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Do we really know how to utilise the constraints led approach?

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Dennis Bergkamp

  • Constraints are intrinsically linked to driving high performance
  • Players are motivated by restrictions and challenges, especially ones that are game realistic
  • Knowing your players and more importantly the person is essential to utilising the constraints led approach
  • Coaches can identify behaviours in their players and how they emotionally respond to challenges 

A definition

In my short time in football coaching I have played around with many interventions to accelerate the learning of players within my sessions. One area that fascinates me is the constraints led approach. Now at some point, we all use constraints; whether it be conditions, rules, questioning linked to the TGFU model. But I'd like to discuss do we actually know the impact of our constraints?

"Constraints Led Coaching is a style of coaching where the coach takes a particular technique, skill or tactic from the ‘whole’ game, isolates it in a Small Sided Game and lets the players find the answers to solve the problem". 

Implementation

This above statement really underpins the definition of constraints. For example, when you watch a game, do you notice what players are doing, feeling or thinking? Extracting and isolating an element in a small sided game can be one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences for players. If you watch the how Barcelona play, do you notice how many times the centre backs and holding midfielder either run with the ball or play off one touch to play out? Noticing this and implementing it within a small sided game would look like this:

Challenge: You must either run with the ball or play off one touch to break the halfway line

This will automatically challenge players thinking, allowing them to come up with the solutions to the problem with some detailed questioning through the TGFU model. Allowing the players to experience and feel the practice is key, and our role as coaches is to intently observe players behaviours and emotional responses. 

Barcelona 1 touch passing

“It’s the design of games using different scoring systems that require the players to use particular techniques or strategies to win the game. Simply tell the players the scoring system and then just let them play. Allow them time to determine the most appropriate strategy/response rather than explicitly telling them the solution”.

Another way to implement constraints is the use of rules. Recently, I wanted players to keep the ball in play for as long as possible. How do I do this? Think of a consequence that allows players to learn from their actions and behaviours. I implemented a sin - bin rule (similar to Rugby, Ice Hockey) where players had to stand on a line for 10 seconds if they kicked the ball out of play. Suddenly this changed the whole landscape of the game, as players were playing at a really high intensity and doing everything they possibly could to stay on the ball. 

Know your players, the task and the environment

It's important to know your players. What makes them tick? What are they motivated by, and how are you going to do it? Some players thrive of limiting the task, for example restricting them to a one touch finish to work on their body position, and their efficiency receiving the ball. But does it work for all? We have to create an environment where players are stimulated and have tasks just out of their reach, but also just within their reach. It really is a balancing act! Some challenges may not be suitable for all your players, but knowing their work programmes is key. For example, I worked with an U18 player last year who was one of the most imaginative and creative players I've ever coached. And he was a right back! So how did I challenge him? He loved doing Rabona chips in practice, I observed this when he did it in pre-training kick abouts. Yet I had never seen him apply it in practice. 

Challenge: Can you get as many assists as possible with a Rabona?

His eyes lit up when he heard this. Now it may not seem possible to do Rabona's all the time, that's where his decision making comes in. How do I do it? Whens the right time? What do I do if a defender closes me down quickly? Why would this be useful in a game?

Restricting players environment automatically promotes creativity. 

But beware!

What we sometimes think will work for players, won't always pan out how you wanted them to...

We need to know why we're doing what we're doing. Often I hear coaches say "Right, two - touch from now on". Why? Probably because it seems like they're coaching, but what are the reasons behind it? If you want to encourage players to quickly support the player with the ball, then one or two touch is a clever way to promote this. But always know why you're doing what you're doing. Will it benefit the players, challenge them tactically, technically or psychologically and have relevance to them and the game? 

Further use of constraints:

  • You can only do this with the ball
  • Powerplays (Award goals in time periods)
  • Game scenarios (You're 2-0 down with 1 minute to go, how might you respond?)
  • Sin - Bins
  • Rules, such as rewarding goals for certain behaviours, or saying you must dribble or pass the ball back in play (encourages players to have more opportunities at the learning task, which may be when to pass or dribble)
  • Challenges
  • Staggering the scoring system to manipulate what you want
  • Time limits
  • Overloads / Underloads
  • Bad officiating (play with their emotions)
  • Use of free kicks awarded to the other team when players go against the constraint
  • Questioning
  • Trial and Error
  • Guided Discovery

Understanding the needs and demands of your players is absolutely key. Sometimes if we don't challenge our players, we may never discover their true potential, and just how spectacular they can be. 

