Notes from a conference (part 1): AIK youth football presentation at CIF 30-year anniversary Conference.

Stockholm 15-09-2018

AIK youth football presentation at CIF (Centre for Sports Science) 30-year anniversary Conference.

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 Dennis Hörtin (twitter) and I were honoured to be asked to present the ongoing work and process of evolution at AIK youth football (link). The following is a description of our intentions with the presentation followed by some take home bullet points.

The debate in child youth sport in Sweden is open despite often being polarised and contradictory. One can hope that the current discussions, like those presented  by others at this conference, will help coaches, stakeholders, federal sports organisations at both national and district level and clubs to move beyond the current stalemate and enhance knowledge mobilisation. By this we mean that the act of moving research results into the hands of research users, needs to be a prioritised. However, despite good intentions displayed at operational system level through documents and guidelines there is clearly a need to bridge the theory-practice gap and take it in to active use. For instance, while acknowledging the underlying complex process of the act of moving research into the hands of research users, there is seemingly a limited understanding of how to ensure research and federal sports policies are implemented and used in practice.

The aim of our presentation was to stimulate a broad and informed debate within youth sport and in child youth football in general by emphasising the need to understand the dynamic interrelations between various components if we are to truly live up to the idea of ‘as many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible’. There seems to be an increasing frustration among practitioners and researchers with the inability of traditional methods, models and programs to provide explanations or solutions for persistent problems and misunderstandings in player development and how best to design learning environments in child youth football. The underlying narratives of these frustrations are captured by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a research paper published May 2015 stating that the ‘culture’ of specific sports and youth sports in general, has become disproportionately both adult and media centred. This elucidates a need to address interactions between athletes, coaching styles and practices, the effects on youth athletes from parental expectations and the view of youth athletes as commodities, which is often intrusive with a fine line between objectivity and sensationalism.

There is a constraining dominance at play here. The grip of convention on player development and practice, on coaching and coach education is seemingly fuelled a cultural inertia making it easier to persevere with and fall back on embedded habits and beliefs. One of the dominant narratives is the focus on the short-term maximisation as opposed the long-term optimisation. This is evident from the pedagogies used in practice to ideas around talent identification and player development. By suggesting that practice task design and learning environments and therefore player development can be re-framed for children we are saying that in essence, the development of children in sport needs to be grounded in research.

Therefore, at AIK youth football (twitter) we are viewing player development from an ecological perspective with the level of analysis being the player- environment interaction. We suggest that further research should look to develop a theoretical framework for child youth football that accounts for the complexity and nonlinearity of human development, essentially, for as many as possible, as long as possible, as good as possible.

Main points from presentation:

Earlier that day Jean Côté introduced his presentation as an ecological approach to looking at sport. We used this as a foundation for us to build our presentation on.

  • AIK considers its players and teams and wider ecology as complex adaptive systems
  • We start from where we are not from where we want to be
  • Implementing a Research & Development Department to merge in club knowledge + experience with knowledge from the research.
  • The goals: (1) The wellbeing of children (2) Align with key documents (UN convention on the rights of the child, guiding governing policy documents) (3) Facilitate an environment for the emergence of healthier people and better football players.
  • AIK views player development from an ecological perspective.
  • Grounded in the theoretical framework of ED coaches at AIK are encouraged to adopt A Constraints Led Approach (CLA). Individual- environment- task constraints don’t operate in isolation, they interact over different timescales. CLA is not a magic bullet.
  • CLA is not small sided games or game based session design. This is a common misinterpretation often leading to ideas of the game as the teacher – this can lead to over passive coaching. A game based approach doesn’t mean just play a game.
  • Implementing a CLA requires a deep understanding of the sport and skill learning, the individual (socio-culturally-psychologically) the environment (how we design training and macro form of life, the social, cultural, historical landscape).             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).
  • Theme based sessions are too vague. Emergent behaviours can be observed and worked on if the session is defined by principles of play. Encourage coaches to design sessions that can shine a light on one behaviour without excluding the affordance for others.
  • Principles of nonlinear pedagogy can be useful for coaches to inform their session designhttps://footblogball.wordpress.com/…/designing-a-learning-…/
  • The player – environment interaction is the level of analysis- therefore we propose the idea of Football Interactions

Football Interactions (using a definition conceptualised by (O’ Sullivan & Kearney) are how an athlete coordinates their behaviour within the performance context (the game), in relation to that environment, on the basis of not only physical and informational (i.e., situational) demands, but also on the basis of historical and cultural factors. Football Interactions (dribble, drive, pass, shoot, movement without the ball …….
The best players have a high ability to connect perception and action and select relevant information to utilise football interactions for that situation
Therefore, training design should include information representative of the game to enhance the connection of perception and action and utilization through football interactions of relevant information.

