(Podcast Notes) Ben Franks: What is Non-Linear Pedagogy & the Constraints Led Approach?

Josh Faga
Josh Faga
Jan 30, 2019 · 7 min read
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Listen to the Full Podcast Here

Key Takeaways


  • He is theory first, then practice, but he doesn’t disregard those coaches that are practice first, then theory.
  • He feels one doesn’t come without the other
  • , so we can’t disregard it
  • We have to approach the world with some sort of theory. . So, it really comes down to the and of your theory.
  • Doing something with your team that has worked for the last 5 years is not theory. It is insight, and it may work for you in your situation, but it isn’t universal evidence

Theory and Practice

  • The cure for Scurvy was discovered by , a nod to the intelligent intuition and skillful tinkering of practitioners (coaches). It wasn’t until after the cure was discovered that we learned why (Vitamin C).
  • Ben says that this is a perfect example that although the solution may have been discovered in practice,
  • He believes this example shows why we need both. You can’t have one without the other.

‘It Depends’

  • Context is key, but don’t fall in love with the phrase
  • “Everyone keeps saying , but the next question is
  • It depends is not an answer, or the end of a discussion, but the beginning of one.
  • Below are a series of tweets from
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  • In other words, if we have different theories, facts, and evidence, then we disagree about But, if we have the same theory, fact, or evidence then we can then discuss the of which our coaching would depend on.

Opposed vs Unopposed

  • He is typically against unopposed work, but he coaches adults in the last stage of their careers (30’s) that are coming to training after a full day of work. He finds that asking them to solve problems and think a lot during training can be disadvantageous to the learning environment, so he uses unopposed situations in this context.
  • To refer to the above section titled if we agree with the theory of non-linear pedagogy, then in this situation, how Ben coaches is based on the Individual constraints of the players, namely their age and day-job.
  • When possible he always does opposed practice, but in circumstances he sees a purpose for unopposed practice

Non-linear Pedagogy: What is it?

  • NLP is “an approach to learning that is attempting to appreciate that learning is complex.”
  • NLP does “

It comes down to 3 key things:

  1. Variability
  2. Information available to interact with
  3. Representative nature of practice
  • It makes room for the of a coach

Linear vs Non-linear

  • Linear — Cause and Effect approach to learning where outcomes are predictable. Ex) Putting a rocket on the moon
  • Non-Linear — unclear relationship between Cause and Effect, which makes outcomes unpredictable. Ex) Raising a child
  • Learning is non-linear because we can’t systematically say, “this is going to happen at this stage, this is going to happen at this stage, this is going to happen at this stage.”
  • This is why infants learn to crawl, walk, talk, and eat “The way they interact with their environment is not predictable.”
  • Relating it to soccer, you can’t predict when someone will be able to pass a ball 20 yards by a certain date

Ecological Dynamics, Non-linear pedagogy, & Constraints Coaching

  • is the overriding theory”
  • are the principles of Ecological Dynamics”
  • is the framework of how we coach based on the principles”

Constraints-Led Approach

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The Constraints-Led Framework
  • Changing the task that’s in front of the players. Example: Making the pitch bigger/smaller, rules, equipment, etc.
  • Less influenced, or controllable by the coach. Example: Weather, playing surface, crowd/spectators, stadium acoustics, etc.
  • Physical dispositions of the players/individuals. Example: Genetic make-up “some players won’t be able to slam-dunk”. Emotions, mood, social relationships with other players, etc.
  • The point is that,

Representative Design:

  • The actual perceptual information that players are confronted with in training should be of the perceptual information they will interact with in the game — opponents, teammates, goals, ball, etc.
  • He is not a fan of “gimmicks” like $1000 devices with flashing lights because the information (flashing lights) is not the information they will interact with in the game.
  • His MSc looked at the informational differences in goalkeeper training between receiving shots from a static vs a moving ball. Obviously, most of the shots they will face in a match come from moving balls, but most goalkeeper training sessions feature static balls, or worse, balls drop-kicked from hands.
  • “It becomes a that they are learning in.”
  • They will get better at the task, of course, but the is zero.
  • He “takes a snapshot” of a specific moment in the game and creates his practice design based on that to ensure he has the relevant information present in the exercise.

Implicit vs Explicit

  • He thinks that the Constraints Led Approach is misinterpreted as saying that the “Game is the only teacher” — and that’s just not true
  • He also explains that coaches can make coaching points in an implicit way.
  • Provide an instruction to the athlete that leads them to focus on their body position, or a particular limb disposition. Example: Lift your toes up and lock your ankle
  • Guide their focus towards achieving the outcome of the task. Example: Push the floor away as you run.
  • He makes the point that implicit vs explicit isn’t the way to look at it, but to ask ourselves,


  • Affordances are simply
  • When you make the pitch smaller, you more shorter passes
  • “Our are limited by the
  • If you want to read an account of the difference between information and affordances, Ben recommends the work of Andrew Wilson
  • Players learn the link between information and affordances, but information always equate to a certain affordance
  • Experts have a broader scale of affordances they can interact with in specific moments

Playing Principles

  • He thinks principles of play, or specific patterns are necessary, especially at the highest levels
  • They serve to of the players in the team
  • He still thinks that you can educate players on these and by creating practices with representative information that allow them to make the appropriate decisions based on the patterns of the coach (which can be made explicit)
  • At the performance level, there needs to be principles of play that
  • How you or comes down to asking “how much autonomy do you want to give the players?”


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