I have written previously about my conversion to non-linear pedagogy (NLP) and a constraints-led approach (CLA) to skill development. I believe it works, and, for me, CLA simply feels more honest (and interesting) than the “coach as instructor/guru” approach — “do it this way because I say so” or “…because that’s they way we have always done it”.
But there is a lot of jargon used to describe the NLP, CLA, and related concepts, which can obscure the simplicity of the approach.
What follows is my attempt to translate some of the jargon into non-academic language. There will be oversimplification and error, I don’t doubt. But hopefully it will be of interest to a coach coming fresh to, CLA, NLP, ED etc.
Constraints-Led Approach (CLA)
A theory & practice (pedagogy, perhaps) of coaching that believes in modifying the developmental environment to facilitate development of skill over and above instruction & demonstration & feedback & “remediation” of a faulty technique.
CLA is about allowing the learner to find their own way — not alone, certainly (the coach designs the learning space, and constantly modifies it to challenge & support the learner), but with less (no) direct instruction beyond safety and “rules of the game” e.g. “find a way to hit the ball over here” or (for a wicket keeper) “try to catch the ball only with your “wrong” hand” i.e. take ball to the left of your body with your right hand and vice versa.
It is not “just playing a game” (a straw man case used too often to discredit both CLA and games-based learning) nor does the coach just set something up and walk away.
Applying the CLA requires the coach to identify a desirable skill, design a practice environment to challenge that skill, and constant monitoring & modification of that environment to keep the challenge both fresh and relevant to the players involved.
Formally, that adaptive systems (anything that can change in response to external stimuli, so including human beings and, especially, in this context, athletes) will change to better fit with the surrounding environment.
Or, that learning & development is directly influenced by the environment in which the learner finds him- or herself.
And, by extension , the coach can influence learner development by influencing the learning environment.
I taught my dog to whistle…he just hasn’t learnt, yet!
Developing and refining a movement skill simply doesn’t work in a linear fashion — coach instructs, player practices, player rolls out a new skill in a game. Skill development follows a non-linear path, more akin to Whiteheads’s “romance—precision—generalisation” or one of the conversational frameworks described by Laurillard.
Some players will understand what is required immediately, but then struggle to implement it. Another might have no clue what is expected, then suddenly roll out the skill in a game situation.
In fact, it is questionable if any (effective) learning follows a strictly linear progression. Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction include several iterative steps, which might proceed in a single pass, or several.
So a non-linear pedagogy is essentially an acceptance that there is more to coaching than telling the player what to do.
I have tried to gloss Perception-Action Coupling as “See ball, Hit ball”
Sometimes a pejorative description of “instinctive” players, but expertise/skill/genius resides in both perception (recognising the opportunity) and action (exploiting the opportunity).
The two go together. “Keep ‘em coupled”, as @ShakeyWaits puts it.
Repetition without repetition
The aim of practice is not to develop a perfect, repeatable movement pattern, but to “feel” how a movement needs to be modified to meet a subtly different situation.
It would be rare indeed for two cover drives to be played to absolutely identical deliveries. Each delivery will be slightly faster or slower than than the previous one, wider or straighter, fuller or shorter, bouncing higher or lower. So the bat must be controlled to achieve optimal contact, sweet spot to ball with maximum velocity.
So batting against a perfectly calibrated bowling machine might not be the best preparation for playing a match. Repetitive hitting from a tee, even for the youngest of beginners, is best avoided (or used only briefly before moving on the something more representative…even if that is a large ball rolled along the floor).
No, not being invited to join the local District or County squad, but rather a development activity (drill, gamified or otherwise) that presents “signifying” elements of the game itself.
That is a key guiding factor in the use of CLA. Practice, practice, practice, but also “repetition without repetition”, so there will be much use of small-sided games, even activities that look like old-fashioned drills. But those activities should retain enough of the real game that players learn where & how to look for appropriate information — watch the bowler’s arm & hand and then the ball in flight (so bowl rather than throw; one bounce rather than two; two bounces rather than roll or hitting from a tee).