Constraints Led Approach – Cognitive Dissonance

Over half term I had the pleasure to attend a seminar on Research and Practice Design in Elite and Development Team Games Programmes at Sheffield Hallam University. The three presenters Vanda Correria, Mark O’Sullivan and Danny Newcombe shared their current research and practice which has been influenced by an ecological dynamics framework.

Vanda shared her experimental research on the informational constraints and the dynamics of interpersonal interactions within rugby. Her findings suggested that we need to design practices with more representative game information. Key things to manipulate in training to make this happen would be to focus on the relative position of the defenders, the time to contact with the defenders and the location of defensive gaps.

Mark shared how ecological dynamics is shifting how his club, AIK, is approaching youth football and coach education. Everything from culture to practice design to interacting with parents. He calls this a Quiet Revolution but if he and his colleagues have success I don’t think it will be quiet for long.

Finally Danny shared his work around the Environment Design Framework. A project of bridging the gap between practice and theory and how practically you can apply a constraints led approach (initially for team invasion sports but this is being extended) and use it as a reflection tool. There was also an interesting conversation that emerged out of this presentation between using the terms constraints and affordances. Ben Franks offers an excellent summary of this on his blog here and here, which is well worth your time if you are interested in a constraints led approach.

The seminar itself was informative, but it is the space between or after presentations where dialogue can occur, that I find really rewarding. The opportunity to engage in conversations with others, especially outside the world of PE, provides many threads to follow and often more questions than answers. This time was no different but it has left me with some cognitive dissonance. My main reason for attending the seminar was to better my application of a constraints led approach. It is beginning to find a lot of popularity within coaching and I think it offers much to PE teachers, however I want to ensure my actions are congruent to it’s underlying principles.  In my observations of colleagues, good PE Teachers instinctively use a constraints led approach to their teaching without knowing the underlying theory. Essentially a constraints led approach would be considered good teaching within PE.

A lot of the talk after the seminar was based around CLA. As I sat back and listened to the conversations it seemed to me that there were two types of world view for those who had come to better their understanding of a CLA. The first I would describe as a mechanical view. That the world, sport and learning in sport works like a machine. That we can understand things by breaking them down into its constituent parts and we can deal with them in a linear fashion. To zoom in and start to coach the player what we know. The second I would describe as an ecological view. That the world, sport and learning in sport is interconnected with rich forms of patterns that have been shaped by history and context. Or to zoom out and start with the person and what they bring to the sport. Both world views see CLA as good practice, but see it as good practice for very different things.

When listening to those promote CLA from a mechanical view, they see it as an effective method of teaching a sport. That their focus is to make better sportsmen and women in their chosen sport. As someone who strongly believes that motor competence is a strong driver for a lifetime of movement this world view appeals to me. If I can help my pupils in the acquisition of skill, make them more competent and feel more competent, then their confidence will improve. This will then provide a greater chance for those pupils to be involved in sport beyond school into their adulthood. In all honesty it is this world view that brought me to ecological dynamics, non-linear pedagogy and a constraints led approach.

However there are a few who see a CLA as a tool for something else. Not just that but also see sport as a tool for something else. For betterment for the individual. This appeals to me, especially with my recent thinking on movement not just for utilities sake, but for flourishing. It is all well and good as a PE Teacher to get children to move better, to be more competent in purposeful physical activity such as sport. But for what purpose? We are more likely to continue to engage in sport and movement if we find it relevant and meaningful.

Do we see see sport as something to learn about or something to learn through? Do we want to develop individuals with better understanding in the game or of the game? Do we want to better our pupils in the sport or use sport to better them? I’m greedy, I want it all. Perhaps I’m setting up a false dichotomy. Maybe we can have both at the same time? Maybe both world views can be held jointly and obtained? I suppose the one thing I can say is I’m beginning to better understand how to live with some cognitive dissonance. Whatever world view or however we use CLA I’m left thinking of words that Mark O’Sullivan shared in his presentation with regards to interacting with children in youth sport –  “If we step in, we better know how to add value.

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