imbedded in inertia as child youth football. PG Fahlström in an interview with the author in Footblogball (Jan 2016) humorously quipped “The Swedish words for security and inertia (trygghet och tröghet) sound very alike and what is reassuring is often too slow and difficult to change. It is evident that there is still a clear discrepancy between many NGB’s strategy for child-youth sport and the scientific communities image of the practice of sport. The process of the act of moving strategical guidelines underpinned by research into the hands of coaches, clubs and organisations is indeed proving to be a challenging complex process. There is a constraining dominance at play here. The grip of convention on player development and practice is seemingly fuelled a cultural inertia making it easier to persevere with and fall back on embedded habits and beliefs. Culture may well eat strategy for breakfast, but this also implies that culturally resilient beliefs despite the amount of evidence against them, also eat strategy for breakfast. John Kiely (2017) reminds us that the philosophical bedrock of many inherited doctrinal beliefs often remains 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. (Kiely, J. Sports Med (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0823-y).

To emphasise the knowledge – practice gap, generic linear talent models are still been promoted despite the fact that young athletes develop at different rates. This seems paradoxical and the question is, why do you try to create generic models to find unique people? ( Att finna och att utveckla talang  – en studie om specialidrottsförbundens talangverksamhet, 2011). This continuous emergence of non-flexible programmes is seemingly promoting early talent ID (race to the bottom) and specialisation (Güllich, A., 2013). Structured performance pathways are now common place across the world, with many countries investing heavily into the identification and development of talent (Rothwell, et al, 2017). These environments are often characterised by linear technique focussed direct instruction of athletes (Light, Harvey & Mouchet, 2012) and practice designs that ignore the detection and use of contextual information, which is the basis of skill adaption in team games (Araújo, et al, 2006; Araújo & Davids, 2011).

I share the sentiments of Jean Côté and colleagues in 2014 when it was suggested that the power of developmental system theories to help explain sport participation and performance resides in their ability to conceptualise sport involvement as a system of integrated personal and social variables that interact and shape development.

Children playing organised sports is an imbedded feature of their broader context that to a certain extent as suggested by J. North et al in 2014 is culturally defined, enabled and constrained. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein used the term form of life to describe the behaviours, skills, capacities, attitudes, values, beliefs, practices and customs that shape the culture, philosophy and climate of societies, institutions and organisations (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014). Swedish researcher Karin Redelius suggests that culture in a particular club or spots organisation is partly a result of a historical process influenced by the development of society and the views of individual leaders. (Spela Vidare: Att vilja och kunna fortsätta om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet, p. 33). Rothwell, Davids and Stone (2017) noted that forms of life are founded upon specific socio-cultural, economic and historical constraints that have shaped the development of performance in a particular sport or physical activity. In football, for good or bad these dominant forms of life shape the culturally dominant climate in and around child youth football both in how it is perceived, how training is designed and carried out and how development in child youth sport for better or for worse is understood.

Despite good intentions there is a clear need to ground child youth development in football within a broader ecological context as clearly our systems still do not account for the complexity and nonlinearity of human development (Davids, Handford, & Williams, 1994; Vaughan, Lopez-Felip, O’Sullivan, & Hortin, 2017). Considering an ecological perspective on player development in child youth football where the strategical aim is “as many as possible, as long as possible as good as possible”, is to consider how we can design learning environments where there is an acceptance that individual differences among learners need to be accounted for (Chow & Atencio, 2012) and an understanding of the consequences of the socio- cultural landscape that has emerged in recent decades and influenced the structure and practice in child youth football. This will not be achieved only at task level but also at the levels of society and culture.

Our day to day practice design, pedagogy and understanding of the learner and the learning process in child youth football has been shaped by a form of life (Wittgenstein, 1953), that has emerged over decades in our communities and society.

Perception Action Podcast

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It was a great honour for me to be asked to contribute to Rob Grays (https://twitter.com/ShakeyWaits)  excellent Perception Action podcast series.

