Constraints-based learning

In the following clip Ben Galloway (Opposite Direction) introduces us to the contemporary coaching method Constraints Based Learning. I believe this video is an absolute masterpiece and might change the way many approach coaching!

This approach resonated very much with my understanding of complex systems theory and phenomenological philosophy (Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty).

As always I really recommend you to research all the “heavy” theories and concepts Ben outlined if you are not already familiar with them to really grasp them.

Those who are familiar with my approach probably already noticed that constraints-based learning is a huge part of it!

What are constraints?

Our perception and action is undeniably constrained in countless ways. The obvious ones are physical constraints. Physical constraints in combat sports or grappling might be the environment we act in (mud, mats, ring, cage, …), our own physical attributes (size, body type, conditioning, …), our opponents physical attributes, the equipment we wear (clothing, Gloves, …) and so on.

But our actions are also guided or constrained by much more subtle or abstract constraints like our skill (knowledge, intuition, …) or the rules of the sport we compete in (the task).

The light-switch

Let’s think about the following example: You are at home ready to binge your favorite show on netflix. You enter the living room. In your left hand you hold a beer and in your right a bag of cheetos. You want to turn the lights off (task). After you walked to the light-switch you give it a slight push with your elbow, since both of your hands were occupied (constraint), and turn the lights off.

You had a task (or goal) and the way you perceived its environment and constraints led naturally and implicitly to a certain action. This is how we naturally act in everyday life, yet this is not how most coaches teach sports.

Or how Ben put it so brilliantly:

“The combination of individual, environmental and task constraints create emergent behaviors. Rather than teaching explicitly, telling people how to do an action, individuals learn implicitly and produce actions through their own perception and experience.” – Ben Galloway

In the following clip Ben presents an example how coaches can use constraints based learning to develop adaptable skills in their athletes!

Ben is a football/soccer coach but obviously this method can be used for sports in general and even most other skills.

I use concepts of constraints-based learning in every practice!

Once you understand the overall message, you realize that we are talking about a huge paradigm shift when it comes to teaching combat sports/martial arts!
Rather than instructing explicit and idealised techniques you create tasks, formulate constraints and you let your students repeatedly solve them until they find robust solutions via Trial and Error, auto-regulation and self-organization!
This is the only way they will develop intuition and adaptable skills.

Please check out Ben’s YouTube Channel and support his good work!

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