 

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Coaching, Interactions and The Workmanship of Risk

Killian Sam jpg

Adaptation of our knowledge, skills and understanding is a challenging and confronting process. David Pye’s idea of the ‘workmanship of risk’ emphasises the idea that this process should go on throughout our lifespan. Think of an artist working on a painting, a sculptor chiselling out the finer details or indeed a young player learning to become skilfully attuned to the multiple possibilities for action in each unique situation, the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making and learning. This is a rich description of how child-youth football environments should look in practice and elucidates the idea that interactions between coach and learner(s) are of the utmost importance as they constitute a learning system.

The best youth coaches look to create an environment where young players learn to understand that they will never stop learning what they can do with their skill.

What is skilful performance?

Successful performance (skilful performance) in sport is predicated on the constraints of an individual’s perceptual and action capabilities, selecting among affordances to guide football interactions (dribble, pass, off ball movement…) during performance (Araújo et al., 2006). 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). Football interactions are tuned by environmental information to function specifically in each unique situation emphasising the need to understand the nature of the information that constrains movement. Practice should highlight informational constraints to improve the coupling of perception and action in players and promote the utilization through football interactions of relevant affordances.

Environment Design for Skilful Performance – Design the task and coach around affordances

Skills or football interactions (dribble, pass, running off the ball) require extensive practice but the design of practice is of great importance in the sense that it needs to contain relevant informational variables (opportunities for football interactions) so that young learners learn how to become skilfully perceptually attuned to relevant information as perception plays an on-line role in tuning football interactions and therefore the young players learning. This links in with the ideas put forward by Araujo & Davids in 2010 when they suggested that the main focus of learning in sport should be on a process of ‘skill attunement’. Echoing Gibson (1966, 1986) this implies that the coach should consider perception and action jointly as continuous interactions rather than treating them as separate problems that can be solved independently and afterwards connected. From a coaching perspective, it can be argued that this is about educating the attention of the young learner. But just as importantly, this in turn means that the coaches focus of attention must also be educated! Here we challenge the coach to identify relevant information available to the learner, to skilfully educate the young player to attend to certain features of the learning context so that they can learn how this information can be utilised using football interactions. Design the task and coach around affordances.

Skill when viewed as an interaction is how learners affect change through the utilisation of affordances using football interactions (dribble, pass, off ball movement) as they search, discover and exploit in response to what the game is asking of them. In other words, learning to become skilfully attuned to each situation that the game presents to them. This idea of ongoing adaption or ‘skill attunement’ elucidates the idea that coaches should create an environment where young players learn to understand that they will never stop learning what they can do with their skill.

Skills Have History

The diversity of human motor behaviour should help us to understand how motor solutions emerge from a given set of constraints. This is particularly pertinent with young learners. Young children arrive at training each with their own unique individual bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities. Two kids living in a block of flats. On the 10th floor lives a single mother with a child that is taken care of by his elderly grandmother so that she can go to work. On the bottom floor a child of the same age gets to regularly play daily with his older siblings in the common garden area. The two kids are friends but the opportunities afforded to them to play, move and express their bodies are influenced by different constraints. If it is understood that movement solutions performed as solutions to a problem cannot be separated from the environment in which it takes place then it should be understood as hypothesised by Baily & Pickford (2010) that skills have history. Movement solutions performed in these early organised sports environments cannot be separated from each individuals’ unique bibliography of movement experiences and opportunities their environment offered to them up to that point.

This is a simple example how constraints as highlighted by Rothwell et al; 2017 may influence a young player’s development and how they interact with a performance context and elucidates a key principle of ecological dynamics in player development. That is the interacting influence of task and environmental constraints on a young players’ ability to become attuned to the opportunities for action invited by objects, surfaces, features, terrains, and other people in a performance setting. This key principle as touched on earlier in this article is known as affordances in ecological dynamics (Davids, Güllich, Shuttleworth & Araújo, 2017).