You can listen here: http://perceptionaction.com/97-2/

Here I discuss the idea that strategies are many, rationales seem to differ and implementation of ideas as in the ‘how’ are few. Constraints Led Approach conceptualised by ideas in the theoretical framework Ecological Dynamics is suggested  (the how) as it informs a nonlinear pedagogy that underpin a learner centred approach (Renshaw., 2012) and manifest themselves as guiding principles for the design of practice environments. In child youth football.

Practice should highlight informational constraints to improve the coupling of perception and action in players and promote the utilization of relevant affordances.

References

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

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

Att finna och att utveckla talang  – en studie om specialidrottsförbundens talangverksamhet, (2011) http://www.rf.se/globalassets/riksidrottsforbundet/dokument/elitidrott/att-finna-och-utveckla-talang_sf.pdf

Baker, J. (2017). Routledge handbook of talent identification and development in sport. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

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

Chow JY and Atencio M (2012) Complex and nonlinear pedagogy and the implications for physical education. Sport, Education and Society, DOI: 1080/13573322.2012.728528.

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

Collins, D., & Macnamara, Á. (2012). The Rocky Road to the Top. Sports Medicine,42(11), 907-914. doi:10.2165/11635140-000000000-00000

Côté, J., & Lidor, R. (2013). Conditions of children’s talent development in sport. Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information on Technology.

Davids, K., Handford, C., & Williams, M. (1994). The natural physical alternative to cognitive theories of motor behaviour: An invitation for interdisciplinary research in sports science? Journal of Sports Sciences,12(6), 495-528. doi:10.1080/02640419408732202

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review,100(3), 363-406. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.100.3.363

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., Riley, M., & Turvey, M. T. (2009). Information, affordances, and the control of action in sport. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 40, 79–107.

Föreningsfostran och tävlingsfostran (2008) http://www.regeringen.se/49bb97/contentassets/8c90eac531c04dd7909a71a599f27b82/foreningsfostran-och-tavlingsfostran—en-utvardering-av-statens-stod-till-idrotten-hela-dokumentet-sou-200859

Greenwood, D., Davids, K., & Renshaw, I. (2013). Experiential knowledge of expert coaches can help identify informational constraints on performance of dynamic interceptive actions. Journal of Sports Sciences,32(4), 328-335. doi:10.1080/02640414.2013.824599

Güllich, A. (2013). Selection, de-selection and progression in German football talent promotion. European Journal of Sport Science,14(6), 530-537. doi:10.1080/17461391.2013.858371

Güllich, A., & Emrich, E. (2012). Individualistic and Collectivistic Approach in Athlete Support Programmes in the German High-Performance Sport System. European Journal for Sport and Society,9(4), 243-268. doi:10.1080/16138171.2012.11687900

Headrick, J., Renshaw, I., Davids, K., Pinder, R. A., & Araújo, D. (2015). The dynamics of expertise acquisition in sport: The role of affective learning design. Psychology of Sport and Exercise,16, 83-90. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2014.08.006

(Kiely, J. Sports Med (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0823-y).

Malina, R. M. (2010). Early Sport Specialization. Current Sports Medicine Reports,9(6), 364-371. doi:10.1249/jsr.0b013e3181fe3166

Mallo, J. (2015). Complex Football: From Seirul·los structured training to Frades tactical periodisation. Madrid: Verlag nicht ermittelbar.

Macnamara, B. N., Moreau, D., & Hambrick, D. Z. (2016). The Relationship Between Deliberate Practice and Performance in Sports. Perspectives on Psychological Science,11(3), 333-350. doi:10.1177/1745691616635591

Mouchet, A., Harvey, S., & Light, R. (2013). A study on in-match rugby coaches communications with players: a holistic approach. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy,19(3), 320-336. doi:10.1080/17408989.2012.761683

PG Fahlström https://footblogball.wordpress.com/tag/pg-fahlstrom/ (2016)

Passos, P., Araujo, D., Davids, D., Gouveia, L., Serpa, S., Milho, J., et al. (2009). Interpersonal pattern dynamics and adaptive behavior in multiagent neurobiological systems: conceptual model and data. Journal of Motor Behavior, 41, 445–459.

