Off Field Learning Spaces

Mark Upton
3 min readAug 4, 2015

(Originally posted on another blog site August, 2013)

Recent posts have focused on designing on-field practice sessions in order for players to acquire the perceptual, cognitive and motor skills needed in team sports. Today we take a slightly different approach by looking at the design of off-field learning environments for players (without venturing into the online environment — I’ll leave that for another post).

Last week I spoke at a conference regarding the use of video technology for developing players decision making and game intelligence. Whilst I have seen some great applications of video for this purpose they are generally the exception rather than the norm. Apparently some eyebrows were raised when I questioned the efficacy of using video in the manner and type of environments seen below…

Evidence this type of environment has become ingrained in coaching culture was on offer this week when I came across this picture of the Manchester City Academy Player Analysis/Seminar room.

What we perhaps intuitively know, and science supports, is that these are not optimal environments for trying to enhance players game intelligence/understanding. Yet why do they persist as the most common form of off-field learning for players?

No doubt if we ask the question of coaches “why do you use this environment?” the likely responses would be “because that was how I was coached” or “that is how I have seen others do it”. If we were to dig a bit deeper into the past we would probably find this environment is based on the “traditional” model of education, particularly higher education where the lecture theatre once ruled. Central to this was the lecturer (coach) as the “fountain of knowledge”.

So whilst technology has evolved quickly, in this case video technology, many have simply taken this new media and stuck it in archaic environments that fail to realise the potential of new technology to transform learning.

However times are changing, as we consider — “how do people REALLY learn?”

Educational institutions are coming around to the fact that the way we design areas for learning (“learning spaces”) and deliver sessions in those areas have a huge impact on the quality of learning. Often a key to effective learning space design is the enabling of a collaborative/social exchange between participants. When well-designed learning spaces are then complimented by the use of technology (such as digital video, interactive whiteboards, mobile devices & wireless networks) new levels of learning and education are potentially achievable.

The video below provides some insight into this concept by describing what is happening at RMIT University in Melbourne….

I like the idea of the Cross-Discipline Classroom (CDC) as a replacement for the lecture theatre or team meeting room. I can imagine academy players ranging from 13 to 18 years of age really benefiting from this type of environment where the “subject” might be “Pressing Defense” or “Counter-Attacking”. In this model the coach is required to change roles, moving away from the “fountain of knowledge” towards a “facilitator of learning”. This is a concept discussed in previous posts and very much in line with a player-centred approach to coaching.

As new multi-million dollar facilities in many sports continue to be built, it will be interesting to observe how many take into consideration the design of “learning spaces” for players (apart from the outside fields/courts). Whilst equipment and spaces in these facilities usually cater for the latest protocols and technology in traditional Sport Sciences, it remains to be seen whether the “science of learning” is also catered for.

For those clubs/organisations truly committed to understanding how their players learn the game, on and off the field, perhaps “learning spaces” can be a point of difference. Some are already going down that path. Will you?

Mark Upton is co-creator of myfastestmile and the Coaching Science Manager at the English Institute of Sport.