A Constraint-Led Approach – a new addition to the coaching toolkit?

I am (I call myself) a cricket coach – I work with people who want to play “better” cricket, however “better” might be defined.

In that role, I try to help players to develop their playing techniques, and, along the way, to build individual motivation and resilience.  Occasionally, I will talk with them about (appropriate) physical development – play other sports to develop all-round physicality; don’t build so much muscle in the gym that you lose flexibility.

But I am also interested in how to become a better coach, which has led me to follow a range of conversations and blogs on coaching pedagogy.

I am not going to pretend that I understand the concept of nonlinear pedagogy (yet), and my exploration of socio cultural constraints within coaching probably missed any number of (academic) points.

But a series of posts (including this, and this, both from ConnectedCoaches.org) on applying the Constraint-Led Approach (CLA) in coaching has piqued my interest.  Coaches are encouraged to modify the drill or game to force the player(s) to develop enhanced responses.

This sounds like a simple enough coaching methodology (simple to describe, not so simple to put into practice!) that can be readily adopted into my coaching kitbag, alongside the (now old-school) ECB bugs and (post-2012) coaching tools..and sledging!

But what constraints to include?  Consider the STEP framework:

  • Space
  • Task
  • Equipment
  • People

Modifying any one (or more) of the components will introduce a constraint on the game (on the players), which (if carefully chosen) can help to develop technical and tactical skills.

Change the playing area (larger/smaller/asymmetric) or the modify the task (play strokes only in prescribed directions); make playing implements smaller (or larger); remove (or add) opposing players. [3]

Some simple examples:

  • change the length of the pitch – bowl from 20 yards (or even less for younger players)
    • to force bowlers to adapt their bowling length (no more excuses “I can’t bowl shorter/pitch it up), and
    • to reduce the time batters have to react to a delivery (simulating facing faster bowlers);
  • use the half-bat/practice bat
    • a smaller bat forces the batter to concentrate on playing the ball with the middle of the bat (because that is all they have!), developing a more reproducible bat path with the full face of the bat presented to the ball, and
    • encourages the bowlers, especially spinners, to “attack both edges of the bat” (to develop variant deliveries that move towards either the inside or outside edge of the bat);
  • bowl at a single stump (the oldest practice drill in the book…)
    • by significantly reducing the target area, the bowler is compelled to develop even greater accuracy.

All things we have probably been doing for years, but all examples of constraints-led coaching.

And a useful addition to that coaching toolkit!

  1. The recent conversations around CLA in cricket just might have some connection with the emergence of Matt Renshaw in the Australian Test team – Matt’s father, Ian, is an academic at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, and a leading advocate of CLA.  Ian’s blog is a mine of relevant information – A Constraint-Led Approach to Coaching Cricket.
  2. A definition of CLA: “CLA creates a ‘learner-environment’ centred approach in which practitioners are encouraged to identify and modify interacting constraints to facilitate emergence of perception-action couplings. CLA is a broader approach [than Teaching Games for Understanding] which has been adapted for the design of (re)learning environments in physical education, sport and movement therapy”

    Why the Constraints-Led Approach is not Teaching Games for Understanding: a clarification
    Ian Renshaw, Duarte Araújo, Chris Button, Jia Yi Chow, Keith Davids & Brendan Moy
    Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy
    Volume 21, 2016 – Issue 5 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17408989.2015.1095870

  3. I am sure that this definition of CLA could offend the purists, as a gross over-simplification or simply plain wrong…but it has to be simple for me to put it into practice…

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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  1. The biggest issue I find with this brilliant approach is resistance to trying it. Adult cricketers are often a little set in their ways and resist something new as “not helpful”. However, if you can get buy in, it often becomes a regular drill. Here’s one from Mark Garaway I like: http://www.pitchvision.com/decision-drill#/

    One other small aside, don’t fall into the “gym makes you bulky” myth! That’s simply not true of anyone who has cricket as their main sport and is only every true for about 1% of all gym-goers. Steffan Jones is doing great work in this field as a guy who knows both cricket and the gym. Check out his thinking.

    1. Thanks for that drill, David – I love this way of coaching. Although I think the academics might describe Mark’s session as closer to TGfU (designed “…to develop the learner’s understanding of tactical concepts…”) rather than CLA (“…to facilitate the coupling of each learner’s perceptual and action systems…” – “see ball, hit ball”).

      re gym – I was talking to a bowler only a couple of weeks ago who has lost his in-swinger; this loss coincides with a gym regime that has seen him put on muscle around his chest and shoulders but not included much mobility work. Good gym work (strength and mobility, as advocated by Steffan Jones) is undoubtedly good for bowlers; generic “body building” probably is not.

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