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

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

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist,55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037//0003-066x.55.1.68

Riley, M. A., Richardson, M. J., Shockley, K., & Ramenzoni, V. C. (2011). Interpersonal synergies. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 38.

Spela Vidare: Att vilja och kunna fortsätta om idrottens utformning och tillgänglighet (https://centrumforidrottsforskning.se/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/Spela-vidare.pdf)

Vaughan, Lopez-Felip, O’Sullivan, & Hortin. (2017) Ecological Theories, Non-Linear Practise and Creative Collaboration at AIK Football Club. doi:10.3389/978-2-88945-310-8

 

Emil Forsberg – Growing up on a street of sport (Game-Play-Learn)

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Emil Forsberg is a Swedish international footballer who plays for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga

Despite its modest booklet format the new updated version of Spela, Lek och Lär (1) roughly translates as Game, Play, Learn- is very much a central part of the Swedish FA’s new coach education program. The booklet is connected to an online web portal containing some very interesting videos about child-youth football discussing the values that all football in Sweden should stand for. The purpose of this excellent booklet and web-portal is to help promote a common mind-set within all football clubs in Sweden based on 5 simple principles.

  • Football for all children and young people
  • Focus on Joy
  • Effort and Learning
  • Sustainable Sports
  • Fair Play

One of the most insightful and impactful videos on the web portal is an interview with Swedish International and RB Leipzig Bundesliga player Emil Forsberg. For me Emil Forsberg was a key player in Sweden’s successful qualification for the World Cup. His intelligent and hard- working performance against Italy helped Sweden to defy both odds and critics to deny Italy for the first time since 1958 (ironically held in Sweden) a place at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The following is a translated transcript (3) of Emil Forsbergs interview from “Spela, Lek och Lär”. Emils words give us much to reflect on when we consider:

  • Child-youth development in football and the emergence of the “race to the bottom” culture

https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/challenging-the-race-to-the-bottom-as-many-as-possible-as-long-as-possible-as-good-as-possible/

  • The commercialisation of child-youth sports (2). How child-youth sports has become an attractive market for private companies. This varies from initiatives specialising in early and earlier commercial ventures to give your child a so called “head start” to companies specialising in offering the services of their “professional coaches” and “individual styled leadership and coaching” for your child. These commercial alternatives can of course be a complement but it is still difficult to foresee their long -term impact on the democratic culture that child-youth football should be. This should not be overlooked and it remains to be seen how NGB’s, associations, parents and young athletes will navigate through this changing landscape.

My Street

“For 4 or 5 of us (on our street) it was football direct. But it wasn’t just football. We played tennis, table tennis, floorball, ice hockey. In the street I grew up it was mainly ‘sports families’, it became a ‘sports street’ and this is how I got in to sport”.

Many Sports

“Take part in as many sports as you can as long as you can. I think that it is wrong to focus early on one sport. Maybe at 13 you think that Ice hockey is something that you want to focus on but then when you are 15 you may think that despite all the time and effort it was not such a good idea. These days there is a far too early focus on only playing football. I played football and floorball until I was 17 nearly turning 18. I thought it was perfect but maybe not always optimal but I felt that at 17 that football is something that I wanted to focus on”.

Professional Career Abroad

I began my career as a professional footballer outside of Sweden quite late, just as I was turning 23. I never really felt stressed, I just thought that is it happens it happens. I live for the day and I think that I must be as professional as possible as a footballer. It should be fun and you should think that it is fun to play football. You shouldn’t stress.

Swedish Football

Swedish football education is good. You can get a good footballing education within Swedish football and you should dare to try your best. The quality in Swedish football is very good. Many good players have come through the ‘Allsvenskan’ (Swedish Premier League). We should believe in Swedish football.

Children

Most importantly children should not stress, leave children be children, be free and again it is very import that they have fun. That is something that I have learned since I was a small child. Have fun, do what you feel is good, don’t let others push you in one direction. You should choose for yourself what you want to do”.

