Does Real Learning Actually Take Place?

Following on from my last blog post regarding effective questioning within my coaching, I read a series of tweets from Graeme McDowall on ‘2 touch football’ and whether incorporating the common ‘2 touch’ progression in sport actually allows real substantial learning to take place. The link for these tweets is: Reading these comments made by Graeme allowed me the critically reflect upon my own coaching in terms of what progressions I use to generate learning and self thinking for my players, and the reality is, I use this type of progression too much on a regular basis. Like Graeme states, this progression is very prescriptive and doesn’t offer a high level of decision making to take place. What this suggests to me regarding my own coaching is that not only am I using low order questioning (see last blog post) rather than high order questioning that ‘develops problem solving ability and critical thinking both of which are prioritized in GBA’ (Harvey and Light, 2015), I am not giving my players the best possible opportunity to learn and reach their potential. As a coach, allowing high amounts of learning and self-discovery to take place is a huge area in which I try to incorporate within my sessions. However, reflecting deeper into my own coaching it is clearly apparent that I need to include more activities and approaches to allow this to happen more effectively.

Having read around some literature and watching videos regarding constraints led coaching, I found a very insightful video on YouTube which highlights the importance of this approach and the ways in which it can be put into practice.

What I found very intriguing and something which I never really took the time to consider was when the White Ferns coach John Herdman (2.31) discusses the importance of making a session ‘relevant to the sport’ and if it doesn’t ‘look and feel right, then don’t do it’. I think this is a very important point and one which is massively relevant to myself as a coach as there have been many times in the past where I have planned a session and its not worked or doesn’t feel like the activity is painting a clear picture of the sport for the participants, but I have continued to progress with this session and that has caused no learning to have taken place.

To overcome this problem of forcing sessions to work when clearly there is no understanding and learning happening, a constraints led approach/teaching games for understanding ‘encourages learners to engage in self-discovery that could lead to greater psychological engagement in sport and physical activity’ (Renshaw et al., 2010). Using this approach will not only allow my players to be carrying out an activity which they can then transfer into the game itself, Renshaw clearly indicates that the players will be more inclined to perform to the best of their ability, therefore increasing the level of learning taking place as a direct result of these approaches. To move on from the typical ‘2 touch progression’ that’s very easy and doesn’t require high levels of decision making and learning to carry out, Teaching Games for Understanding ‘allow students to learn the tactical aspects of the practice through modified versions of the game’ (Clemente, Rocha, and Korgaokar, 2012).

So what is clearly apparent through the use of academic theory shows how these two approaches can allow participants to not only work on their self discovery, but also test their tactical skills of that sport and will provide a clear indication of how well their psychological state is when placed in a realistic situation of the game. Incorporating these 2 approaches into my coaching session will generate a high level of thinking and discussion to be created and this will then have an impact on the questioning as myself as a coach, generating different thoughts and putting them into scenarios which may not have been thought of if the progression of the task was just ‘2 touch’.

As well as a constraints led approach and Teaching Games for Understanding, I feel it is very important to appreciate the value of Non-Linear pedagogy mentality which can also have a positive effect on the learning outcome of a session. (Chow et al., 2007) claims that ‘Nonlinear pedagogy involves manipulating key task constraints on learners to facilitate the emergence of functional movement patterns and decision-making behaviors.’ What this piece of theory is also stating is using a Non-Linear pedagogy approach to my coaching through the use of TGFU and constraints led, there will be a significant learning environment taking place as these are targeting, psychological, tactical and now the functional movements needed for that specific sport. If I, as the coach, can implement these pieces of theory into my coaching then I will be allowing my players to learn a substantial amount more than if I used a progression of ‘2 touch’ which can be seen as the easiest progression to use and one which i myself always tend to use.



Reference List:

Chow, J.Y., Davids, K., Button, C., Shuttleworth, R., Renshaw, I. and Araujo, D. (2007) ‘The role of Nonlinear Pedagogy in physical education’, Review of Educational Research, 77(3), pp. 251–278.

Clemente, F., Rocha, R.F. and Korgaokar, A. (2012) ‘Teaching physical education: the usefulness of the teaching games for understanding and the constraints-led approach’, Journal of Physical Education and Sport, 12(4), pp. 417–426.

Harvey, S. and Light, R.L. (2015) ‘Questioning for learning in game-based approaches to teaching and coaching’, Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education, 6(2), pp. 175–190.

Renshaw, I., Chow, J.Y., Davids, K. and Hammond, J. (2010) ‘A constraints-led perspective to understanding skill acquisition and game play: A basis for integration of motor learning theory and physical education praxis?’, Physical Education & Sport Pedagogy, 15(2), pp. 117–137.


3 thoughts on “Does Real Learning Actually Take Place?

  1. Nice piece Sam, really captures a lot of what I was getting at with these tweets. The main guiding principles I use in my coaching are precisely what you describe, if it doesn’t look/feel like the real thing then I tend not to do it. For me the real thing always has an end point, sport, like life is characterised by end-directed striving, all the constraints led session I do are ‘end-directed’ in nature and this component really helps get the intensity into a session.

    I’m sure you will have read Ross Pinders work on ‘representative task design’ which relates well to your comments and the specificity of learning principle.

    All the best

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Graeme, many apologies for the late reply back. I really appreciate your comments/views and it’s great to hear your views are similar to mine mentioned in this blog post.
      Many Thanks once again,

      Sam Hough


  2. I think this is your most insightful post to date, Sam. You are really starting to reflect more critically and the progression in your thought process is much more evident, especially with regards to your application of theory/research and links to your own practice and development. Keep up the good work! Minor point – it should be ‘references’ at the end rather than ‘bibliography’.


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