The Workmanship of Risk

The essential idea of ‘the workmanship of risk’ is that that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making and learning. This is a rich description of how child-youth football environments should look in practice, emphasising patience and implying a mutual creation of meaning which arises from the “between”, or the system, of learner and coach (Fuchs; 2007). Unlike more traditional reductionist approaches the diverse range of the affordance landscape in expertly designed learning environments in child youth football is one ‘in which the quality of the result is not predetermined, but depends on judgment, dexterity and care which the maker (coach and players) exercises as the work is inherently more pleasing (Pye; 1986). So, the process of ‘making and learning’ through coach – player(s) interactions such as manipulation of constraints, using feedback or players themselves continuously adapting their football interactions in the deliberately designed environment is a coach bringing sensitivity to the different experiences, opportunities, biographies and histories of learners. This implies that the coach must have a deep understanding of the sport, skill learning, the individual (psycho-socio-cultural being) and the environment (learning space, broader social-cultural landscape). If you are stepping in to the learning process, then you better know how to add value.

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

Araújo, D., & Davids, K. (2011). What exactly is acquired during skill acquisition? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 18, 7 23.

Bailey & Pickard (2010) Body learning: examining the processes of skill learning in dance, Sport, Education and Society, 15:3, 367-382, DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2010.493317

Davids, K., Güllich, A., Shuttleworth., R., & Araújo, D. (2017). Understanding Environmental and Task Constraints on Talent Development, In J. Baker, S. Cobley, J. Schorer & N. Wattie (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Talent Identification and Development in Sport. Abingdon: Routledge.

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

Fuchs, Thomas. (2007). Psychotherapy of the lived space: A phenomenological and ecological concept. American journal of psychotherapy. 61. 423-39.

Gibson, J. J. (1966). The senses considered as perceptual systems. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Gibson, J. J. (1979/1986). The ecological approach to perception. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Rietveld, E., & Kiverstein, J. (2014). A Rich Landscape of Affordances. Ecological Psychology,26(4), 325-352. doi:10.1080/10407413.2014.958035

Rothwell, M., Davids, K., Stone I. (2017). Harnessing socio-cultural constraints on athlete development to create a form of life. Journal of Expertise.

Pye, D. (1986) The nature and art of workmanship (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

 

Facilitating a space for exchange and learning in a community of practitioners and researchers.

Complex Sam

A major factor that influences all performers [at all levels] throughout their sporting careers is the quality and appropriateness of the coaching environment (Martindale et al., 2005, p.353). Against the background of significant concerns about the quality and appropriateness of the contemporary youth sport experience the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently presented a critical evaluation of the current state of science and practice of youth athlete development. The consensus statement called for a more evidence-informed approach to youth athlete development through the adoption of viable, evidence-informed and inclusive frameworks of athlete development that are flexible (using ‘best practice’ for each developmental level), while embracing individual athlete progression and appropriately responding to the athlete’s perspective and needs (IOC, 2015).

Despite the research literature on athlete development being generally more humanistic and developmentally orientated (e.g. Côté & Lidor, 2013a) there is continuing emergence of non-flexible programmes promoting early talent identification and specialisation often characterised by selection and deselection through all ages and stages (Güllich, A., 2013) with a clear absence of critical thinking (see here). We may know what we are looking for but do we understand what we are looking at?(see here) There is a fundamental flaw in any youth sports system that does not take into account the complexity and non-linearity of human development. For example; sub-systems of the human body develop at different levels and may act as rate limiters on performance (e.g., psychological (Collins & MacNamara, 2012), and social development (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

Predicting the future behaviour of a complex system (young player, team) can be quite futile. Recently, in his book “No hunger in Paradise” Michale Calvin reported that of the 1.5 million children playing organised youth football in the UK only 180 will play in the Premier League. Clearly one should not shape and form children’s football around small numbers. Clearly one should not shape and form children’s football around a system that verifies its existence through survivorship bias.

There is increasing acceptance that individual differences among learners need to be accounted for when coaches plan teaching interventions in any learning contexts (Chow & Atencio, 2012). Learning a sports skill is a complex process that involves a multitude of factors. At the level of the learner, every individual is unique with differences in characteristics such as genetic composition, social-economic backgrounds, prior experiences (Thelen E, Smith LB, Karmiloff-Smith A, Johnson MH (1994). For the young learner, the game, learning the game and the culture of the game is a continuum of complexity. “The coach needs to understand the game but also other aspects that surround the game. The surrounding environment, society, culture, economy” – Joan Vila (Head of Methodology, FC Barcelona).