Reference:

(1) Spela, Lek och Lär (SISU Idrottsböcker)

(2) https://utbildning.sisuidrottsbocker.se/fotboll/tranare/tranarutbildning/fsll/Allt vanligare med kommersiell barn och ungdomsidrott (‘Idrottsforskning” , Karin Redelius & Andreas Svensson, October 2017)

(3) interview with Emil Forsberg /Swedish only) https://utbildning.sisuidrottsbocker.se/fotboll/tranare

Challenging the Race to the Bottom (As many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible)

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There is a clear need for the state and NGB’s to look at youth development in sport from a more ecological perspective.Our systems still do not account for the complexity and nonlinearity of human development. So, maybe research needs to be grounded in a broader ecological context?

One of the most read pieces on Footblogball is from January 2017  – The Race to the Bottom (adventures in early and earlier talent ID)  see here .

It is great to see  the same discussion getting even more exposure in January 2018. Prime time Swedish national television with successful NHL talent scout Håkan Andersson and  international TV (BT Sports) where ex pros such as Frank Lampard, Martin Keown and English national football manager Gareth Southgate contributed their knowledge and experience to the debate.

The NHL Ice Hockey Scout

Håkan Andersson is director of European scouting for  NHL team Detroit Red Wings. He   he has won four Stanley Cup Championships as a member of the Detroit Red Wings organisation. Recently he gave an interview on one of Swedens most viewed morning TV programs to give some insight in to scouting, talent identification and if we can really predict the future. After 27 years of experience he has some very valuable reflections and  advice for parents, players, coaches and Governing Bodies. 

I have done my best to give an accurate translation of the interview (added in sub-titles)

 

Ex Professional Footballers and England national team manager enter the debate

The Race to the Bottom phrase got name checked in a very interesting discussion on BT Sports where some ex pro’s, current English football manager and author Michale Calvin spoke about modern academy structures  in child-youth football and how they contribute to  a culture that is essentially treating children as mini-adults.

 

Many can talk the talk but few  walk the walk

There are many National Sports Associations and clubs displaying “political enthusiasm” and presenting their education based on best practice and scientific principles. However, using research to support policy or convince funders is markedly different to the notion of evidence-based practice (Holt, N. L., Pankow, K., Camiré, M., Côté, J., Fraser-Thomas, J., Macdonald, D. J., . . . Tamminen, K. A. (2017). Factors associated with using research evidence in national sport organisations). In this context, when referring to evidence based practice I am not just referring to  the quality of practice in training, but practicing and evolving a purposeful and supportive culture in and around this, for players, coaches, parents, leaders and community.  I feel that this more holistic point of view that embraces a broader ecological perspective is very important if we want to bridge the theory-practice gap. All this is characterized by using research to help inform decision-making at all levels. This places huge responsibility on the coach education courses (design and implementation) and the standard of coach educators employed by NGB’s. For reference see – The Coach Educator, the Coach and Coach Education.

To quote Jamie Hamilton (twitter) “we need to encourage critical thinking at all levels of the game”.

Many youth sport systems fail to account for the complexity and non-linearity of human development

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Recently a research paper  that I wrote with some colleagues ( James Vaughan & Dennis Hörtin) at AIK Solna in Sweden (who are going through an interesting period of informed evolution) and FC Barcelona was published. We stated that the “approach adopted by our group is found on the recognition that many youth sport systems fail to account for the complexity and non-linearity of human development”. We recognise that talent is not defined by a young athlete’s fixed set of genetic or acquired components. Talent should be understood as a dynamically varying relationship between the constraints imposed by the tasks experienced, the physical and social environment, the motivational climate and the personal resources of a performer (Araújo et al., 2006; Duarte et al., 2012; Hristovski et al., 2012).

To bridge the theory-practise gap, we utilised the Athlete Talent Development Environment (ATDE: Heneriksen et al., 2010; Larsen et al., 2013) to ground development within a broader ecological context.

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(Copyright Player Development Project 2016)

“. . . a dynamic system comprising a) an athlete’s immediate surroundings at the micro-level where athletic and personal development take place, b) the interrelations between these surroundings, c) at the macro-level, the larger context in which these surroundings are embedded, and d) the organizational culture of the sports club or team, which is an integrative factor of the ATDE’s effectiveness in helping young talented athletes to develop into senior elite athletes” (Henriksen et al., 2010 p. 160)

Future collaborations between AIK Stockholm (Research and Development department) and FC Barcelona (Methodology department) will not only investigate development at the task/practical level but also at the levels of society and culture.

