Introducing the Learning in Development Research Framework for Sports Organizations

The Learning in Development Research Framework for Sports Organizations

Recently some colleagues and I published a paper in the Sport, Education and Society journal. The paper, published August 2021,  introduces the framework that James Vaughan and I have been using to carry out research at AIK youth football since 2017. More recently, English Premier League club Southampton FC have adopted the research framework (more on this later).

The article is open access and can be found here:

The importance of understanding how we become skillful is very important for sports organizations, especially in the realm of  athlete development and for enhancing expertise (Clarke, 1995; Ribeiro et al., 2021). It has been recognized that a sports organization is part of a complex, multi-layered system, where the social, cultural, and historical contexts in which development occurs, are important constraints on the development and understanding of skilled performance (Bjørndal & Ronglan, 2019). However, traditional research approaches tend to neglect many of these critical features (e.g., sociocultural constraints) that have important implications for transferring findings to applied settings (e.g., coaching, talent development) (Araújo et al., 2007). Indeed, it was highlighted in a previous blog (see here), how specific unique social, cultural and historical factors, invite the potential for a myriad of possible complex, unpredictable and ill-defined challenges. We need to find ways to highlight and harness these factors (O’Sullivan et al., 2021; Vaughan et al., 2019).

In response, some colleagues and I proposed the Learning in Development Research Framework (LDRF), as a powerful theoretical and methodological framework to exemplify a move towards understanding human (athlete) action in the very contexts that behaviour occurs (Brunswik, 1955). The LDRF adopts an ecological perspective that simultaneously places an emphasis on both the individual and environment and their reciprocal interactions (Araújo et al., 2017). Consistent with this perspective, learning is understood to occur in the midst of ongoing developmental changes (Adolph, 2019), within speci!c socioecological contexts (Flôres et al., 2019), influenced by numerous contextualized, reciprocal interactions between people and places (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006; Vaughan et al., 2019). More directly, the LDRF offers as a novel way of guiding research and action, supporting the notion that athlete development frameworks should evolve in interaction with the sociocultural context in which individuals are embedded.

In the paper we provided a case study where we connected the (inter)actions of young players and the intentions of coaches to the sociocultural and historical context. Further, we highlighted how we utilized these findings to devise interventions to probe the system (e.g., amplify and dampen helpful and unhelpful factors that shape learning in development)

The following paragraph is an example of some of the findings from the first research phase that informed the first action phase (interventions/probes) at the club.

A coach centered “control over context” pedagogical inheritance

It was identified that coaching skill was being shaped by a landscape of traditional coach edu- cation practices, founded upon specific sociocultural and historical constraints. For instance, training designs in Swedish coach education have historically been underpinned by a culturally dominant planning paradigm, arguably promoting the assumption that human behavior can be predicted and controlled (e.g. coach determines in advance the specific theme, presents predetermined coaching points and controls the sequence and duration for each part of the session). Global-to-local processes were amplified in a coaching culture that attempted to control future outcomes. The actions of young players were routinely ‘drilled’ in choreographed practices where predetermined passing patterns were performed to be later regurgitated in competitive games. Indeed, these practices promoted in coach education highlighted a cultural-historical inheritance. This can be traced back to the 1970s, when the pedagogical legitimacy of the Swedish Football Association’s ‘Swedish model’ (based on West German football) was being questioned by the successful sporting results and the seemingly more professional nature projected by the ‘English model’ (introduced to Sweden by Bob Houghton and Roy Hodgson). This model promoted a ‘teacher-centered’ pedagogy, where the coach had the overall picture of how the game should be organized and the players needed to internalize the systematized knowledge that the coach pro- moted (Eliasson, 2003; Peterson, 1993). Subsequently, Sven Göran Eriksson successfully adopted the English model, developing it into the ‘Swenglish model’ which became the accepted model of prac- tice for the SvFF (Peterson, 1993).

We hope that this paper can support sports organizations, coaches, practitioners in becoming more aware of the extent to which different and unique sociocultural and historical constraints continuously shape their work. There is no copy and paste template, athlete development frameworks should evolve in, interaction with the sociocultural context in which individuals are embedded.



Adolph, K. (2019). An ecological approach to learning in (not and) development. Human Development, 63, 180–201. 10.1159/000503823

Araújo,  D.,  Davids,  K.,  &  Passos,  P.  (2007).  Ecological  validity,  representative  design  and  correspondence between experimental task constraints and behavioral settings. Ecological Psychology, 19, 69–78

Araújo, D., Hristovski, R., Seifert, L., Carvalho, J., & Davids, K. (2017). Ecological cognition: Expert decision-making behaviour in sport. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 12(1), 1–25.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. (2006). The bioecological model of human development. In R.M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology. Theoretical models of human development (Vol. 1, 6th ed., pp. 783–828). John Wiley & Sons.

Bjørndal, C., & Ronglan, L. T. (2019). Engaging with uncertainty in athlete development – orchestrating talent development through incremental leadership. Sport, Education and Society, 26(1), 104–116. 13573322.2019.1695198

Brunswik, E. (1955). Representative design and probabilistic theory in a functional

psychology. Psychological Review62(3), 193.

Clark, J. E. (1995). On becoming skillful: Patterns and constraints. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 66(3), 173–183. doi:10.1080/02701367.1995.10608831

Eliasson, A. (2003). Swedish or English? The battle for pedagogical power over Swedish male senior football 1974–82. Nordic sport science forum.

Flôres, F.S., Rodrigues, L.P., Copetti, F., Lopes, F., & Cordovil, R. (2019). Affordances for motor skill development in home, school, and sport environments: A narrative review. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 126(3), 366–388.

O’Sullivan, M., Vaughan, J., Rumbold, J. & Davids, K. (2021). The Learning in Development Research Framework for sports organizations. Sport, Education &    Society.

Peterson, T. (1993). The Swinglish model. Studentlitteratur.

Vaughan, J., Mallett, C. J., Davids, K., Potrac, P., & López-Felip, M. A. (2019). Developing creativity to enhance human potential in sport: A wicked transdisciplinary challenge. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 2090.

Ribeiro, J., Davids, K., Silva, P., Coutinho, P., Barreira, D., & Garganta, J. (2021). Talent Development in Sport Requires Athlete Enrichment: Contemporary Insights from a Nonlinear Pedagogy and the Athletic Skills Model. Sports Medicine, 51, 1115 – 1122.


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