In this respect, talent is not defined by a young athlete’s fixed set of genetic or acquired components, but should be understood as a dynamically varying relationship captured by the constraints imposed by the tasks experienced, the physical and social environment, and the personal resources of a performer (Araújo & Davids, 2011)

Clearly there is a need for a model and principles that reflect the needs and meets the desire to create a holistic understanding of the sports coaching process and a fuller understanding of its complexity (Jones et al., 2002; Trudel and Gilbert, 2006). Since 1994, a constraints-based framework (see here), (incorporating key ideas from ecological psychology, dynamical systems theory, evolutionary biology and the complexity sciences), has informed the way that many sport scientists seek to understand performance, learning design and the development of expertise and talent in sport (Davids, Handford & Williams, 1994; Williams, Davids & Williams, 1999; Davids et al., 2006; Araújo, & Davids, 2011b; Passos et al., 2016; Seifert et al., 2014). An important feature of the contribution of the constraints-based framework to enhancing understanding of theory and application in the acquisition of skill and expertise in sport is a focus on enhancing the quality of practice in developmental and elite sport (Chow et al., 2016).

A key challenge for coaches is to cater for this abundance of individual characteristics during practice. Therefore, nonlinear pedagogy (grounded in the constraints-led approach) is particularly appealing in that it underpins a learner centred approach and the emergence of skills (Renshaw., 2012). Nonlinear pedagogy provides an appropriate framework for practitioners to cater for individual complexities and dynamic learning environments (Lee, M. C., Chow, J. Y., Komar, J., Tan, C. W., & Button, C.,2014). Training should be designed to encourage the interaction of the different capacities and systems of the young player to help them learn to adapt and develop the ability to learn how to organise their capacities and structures. Seirullo (2002) refers to as this type of training design as “prioritised” rather than “hierarchised.” where the young learner is a participant in the learning process as opposed to being a recipient. England Rugby coach Eddie Jones in a recent interview with the Telegraph newspaper makes a reference to this – “Professional sport to a large extent is educating players to be a recipient and it’s our great belief that to be a World Cup-winning team you need to be a participant.”

Mercé et al. (2007) suggested that football be understood as a “situational sport”. The dynamic of the game comes from unstable situations and big uncertainty caused by teammate’s and opponent behaviours, path of the ball, environment, etc. It is characterised by individual and collective decision making where the player/team adapts performance to each punctual moment. The emerging relationships with teammates and interaction with opponents develops an interesting dialogue (co-adaptability/ interdependence) and an astute coach will observe, reflect and use this dialogue to design a learning space (see here). The learning environment should offer possibilities for “football inter-actions”  to the young player independent of their changing abilities needs and concerns.

football 2 interaction

However, sports coaching research “needs to extend its physical and intellectual boundaries” (Potrac et al., 2007, p.34). There is a limited amount of research undertaken in the integration of theory, science & knowledge from the perspective of high quality applied practice in sport.

This theory- practice gap possibly can be attributed to: “the professional wants new solutions to operational problems while the researcher seeks new knowledge” (Bates, 2002b, p.404). We can refine the literature by accessing the ‘often missing voice’, those whose job it is to implement the ‘theoretical’ models into ‘live’ programmes; i.e., the coaches. Coaches’ experiential knowledge can provide insights beyond those found in traditional empirical research studies. The integration of experiential knowledge of coaches with theoretically driven empirical knowledge represents a promising avenue to drive future applied science research and pedagogical practice (Greenwood, Davids, & Renshaw, 2013).

Coaches who are willing to share their evidence-based practice will improve the quality of practical and applied work in sport. We need to recognise that we probably do not know as much as we think and there is a need to facilitate a space for exchange and learning in a community of practitioners and researchers in order to develop understanding and knowledge and propose improvements for the constructive transformation and evolution of both the coaching environment (practice and coach education) and the literature.

References

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

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

Bush, A. (2014). Sports coaching research: context, consequences, and consciousness. New York: Routledge.

Chow, J.-Y., Davids, K., Button, C. & Renshaw, I. (2016). Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction. Routledge: London

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.

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

Jones, R.L., Armour, K.M. and Potrac, P. (2002). Understanding the coaching pro- cess: a framework for social analysis. Quest, 54, 34–48.