As many as possible, as long as possible as good as possible.

The Draft

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Thanks to  Alan Dunton for the pic

 

References:

  • Heneriksen, K., Stambulova, N., and Roessler, K. K. (2010). A holistic approach to athletic talent development environments: a successful sailing milieu. Psychol. Sport Exerc. 11, 212–222. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2009.10.005
  • Holt, N. L., Pankow, K., Camiré, M., Côté, J., Fraser-Thomas, J., Macdonald, D. J., . . . Tamminen, K. A. (2017). Factors associated with using research evidence in national sport organisations
  • Duarte, R., Araújo, D., Correia, V., and Davids, K. (2012). Sport teams as superorganisms: implications of sociobiological models of behaviour for research and practice in team sports performance analysis. Sports Med. 42, 633–642. doi: 10.1007/BF03262285

The Concept of Football Interactions

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Following on from Coaching the Emergence of Football Interaction (see here)

The concept of football interactions applied in a nonlinear pedagogy can help challenge coaching cultures that separate the player –environment system that has found its way in to the fabric of organised child sport and give us an understanding as to how we can design learning environments in youth football.

Many thanks to Ben Galloway (twitter) for putting this video together

Viewed as a unified complex phenomena Football interactions in youth football, how players coordinate their behaviour in the game with the behaviour of others (social coordination) is an interacting, complex and emerging behaviour that can be considered as an adaptive function and can be captured in the term football interactions (O’Sullivan, Hörtin). Football Interactions (dribble, pass, running off the ball, tackling, closing space….)include all the interactions between the parts of a system. They are complex in the sense that they are the accomplishment of all the (sub) systems involved up to the point of perceiving and acting in the environment. Football interactions are always dependent on circumstances, are historical, cultural, situational and are the players means to utilise affordances on the environment.

You can view a selection of other videos from Ben Galloway here

Coaching the Emergence of Football Interactions (Linking practice & theory)

Boys 09

Following on from the ideas suggested in my last blog (see here) we look at how these concepts applied in practice can help coaches form a more complete picture of the player-environment system and give an understanding as to how we can design learning environments in youth football.

To paraphrase Gibson (1979/1986): If we want to understand the objective reality of affordances, it must be clear that it is the practice (youth football) in which an ability, expressed in football interactions is embedded.

In youth football, how players coordinate their behaviour in the game with the behaviour of others with respect to their surroundings create opportunities for action or football interactions (see definition). These opportunities for action are affordances, they arise, decay and disappear giving rise to multiple variations in opportunities for subsequent football interactions inviting different football interactions depending on the abilities available in the environment.

Football interactions (dribble, drive, pass, close space, open space..) are the players means to utilise the affordances in their environment.

Football interactions refers to how a player coordinates his/her behaviour within the performance context (i.e., game) in relation to that environment, on the basis of not only the immediate physical and informational (i.e., situational) demands, but also on the basis of historical and cultural factors.

Design tasks that simulate aspects of the performance environment and selectively introduce the young player to the right aspects of the environment and their affordances.

 Boys & Girls (8 and 9 years)

Session 1

Designed games (3v3, 4v4, 4v2, 3v1, 4v1, 4v2…..) through manipulation of task constraints (number of players, pitch size etc.) we challenged the players to answer the question- Is it harder to defend a larger space or a smaller space?

General consensus was that it is harder to defend a larger space.

What implications does this have for the team in possession?

The kids decided that when in possession they had to try and create a large space to play in (they want to make it hard for their opponents to recover the ball). Simple 4v4, 4v2, 3v3 (+joker) games were used to test their reasoning.

When the team in possession behave like this they are creating and opening up possibilities for action also referred to as affordances.

Session 2:

Challenge: When in possession, try to find and create time and space to have the possibility to receive the ball with the foot furthest away.

