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).

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 (  excellent Perception Action podcast series.

You can listen here:

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.


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)

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.

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)—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).

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 (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 (

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


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