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)
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.
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.
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
- 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).
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
- 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