My final thoughts are does the CLA link with TGFU?

Thanks for reading. This is just from my experience in football, so I welcome any thoughts and comments from your experiences :-)

Rich

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Comments (15)

   
bryantennis
Hi Rich, thanks for the article. First article I've read on CLA that is clear and gives examples. I'm a tennis coach and technical development of a player is very important. How do you develop specific movement skills to solve the situation the player faces? If we are trying to develop skilled players when does the task move away from being a skill task to a technical task?
Thanks. Bryan
25/11/15
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Richard2591
Hi Bryan, in my opinion I believe to acquire skill this derives from context and situational dynamics. For example, if you could simulate or restrict the pressure (I.e. Opponent), time, space or circumstances (I.e. A game scenario) then players should experience lots of repetition of acquiring that particular skill. In addition, skill is often executed when opposed and with random or varied practice, as the player will have to process lots of information rather than just striking a ball from A to B. Knowing the player, the task and the environment will differentiate between technique and skill. What are your thoughts?
25/11/15
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MayburD
Hi Richard, great article. We try to play a lot of modified games and try to apply a Game-Centred Approach (GCA) to coaching in the rugby organisation I'm involved with. You've identified the very problem our coaches have - for what purpose are you modifying the rules of the game? what do you want the players to work out? the links between CLA & GCA (or TGfU if you like) are critical. if coaches change the rules of the game to encourage problem solving but then tell the players how to play to solve the problem where is the value (NB the learning!) in that? Derek
23/04/16
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Richard2591
Hi Derek, sometimes when we see the answers we are desperate to give them to players and never see them 'struggle' which is such a great thing for players to go through. Sometimes I also think we should let players experience 'flow state' and not intervene at all at times to give players a pure game experience.
29/04/16
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MayburD
I couldn't agree more. The difference between success and learning right?! It might look good and the coach appears to be giving lots of information but where's the learning? wouldn't the coach be better served creating the situation and allowing the players to be more involved in working out the solutions.
30/04/16
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Richard2591
Very true Derek, I filmed a session tonight on a GoPro and on reflection personally I need to let players experience struggle even if the session looks messy and chaotic!
16/05/16
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sgreen
CLA great method of developing players and taking them on a voyage of discovery

Often coaches feel they aren't coaching unless they are imparting information ... Try playing 5 minute high intensity games where for example we set basic standards .. So footwork before contact basic defensive and attacking shape but not systems set basic constraints but get the players to set them ... They may not be the best option but ask did that work .. Why not .. What shall we do to develop play we must say less .., ask more pose the problems for them to solve .. No situation is ever identical ... They will begin to initially see the defender .. As they develop more they will see his line .. Then hips and shoulders and work out how to beat the problem posed

Good feedback is important in the fly .. But make it specific and ask why was that line so good .., reinforce and sometimes freeze frame

There are so many games you can play and ways to simulate breakdowns .. When touched best crawls over .. Down on one knee .. Press ups burped you can manipulate the defence or the attack to get advantage ... Create mismatches and finish 2v1s

Turn the pitch to manipulate space change the dynamic new questions with less space

In order to develop our players we must first change the mindset of coaching

Imagine an Art lesson where we gave the pupils a sheet of paper with a picture on it and told them which bit to colour in with a particular colour .. There's no creativity in that ... Do your sessions mirror the art lesson .. If so .., it's time to look up say less and try new methods
04/06/16
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CyrilYates
I agree with Simon. I am part of a rugby coaching team that has used this approach for a number of seasons. CLA is about a change of culture to enable the players/athletes to take ownership of their development Over time we as a coaching team have persevered with this approach using a number of different constraints using games. This has borne fruit in the way that the team now makes decisions under pressure and has created a resilience in them as they do not know when they are beaten!
You do need to really think about the outcomes if the sessions and how you use feedback and questioning to enable the players to understand what they are learning!! However it is a very rewarding way to coach even if it does take time to develop
05/06/16
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dancottrell1
Really interesting developments here. I think I've tried most of them (i've been coaching a long time!), but I've certainly learned to be stricter on myself as a coach to keep the changes simple and let the game flow.

