A Player Learning in Development Framework

A Player Learning in Development Framework

We recently published a paper in the International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching. The paper is open access and can be downloaded from here: 


In this paper we propose that a constraints-led approach (CLA), predicated on the theory of ecological dynamics, utilising Adolph’s (2019) notion of learning IN development, provides a viable framework for capturing the non-linearity of learning, development and performance in sport. We highlight some of the misinterpretations and misunderstandings of the CLA in coach education and practice. Further, we provide a user-friendly framework that demonstrates the benefits of the CLA. Throughput the paper we offer deeply contextualized ‘real world’ examples to support our argument.

Some main points

  • As it is appreciated that learning is a non-linear process – implying that coaching methodologies in sport should be accommodative – it is reasonable to suggest that player development pathways should also account for this non-linearity. 
  • Contemporary non-linear pedagogical frameworks, such as the constraints-led approach (CLA), have emerged to theoretically guide practitioners through this challenge 
  • Uptake effects have not been helped by some misinterpretations of the CLA in practice and coach education.
  • When used appropriately the CLA highlights the nature of the continuous complex and dynamic non-linear interactions between a performer (individual), task, and environment. Termed as constraints (Individual, environment, task), these interconnected system features guide or channel the direction and rate of development by providing the boundaries within which learning happens. A key point here is that constraints do not determine an individual’s learning and performance behaviors, but continually interact to guide and shape them.
  • The term “non-linear” refers to the notion that small changes in system properties (e.g. the physical, psychological and emotional characteristics of an individual; a team’s practice conditions) can lead to large changes in emergent behavior and vice-versa. 
  • Critically, while the CLA helps conceptualize how skills emerge, it does not provide a framework for how to design appropriate learning environments in team sports. Principles of a non-linear pedagogy can address this limitation, supporting practitioners to harness CLA methods in a range of practice task designs. 
  • Knowledge about and Knowledge of the environment: Knowledge about is typically developed through verbal responses to questions or coach-provided declarative instruction, may be useful when describing performance ex situ. However, while young players may display knowledge about the game when verbalizing responses to questions posed from a coach or educator, it does not necessarily imply that they can actually perform these actions in the game. Knowledge of the environment is reflective of embodied-embedded knowledge developed by, and exemplified in, activities (e.g., movements, behaviors, performances) that enhance the coupling between perception and action.
  • An important contention of this paper, though, is that practice tasks need to be designed by coaches with an extensive knowledge about the game, as this knowledge about collective and individual performance can inform practice designs to support the development of a performer’s knowledge of (in) the game.
  • The Foundations for Task Design Model captures the main principles of non-linear pedagogy to support the design of football specific tasks in training.
  • The purpose of the Player Learning in Development Framework is twofold; first, to help practitioners conceptualize the inherent non-linearity and highly personal nature of learning in order to inform player development pathways, and second, to show how to integrate a CLA in practice task design. 
  • The 3 phases of the Player Learning in Development Framework is a cycle that aims to guide practitioners towards a more flexible and adaptable approach to planning, where, through the implementation and refinement of task designs, they can continually assess and evaluate each individual’s needs (within a team) over various timescales of development. 



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