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.

 

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