Note no mention of left or right foot (we want to minimise any internal focus of attention). The focus (external) is on finding and creating space and the time. (From a coaching perspective, this was introducing the concept of “ubication”- state or quality of positioning- not to the players but to coaches). The idea of receiving the ball in time and space and possibly with the foot furthest away is situation dependent can implicitly develops the emergence of a good body profile while finding the time and space to do this implicitly develops the emergence of good positioning, all this while promoting an external focus of attention so that player is open to the field of affordances and can search, discover, exploit. Also, the decision-making possibilities of the player in possession is determined by the state and quality of positioning of teammates and opponents.

Session 3

Continued working on ideas from the first two days. Discussed the concepts of “gaps”. What are they and how do we identify them? How do we exploit them?

Designed games similar to the games played over the last 2 days. The answers that emerged from these games (first through football interactions) was that a gap between two players gave the player in possession the possibility to use football interactions such as dribble the ball or pass the ball through the gap depending on the situation. We (the coaches) discussed how young players exploited the affordance of a gap depended on the quality and state (ubication) of positioning of teammates and defenders and the capabilities of the individuals.

How players perceive and utilise football interactions on a similar affordance (a gap between two players) often affords them different things. It may well afford a player like Messi to dribble through the gap or a player like Xavi to pass through the gap to an oncoming forward. These individual differences in perception and thus utilisation of football interactions is influenced by their unique personal “effectivities”, or put another way, capabilities to act on the possibilities invited by the dynamic affordance in the environment.

Example of the emergence of football interactions discussed in 4v4 game

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ic7Rv7v2xXA&feature=youtu.be

  • Affordances created by width and depth (emerge and decay)
  • Affordance of a gap between 2 players
  • Affordances acted on, exploited and created by football interactions

By deliberately designing the environment to be more compatible with the action capabilities of the young learners we help the player to learn through perceptual attunement how to acquire the ability to scale information to their own action capabilities (i.e. calibration) (Fajen, Riley, and Turvey 2009).

Session 4

Develop the idea of “finding gaps”.

The previous session we designed training around identifying gaps. Now we developed this by designing the session around the question is it possible to create gaps?

Started with a simple SSCG. 3 zones with 3 players in each zone. The players in the outer zones must pass the ball through the middle zone where the 3 players in the middle zone will try and intercept the pass. Rotate middle group every 2-3 mins.

Ideas that were discussed

  • How can we create a gap? (For coaches this led to the discussion how perception of information drives football interactions and football interactions create new information for the player to perceive thus inviting new football interactions).
  • The kids discussed the idea of passing the ball faster between the players in their zone and also from one side of their zone to the other as it meant that the defending team in the middle moved with the ball to cover the space and that this could possibly create a gap.

Example of the emergence of football interactions discussed in 4v4+GK game

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB29pRBSD-s (4v4+Gk)

  • One team scores in main goal. Team with GK score by dribbling the ball between one of the 3 cone goals on end line
  • Identify affordances (possibilities for action/ football interactions)
  • Identify affordances acted on, exploited and created using football interactions

Football interactions are the players means to utilise the affordances in their environment. Successful performance in sport is predicated on the constraints of an individual’s perceptual and action capabilities, selecting among affordances to guide actions (football interactions) during performance (Araújo et al., 2006). By deliberately designing the environment to be more compatible with the action capabilities of the young learners we improve the affordance landscape helping the player to learn through perceptual attunement how to acquire the ability to scale information to their own action capabilities (i.e. calibration) (Fajen, Riley, and Turvey 2009). The acquisition of skill by a young learner involves what Gibson (1966, 1979) referred to as educate their attention. The process of educating attention crucially involves practitioners designing tasks that simulate aspects of the performance environment and to selectively introduce the young player to the right aspects of the environment and their affordances. The young player is provided with the opportunity to learn what possibilities for action an aspect of the environment provides.

Perceiving an affordance is to perceive how one can act using football interactions. This dependence of affordances on abilities and expressed in football interactions can help inform the coach about the young players, their learning process, the level of skills they possess and therefore how to design practice