The process of constraint – a non linear vision for youth development

“All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded to the individual” - Albert Einstein.

I know I’m starting in a precarious position referencing one of the most renowned physicists’ and philosopher’s in history; yet, what drawn this statement to my attention was the simplicity of the process of a person-centred approach.

Not only does this concept resonate so powerfully with me on a theoretical stand-point, but it’s ethical stance which has a massive impact on me as a human-being and provides me with a sense of empowerment.

The importance of the individuals journey within the process is more valuable then the process itself; how a person connects with the context is just as (if not more) important then the content (arguably; but bare with me on this).

Before I head off on a bit of a tangent, let me get onto the subject at the heart of the matter. Life, no matter what aspects impact our daily lives; school, work etc, we become ‘creatures of habit’, routine, potentially robots... so surely experiences within playing/learning a sport should be the same? Wrong!

Sports are games where results are determined by how many touches or dribbles around a static object in order to gain points/goals? Or how many repetitions of a single skill are completed based upon numerical superiority? Don’t these points contribute to the end result?

Or, do most sports contain a range of variables that determine the actions and outcomes of particular phases of the game; that opponents, objects or obstacles are restricting chances to perform the technical/tactical action and identify a strategy to exploit opportunities to gain the advantage?

Surely, we should be preparing individuals and groups within all walks of life, the skills to be able to make effective decisions based on the assessment of a particular scenario, and solve the problem to overcome the situation the faces them?

Hopefully, this has sparked some curiosity... let’s discuss this concept further and bring non-linear pedagogy to life. This element explains ecological psychology, and gives a brief description of what it is and how it impacts learning.


Opportunities for action within the environment, dependant on the scale (individual/task), emotion, culture (social expectations), capabilities (performance), intention; environments create behaviours, and behaviours affect the environment; known as ‘perception action coupling’.

Perception Action Coupling

Perception is the observation of the individual to the information around them. Based upon what is perceived, a force field (decision making) is then constrained by the output, leading to performing the action.

After completing the action, there are changes in the flow field (problem solving) leading to the continuation of the cycle to complete the next action based on the context of the previous action.

What are Constraints? (Framework)

A constraints led approach are behaviours and actions from the information an individual have perceived based on the task and/or the environment.

Designing a learning platform that provides relevant opportunity to perform desired content based on a realistic context to reference to; an example of this would be an opposed practice, single or multiple factors can contribute to the outcome of the learning.

How can Constraints be maximised? Specific, not restricted?

When designing practice, implementing constraints can be a great influence on not only the quality of the session, but the content and context in the learning process.

Implementing a challenge for both individuals/teams to perform similar actions (dribbling the ball).

Adapting the time, size, shape or zones within the area that may determine what outcomes can be achieved.

Amending the task so individuals take opportunities to play different roles in relevant context for individuals to develop.

Other ways that coaches can implement a constraint can also be through ‘challenge’ or ‘condition’.

Challenge can be slightly more specific but more individualised, for example “how many different ways can the team play into the midfield third”.

This gives the player opportunity to do try something different, but will reward the player for trying to play or being successful in playing into midfield; you can do this

Condition could be “if you score by playing through the thirds, your goal counts as two” which might be important if players need to understand/consolidate the ‘what, where, how, why?’ within their learning.

Using condition might be useful when the team may need more time to develop possession and experiment.

Why are Constraints beneficial for learning?

People are likely to have different objectives based on they’re own learning, examples of this can be the speed, control, agility, protecting whilst dribbling the ball; identifying the needs of the individual are key observations to impact bespoke development.

Encouraging individuals to not only “buy-in” to the process, but to understand it’s relevance to them; encouraging ownership but maintaining realism behind the constraints ensures greater value for the learners.

They are powerful as you have seen previously because they can be specific to an individual, they can be associated and progressive with the task and can be measurable for learning.

Constraints are not only beneficial to learning, but to practice design and objectives. How a coach uses a constraints based approach can determine the empowerment of the individuals and the outcomes of the practice.


Utilising the benefits of a constraints based approach is essential as a progressing coach in order to really impact the individuals that you work with.

Creating an environment where the collective feel expressive and empowered means that individuals can excel and maximise their potential.

Developing practices that are progressive cater individuals to challenge and consolidate their learning in conditioned games.

Författare: Jamie-Lloyds Davies