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

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Key Takeaways

  • The actual perceptual information that players are confronted with in training should be representative of the perceptual information they will interact with in the game
  • Ecological Dynamics is the overriding theory”; “Non-linear Pedagogy are the principles of Ecological Dynamics”; “Constraint Led Approach is the framework of how we coach based on the principles”
  • Implicit vs explicit isn’t the way to look at it, but to ask ourselves, “is our instruction still giving them autonomy and still giving them a decision to make.”
  • “The coach’s role is to create a larger field of affordances, and a bigger range of opportunities for players to interact with information governed by constraints.”

Intro

  • 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
  • Theory’s birthplace is practice, so we can’t disregard it
  • We have to approach the world with some sort of theory. Reality is theory-laden. So, it really comes down to the quality of evidence and effectiveness 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 trial and error, 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, it still needed to be substantiated (validated) by theory (science)
  • 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 “it depends”
  • “Everyone keeps saying ‘it depends’, but the next question is what does it depend on?”
  • It depends is not an answer, or the end of a discussion, but the beginning of one.
  • Below are a series of tweets from Associate Professor of Human Systems Engineering at Arizona State, Rob Gray:
  • In other words, if we have different theories, facts, and evidence, then we disagree about what it depends on. But, if we have the same theory, fact, or evidence then we can then discuss the particular contexts 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 it depends, 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 very unique 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 “not argue that games are the only way to ever do practice”

It comes down to 3 key things:

  1. Variability
  2. Information available to interact with
  3. Representative nature of practice
  • “Coaches can utilize different methods based on the principles of non-linear pedagogy.”
  • It makes room for the experiential knowledge of a coach

Linear vs Non-linear

  • Linear — Cause and Effect approach to learning where outcomes are predictable. “This change will create this outcome.” Ex) Putting a rocket on the moon
  • Non-Linear — unclear relationship between Cause and Effect, which makes outcomes unpredictable. “One change can have a load of different outcomes.” 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 at different times and in different ways. “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

  • Ecological Dynamics is the overriding theory”
  • Non-linear Pedagogy are the principles of Ecological Dynamics”
  • Constraint Led Approach is the framework of how we coach based on the principles”

Constraints-Led Approach

The Constraints-Led Framework
  • Task Constraints — Changing the task that’s in front of the players. Example: Making the pitch bigger/smaller, rules, equipment, etc.
  • Environment Constraints — Less influenced, or controllable by the coach. Example: Weather, playing surface, crowd/spectators, stadium acoustics, etc.
  • Individual Constraints — 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, “these constraints are inherently non-linear, which means we cannot predict what effect those constraints will have on someone. We don’t know the outcomes, we only have a hunch.”

Representative Design:

  • The actual perceptual information that players are confronted with in training should be representative 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.
  • Study: 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. The point being that the information in training is not representative of the information in the match.
  • “It becomes a false environment that they are learning in.”
  • They will get better at the task, of course, but the transfer from training to the match is zero.
  • Why do goalkeeper coaches dropkick the ball from their hands when a striker is never going to stop, pick the ball up, and volley it towards the goal?
  • Rule of Thumb (Heuristic): 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. “The coach can turn those instructions into giving the athletes and internal, or external, focus of attention.”
  • Internal Cue —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
  • External Cue — Guide their focus towards achieving the outcome of the task. Example: Push the floor away as you run. “The coach is still giving instruction, but he’s giving control of the movement over to the athletes.”
  • He makes the point that implicit vs explicit isn’t the way to look at it, but to ask ourselves, “is our instruction still giving them autonomy and still giving them a decision to make.”

Affordances

  • Affordances are simply “an opportunity to act”
  • When you make the pitch smaller, you afford more shorter passes
  • “Our affordances are limited by the constraints: task, environment, individual.”
  • If you want to read an account of the difference between information and affordances, Ben recommends the work of Andrew Wilson
  • “Affordances and Information are not mutually linked. Information doesn’t necessarily define the affordances.”
  • Players learn the link between information and affordances, but information does not always equate to a certain affordance
  • “The coach’s role is to create a larger field of affordances, and a bigger range of opportunities for players to interact with information governed by constraints.”
  • 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 educate the attention of the players in the team
  • He still thinks that you can educate players on these “patterns” and “principles” 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 direct attention. “It’s still constraints led because your language/instructions are acting as constraints.”
  • How you ‘dial it up’ or ‘dial it down’ comes down to asking “how much autonomy do you want to give the players?”

Miscellaneous

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