One thing which I've seen make a massive difference is stopping the game a bit earlier than you want and then coming back to it a week later. You can guess that the outcomes look different, but the players are spending less time "playing/learning the rule" and more time thinking tactically.

One problem I've found is that not every player has competitive grit. In fact, many amateur players go back into their shell when the pressure is too much.

I would be interested to hear how coaches adjust their parameters to keep the less-competitive soul still involved, or is the answer that we can't create a game that suits everyone?
06/06/16
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Mwood
Hello

Really interesting discussion, thank you for sharing the original post Rich.

I will go back to one of your final points ''...does the CLA link with TGFU?''

The best way to get into this is to consider the level of analysis that both approaches operate at. The TGFU framework is athlete centred and uses conditioned games as the tool for coaches to expose players to opportunities for learning. A CLA falls under the broader umbrella of a Non-linear Pedagogy and focuses on the athlete-environment system. This is where the two approaches differ. In the TGFU approach the game is the teacher, in a CLA the learning (or adaptation) occurs due the interaction with the individual and the environment.

A key feature of a CLA is that the behaviour expressed by the player emerges under the particular constraints of that practice (Newell's model; Individual, Task and Environment). Constraints are unique to the specific sport and individual participants, coaches therefore need to be adept at designing appropriate environments for players to explore and for the desired behaviour to emerge.

Along with this idea of the coach as a 'designer' are the ideas of information and affordances. Information is all around us and in a traditional sense is present in a coaching environment through instruction, feedback and questions. In a CLA or Ecological approach the design of the environment may encourage athletes or players to explore or pick up on different types of information from their surroundings e.g. vision, sound, feel, position of team members, distances (with reference to lines on the pitch) etc. Coaches should therefore enrich the environment with relevant information or restrict relevant information.

Which leads to affordances - these are the opportunities for action that the player perceives of objects, surfaces, other players etc present to the individual or team. For example the ball offers the opportunity for kicking, intercepting, stopping - but this is context specific, if the ball is in flight it can be headed or caught but possibly not kicked (bicycle kick is a brilliant example of a player spotting the affordance).

The concept of affordances is central to the Ecological and CLA in that individuals will experience different and shared affordances in seemingly similar situations. I think the neatest way of explaining affordances is a skate park. If we design a half pipe - skaters will explore that opportunity because they recognise it offers them certain behaviours, gain speed, turn, jump... and therefore jumping and turning behaviour emerges, with creativity more and more complex behaviour is displayed. If we design blocks and rails into our skate park skaters will recognise or learn that it is possible to grind and slide along the rails as well as jump them! This can then transfer back to our half pipe as skaters will begin to recognise new affordances in this environment as well - it is possible to grind or slide at the top of the ramp to scrub speed which affords then more behaviour.

Final thoughts (sorry if I have rambled) coaches are fantastic designers and work with constraints all the time - through experiential knowledge they become very good at identifying and presenting athletes with information (manipulation of constraints). It is a shame that this is typically verbal which can dull the exploration of affordances.

There are no coaches at the skate park.

A good article to look at is...

Renshaw, I., Araújo, D., Button, C., Chow, J.Y., Davids, K. and Moy, B., 2015. Why the constraints-led approach is not teaching games for understanding: A clarification. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, pp.1-22.

free download below

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Chris_Button/publication/283519505_Why_the_Constraints-Led_Approach_is_not_Teaching_Games_for_Understanding_a_clarification/links/5640fea008aebaaea1f6cfbd.pdf

A really excellent person to follow on twitter who looks at a lot of these concepts within football is Mark OSullivan @markstkhlm his blog is footblogball.wordpress.com

I look forward to reading more of this discussion board.

Matt
06/06/16
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MayburD
That's really very interesting. Simon, your Art lesson example is spot on. I've seen coaches devise a game to challenge the players to scan, identify players in space and to communicate ... and then commentate throughout the game giving the players the answers he wanted them to find for themselves.

Thanks Matt. that's a brilliant contribution and a lot to consider
06/06/16
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Joepcowan

Lots of great ideas here. Thanks all

05/01/17
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SportyFranco

Enjoyed the article and the comments around the theory and practical applications and examples. I have found this approach easier to deliver in team sports such as hockey and rugby than sports such as tennis, golf and especially cricket. Part of this might be because I was coached (taught probably a better word) in such a technical and autocratic way in my youth and my mind hasn't adapted to the principles of constraints in these more individual sports. As Matthew comments, Renshaw is a good read and Mark Upton someone to follow on twitter. Anyone here have any tips on adapting constraints approach to the more individual games such as cricket and golf or even swimming? Thanks.

