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A Constraints Led Approach to Learning

At Capoeira Bromley we are keen to teach using methods taken from the leading research in Skill Acquisition. This has led us to using a ‘Constraints Led Approach’ (CLA) wherever possible. What does this mean?

In short using a CLA means instead of instructing athletes in how to do something, people are allowed to find their own solutions. The coach will amend the experience for the athlete in various ways to encourage new or better solutions to appear. The theory suggests a coach can manipulate the constraints in 3 ways:

  1. The Performer. The coach needs to take into account who the performer is, and what that person is bringing to the table on that given session. So the coach will always note past experiences, anthropometrics and even the emotional state when setting up a task. Some of these are not easy to manipulate, but are important aspects for the coach to consider.

  1. The Environment. This will include the flooring or surface the activity will take place, alongside light, noise and temperature.

  1. The Task. This is often the easiest constraint for a coach to manipulate as it can be easy to change dimensions, the number of players or equipment.

The idea behind a CLA is that an athlete or performer is directly linked to their environment, essentially perceiving things around them, before acting. By enabling training conditions to replicate, or at least partially replicate, aspects of the expected environment where the athlete needs to perform, the transfer into their activity should be greater, and therefore learning faster. By amending constraints the coach can zone in on particulars of a skill, without losing the contextual reference for the athlete or performer. Let’s take an example to understand further.

As a Capoeira teacher, I’d like my students to learn the required skills of Capoeira in a training environment that allows them to then apply them to the actual Capoeira game. Historically Capoeira has been taught in either rows of individuals repetitively actioning movements, or pre-programmed sequences between 2 players. Neither of these reflects the actual game of Capoeira, which is a non-choreographed game of movement expression and catch between 2 people. The game requires athletes to perceive from the environment around them, and then act accordingly.

By using a CLA Capoeira can be taught in a way that is contextual to its final state, whilst emphasising areas that the coach would like to practice. It also allows athletes to ‘self-learn’, finding out themselves what works and what doesn’t rather than being told what are the best solutions. This individualisation is not only best way to allow personal freedom of expression, it’s also a proven way of gaining ‘stickability’ of learning, that is the student will remember. This is not always the case when students are forced into positions they haven’t chosen themselves. After all what is the best solution or method for one student is not necessarily the best for another.

So that in short is the basis of the CLA to teaching. I’d add at this point that this approach also appears to create more fun for athletes. By creating playful tasks lessons often fly by with smiles and laughter, rather than the heavily concentrated faces of instructional tasks. For more information I’d strongly recommend the 3 part series of Podcasts by Rob Gray of Arizona State University. Search for the Perception & Action Podcast, episodes 87-89, or get in touch with us.

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