Lee, M. C., Chow, J. Y., Komar, J., Tan, C. W., & Button, C. (2014). Nonlinear Pedagogy: An Effective Approach to Cater for Individual Differences in Learning a Sports Skill. PLoS ONE,9(8). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104744

Mallo, J. (2015). Complex Football: From Seirul·los structured training to Frades tactical periodisation. Madrid: Verlag nicht ermittelbar.

Mercé, J., Mundina, J., García, R., Yagüe, J. M., & González, L.-M. (2007). Estudio de un modelo para los procesos cognitivos en jugadores de fútbol de edades comprendidas entre 8 y 12 años. EFDeportes. Revista Digital

Potrac, P., Jones, R.L. and Cushion, C. (2007). Understanding power and the coach’s role in professional English soccer: a preliminary investigation of coach behaviour. Soccer and Society, 8(1), 33–49.

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

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

Thelen E, Smith LB, Karmiloff-Smith A, Johnson MH (1994) A dynamic systems approach to the development of cognition and action: MIT Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Repetition without Repetition (Part 2)

image cla

A good start to this critical analysis piece is a great quote from Mark Upton in a recent blog. “We can’t be our best until you’re your best”- In this case- “I can’t be my best until you are your best”. I wanted to initiate a discussion in relation to something I have thought long and hard about. The use of a constraint in my last blog to set up learning opportunities embracing the principles of co-adaptability within a SSG. I have for a while been split between using the “no forward pass” rule or not. The intention is that it should be a very brief constraint used to “set up” the game as in dribble (identify free space or provoke to create space elsewhere) and get players tuned in to the role of the goalkeeper in the modern game.  Within the community of practice and research I am lucky to have some great minds to reach out to with the aim to initiate a discussion. Daniel Newcombe (Senior lecture @Oxford_Brookes and Hockey coach for Wales senior and U21 team, Dan Clements  (Head of Performance Hockey Wales) and researcher/coach James Vaughan (AIK Sweden, PDP).

Discussion outcomes:

  • It can be argued that the rule will change how the defenders defend and therefore make the affordances false. The players won’t be choosing when to carry and when to pass forward around the affordances in the environment(Daniel Newcombe).
  • The rule may create conditions that are less representative of the game. By limiting the options for the attackers, we are moving away from the principles of the game. Similarly in this valuable learning time we want them to have the chance to develop all of the aspects of their game that are related to this aspect (attacking play) – if it is on to pass it forward take that option as you would in a game (Dan Clements).
  • “We can only constrain what is in front of us”. This was an interesting point by James Vaughan. He was referring to the socio-cultural football environmental constraints that these young players train in. For example, if there is an “isolated drill” culture then the focus of attention may be on the performance of a technique as opposed adapting the best skill in a game situation. I often refer to this as friendly with the ball but a stranger to the game. James like me sees the value of the rule in a certain context as a way of helping adjust the young players focus of attention and create many 1v1’s in game contexts. However, we both feel that the points made by Daniel Newcombe and Dan Clements are important and central to our work in creating affordance driven learning spaces for our young players.

Deliberate design for a deliberate learning intent

We want players to detect information sources that are best suited to performance in that situation. By designing sessions that are affordance-driven young players can educate their attention and learn which sources of information to act upon and when to act, while also learning which sources of information are less useful or irrelevant for that particular task.

Therefore, training must not be based on the repetition of exercises, as the learning process requires an intention in the action to achieve a real educative purpose (Oliveira et al., 2007).

How?

  • Practice repetition without repetition
  • Keep perception and action coupled
  • Training is affordance driven
  • Promote an external focus of attention
  • Representative Learning Design(see here)

It’s about helping young learners to engage with the value of what they do- (James Vaughan)

In many national coach education curricula, there is a tendency to give the solution to the problem in the theme of the session. This traditional methodology risks the development of an internal focus of attention among our young learners

In the following practical session, we analyse “In possession”- as ‘identify’, ‘create’, ‘occupy’ and ‘exploit’ space. This is carried out using football interactions. These Football interactions actions are solutions (opportunities for action) and we should design training where young learners seek out and use these solutions (our invitations for action). The learners decide which football interaction should be used and how, where and when it should be executed. In this way training design is ‘affordance-driven’. Football interactions can be composed of several elements – for example, when a player runs, dribbles and ends with a shot on goal. This may also be a single element – such as a header duel with jumping and landing. Football interactions are how players utilise affordances.

Design the task not the solution.