06/01/17
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Richard2591

Hi Simon, Mark Upton is really good and I'd like to look into Renshaw. Ben Bartlett is good on twitter too as is reading about Dan Micciche. Single act technique sports like you've mentioned are more difficult to apply to C-L-A however consider the outcomes you want to achieve by observing the player and the sport. For example, as a cricketer I struggled to move my feet at all when in bat. A constraint might be I have to move my feet before scoring shots, or there could be a consequence for not doing so. Be careful with technique based sports though as many athletes have preferred styles of technique and they will need lots of relate type constraints and rewards for doing things well.

05/02/17
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andrewb62

hi Simon, Richard - I have been thinking about CLA and cricket - simple constraints might include using the narrow "technique" bat (you very quickly develop a technique that relies on using the middle of the bat...because that is all you have!), or bowling at a single stump. Some of the coaching interventions described by Steffan Jones to develop bowling actions look as if they might also qualify as CLA - physical constraints on movement, whether it be through the use of resistance bands or weighted balls.

01/04/17
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ElliottDoyle96

Hey guys, the majority of my coaching work is based in cricket and I've found similar issues with implementing CLA in practice situations. My main issue is that within a net (which - unfortunate as it sometimes is - is the only realistic option to get us even remotely close to gameplay) there are very few match-related constraints that can be effectively implemented. We can set an imaginary field (environmental constraint) and set an imaginary game situation (task constraint) but at the end of the day the effectiveness of this enforced context is entirely dependent on how much the player decides to immerse themselves in it. On top of this, even where players have the best intentions in the world this is just too much information to stay constantly aware of and inevitably their focus starts to slip. When it comes to individual technical work it's a bit more straightforward, but trying to keep technical and tactical components of practice as intertwined as they should be is a big challenge.

20/10/17
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CoachMarriott

The adoption of a CLA is gaining momentum, but I fear that we still have a way to go in helping coaches to understand how to best utilise it. From my experience as a coach developer,coaches try hard to design content with lots of seemingly good constraints, but often "over constrain" their practices, limiting the options available to performers and introduce unintended consequences. The concept of affordances is an important one and this needs to be more widely discussed.

The notion that "you can't adapt to an environment that you don't inhabit" is an important one, and it is up to all coaches when designing their representative practices that they don't restrict (over constrain) performers, but rather manipulate the environment in such a way that it affords players opportunities to choose the right solutions to overcome the particular challenges created by the new environment.

Often, the way to do this in team games is to put the constraints on the opposition. In trying to develop quicker passing for example, coaches often introduce a two-touch rule which seems sensible at first glance. However if there is no pressure from defenders, why take away from the ball carrier the decision to carry the ball forward? Instead, why not add constraints or points scoring opportunities to the defenders for applying lots of pressure to the ball or for regaining the ball quickly in an underload (less defenders than attackers). They will then (hopefully) work hard to win the ball, put lots of pressure on ball carriers, and create the possibility for the side in possession to succeed by moving the ball around more quickly without removing any of the choices available to them. Create affordances!!

The greater use of CLA is a good thing, but too often a little knowledge can be a bad thing and used poorly constraints can lead to confusing sessions that aren't goal directed and are counterproductive.

23/01/17
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Richard2591

Completely agree Chris, managing the opposition is also key. The other day I wanted to bring out turning opportunities in football, so I encouraged the opposition to mark man to man and prevent them from turning. Sometimes if the trade off is too high or in essence the game realism is out weighed by what you are trying to get out, it's time to consider changing the constraint.

05/02/17
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robertepetersen

OK, so I'm new to this but I like the idea. Let's see if I understand. My team shoots trap, a shotgun sport like Olympic Trap. The target emerges from a trap house going away from the shooter at 42 mph and in a random direction. With new shooters, I turn off the oscillator and throw straight targets so they only have to learn to hit a rising target going away from them. CLA might have 3 different games in sequence: (1) hit 4 out of 5 straightaways, and qualify to move on to (2) at a fixed angle break 4 out of 5, (3) turn oscillator on and shoot random targets. That makes sense to me. Does it make sense to you?

19/10/18
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