These tasks should promote interactions between the footballers, as intelligence is developed when people collaborate and cooperate with other people to solve problems (Punset, 2007). Using the principles of co-adaptability at the scale of performance and learning the coach can try and “nudge” the young learners in to constantly trying to adapt new ways to counteract new strategies that opponents are introducing in to the game. The relationships with teammates and interaction with opponents develops an interesting dialogue and an astute coach will observe and use this dialogue to create a learning space.

To understand “football interaction” one must understand the big picture. A picture that dictates that no action is isolated but is nested in interactions between team mates and opponents both within the game and from previous games.

Football interactions are solutions and we should design training where young learners seek out these solutions. They decide which football interaction should be used and how where and when it should be executed. Training design is affordance driven -“we use constraints to afford” (Danny Newcombe).

Football interaction: Can be composed of several elements – for example, when a player runs, dribbles and ends with a shot on goal. The action may also be a single element – such as a header duel with jumping and landing.

4v4 Game- Developing Attacking Play – Finding Gaps

Score a goal by taking the ball over under control between the yellow or red cones line using football actions

8 players (mixture of 10 and 11 year olds)

2 of the players were regular goalkeepers for their teams. I discussed with the goalkeepers before the session the role of the modern goalkeeper (see here), their role in the build-up of play and what are the relevant football actions.

I want to create learning opportunities where the players can develop the concept of how we identify, create, attack and occupy space in attacking play. The training design should promote an external focus of attention. The players in the attacking team (with and without the ball) search for gaps to exploit (information).

ATTACK PLAY 2

I have observed that many young learners will pass the ball instead of accepting the better affordance of a gap in the opponent’s defensive organisation (inattentional blindness?). This gap often affords the opportunity for dribbling/driving the ball (or perhaps a penetrating pass in depth from the goalkeeper?) in to free space and thus threaten the opponents goal.

  • How can we manipulate the task so that the young players are forced to search and identify gaps to drive/dribble (in the case above the solution) the ball into so that they can create a goal scoring chance?
  • How can we manipulate the task to encourage young players to identify, occupy, create and attack space by accepting the best affordances (the solution)?
  • All this without diluting the affordance available

The defending team is rewarded with 1 point if they intercept a pass.

“This should see the defensive team subtly remove some of the passing options which should encourage the dribble more” (Daniel Newcombe). This will also make players decide to pass less as there is increased risk involved. Having set up this session design many times it can also be argued that this constraint makes the attacking team have a more deliberate intent with their passing. The attacking team takes less risks but may evolve the attacking play by using the pass to move the opponent (disorganise the opponent) to create gaps to dribble/ drive in to.

  • Red cones = 2 points
  • Yellow cones = 2 points
  • Points system can be varied depending on where you think the players need to learn to focus their attacking intentions. If you want players to attack central them maybe 3 points between the yellow cones and 2 points between the red.

Discussions with the goalkeepers:

  • Communication
  • Positioning – Open to receive pass (always offer depth)
  • Body profile – find position to receive ball with foot furthest away
  • Horizontal movement in support play
  • Vertical movement in support play
  • Identifying space/ gaps

Discussions with all players

  • Communication
  • Positioning – open to receive pass or give support in depth
  • Width and depth especially when the goalkeeper is in possession
  • Timing (ie movement in depth to receive pass from goalkeeper)
  • Using football actions to provoke and deceive (to disorganise opponents) to create space for yourself and others
  • Identify and attack space (dribble or receive a pass from goalkeeper)

I would like to conclude with a great quote from Mark Upton’s recent blog. “We can’t be our best until you’re your best”- this for me is a great reference point for the type of dynamic our training environment, the learning space should promote. This is what I was referring to earlier when I said that the relationships with teammates and interaction with opponents develops an interesting dialogue and an astute coach will observe and use this dialogue to create a learning space to help each player be their best.

Many thanks to James Vaughan, Daniel Newcombe and Dan Clements for a great discussion.

Footblogball quiz: Which band sampled this track on their early 90’s groundbreaking ablbum?

Deliberate Design and Tactical Creativity for a Deliberate Learning Intent

The player is one part of a dynamic system. The system is compromised of the game/training environment, the task, constraints and the interactions of players in attack, defense and transition. The player acts in context. This dynamic context creates information that needs to be perceived. Therefore, it is important to train the perceptual and action systems of young players together. What information sources are designed in to practice is of the utmost importance.

We want to help learners to develop understanding IN the game as opposed to just an understanding OF the game.

Training sessions should be deliberately designed for young learners to learn how to play with purpose. In other words, to play with a deliberate “learning” intent. The training design is deliberately flexible, allows for the manipulation of task constraints and affords various actions for the young player. Skill emerges as a solution to the problem in that moment.

We need to design training sessions that allow for a variation of solutions to emerge as opposed to the same solution being repeated time and time again. It is vital that the training environment reflects the performance environment

Design a task that simulates an aspect of the performance environment

defending game 1

Prevent your opponent from scoring using defensive football actions (individually and collectively)

A goal is scored by dribbling the ball through the coned goals

Goal in red goals = 1 point

Goal in Yellow goal = 2 points

The game starts in this case with Red playing the ball to Blue (Note Red have width and Blue are compact). The red team then move up-field in an effort to win the ball.

How does the Blue team behave when they receive the ball?

How does the Red team behave when the Blue team receives the ball?

I designed this training for a group of 13 year olds I worked with recently

I let the young players play the game for about 10 mins and then called them all in for a quick discussion and to show them two photos that I took with my mobile phone.

image (5)This photo was taken at the start of the session. The blue team have received the ball and the red (orange J) team have collectively moved up field to try and win the ball.

 

image (6)The blue team found it easy to identify a gap to pass the ball through to a player making a run in depth behind the defensive line.

I felt that while at times some players may have been correct with their individual actions they rarely acted collectively to solve the problem. I asked the players to quickly analyse the photos and to come up with some suggestions as to how they can use collective and individual football actions to prevent their opponent from scoring. We first placed a particular focus on the actions of the team as they moved up-field to try and gain possession of the ball.

Player and coach reflections from two quick group discussions  and individual feedback during the session

  • Neither team has control of the ball as it is kicked up-field
  • The need to collectively press up-field without leaving large gaps between players
  • When the opponent receives the ball and we have collectively moved up-field ensure that there is defensive balance, stability and we are also prepared to deny space behind us. (Do we hold and organise or do we immediately press?)
  • The defender nearest to the player in possession presses. What information does this player communicate to his teammates with the decision how the pressing action is carried out? How do the other defenders react to this to maintain the defensive balance?

The movements of team mates and opponents provides information that drives our own movements. For instance, players can communicate and share information with each other verbally or non-verbally. Isolated drills can lack the inter-individual communication of essential information This session also uses the principles of co-adaptability at the scale of performance and learning. What defenders do impacts on what the attackers do and what the attackers do shapes what the defenders do. The coach can try and “nudge” the young players in to constantly trying to adapt new ways to counteract new strategies that opponents are introducing in to the game.

“Football actions” are underpinned by

  • Communication
  • Decision
  • Execution of Decision

Football is a game of constant decision making based on communication/information. Every “football action” involves a decision.

A recent blog  (see here) hosted on the inspiring Player Development Project homepage, the excellent Todd Beane coincidentally refers to a similar idea that I have been using while giving coach education courses here in Sweden. When the topic of skill acquisition and training environment is been discussed I write the “football action” points below on a whiteboard and I ask the coaches which one of these do players use the most during a game.

  • Pass
  • Dribble
  • Decision
  • Shoot
  • Tackle

The unanimous verdict is “Decision”. We are also in general agreement that players are constantly making decisions during a game (both on and off the ball). So why remove it from training? This is also echoed in the ideas of innovative Swedish goalkeeper coach Maths Elfvendal who promotes a more integrated approach to goalkeeper training.

Football is a game of constant decision making based on communication/information. Every training session should have as many aspects of football as possible. The aspects used should interact and should also influence each other.

There’s only one moment in which you can arrive in time. If you are not there, you are either too early or too late (Johan Cruyff)

Resources and inspiration

Nonlinear pedagogy in skill acquisition (Jia Yi ChowKeith DavidsChris ButtonIan Renshaw; Routledge December 9, 2015)

Periodization, planning, prediction: And why the future ain’t what it used to be! (John Kiely)

Richard Shuttleworth: Decision Making in Team Sport (Sports Coach Vol 30, No 2, Pages 25-27; 2015)

Teaching tactical creativity in sport research and practice (Daniel Memmert; Routledge April 2015)

Daniel Memmert: Interview Footblogball (footblogball.wordpress.com) July 2015 (https://footblogball.wordpress.com/2015/07/31/teaching-tactical-creativity-dr-daniel-memmert/)

Shane Pill https://twitter.com/pilly66 http://learningthroughsport.blogspot.se/