Adventures in the Constraints Led Approach

The TL;DR version of this post is:
Based on 2 terms (almost 20 weeks) of instruction, the Constraints Led Approach (CLA) is a better way to build skills that transfer to free fencing with pretty much no downsides.

This afternoon, I decided to punch a simple question into ChatGPT and then use the output to guide a blog post. I’d not done this before, but it was an excellent way to constrain (heh) the scope of my writing.

Before I lay out the question I put to ChatGPT, let me be very clear.
My commentary is specific to 1 branch of 1 club, with a particular group of people, with particular contact levels, and with particular training tools and club culture. My relatively new understanding of the method is a factor I’m sure. I’ve been reading since mid-last year, but only started implementing the approach in Q4.

ChatGPT’s parts will be in normal text. Anything I write from now on is in italics.

Anyway, here it is:
What are the advantages of the Constraints Led Approach in coaching?

The Constraints Led Approach (CLA) is a coaching approach that emphasizes the use of constraints (such as rules, equipment, and environment) to guide athletes towards more effective movement solutions. Here are some advantages of the Constraints Led Approach in coaching:

  1. Promotes creativity and problem-solving skills: By using constraints, athletes are encouraged to find new and innovative solutions to movement challenges, promoting their creativity and problem-solving skills.

    Stu – Students are definitely creative and are well ready to solve problems in ways you won’t expect. Whilst this is a feature and definitely not a bug it’s not all smooth sailing

    One challenge with CLA is in designing and then correcting on the fly so that the game actually leads students in the way you want them to be led. Sometimes though, the lesson being gleaned is just as valuable as the one you had planned so learning to let go and let people learn is important. A concept I learned to articulate just today listening to a podcast is that coaching is about being prepared rather than about planning. You need to be ready to adjust a drill on the fly or even abandon it.

  2. Increases adaptability: CLA helps athletes develop adaptability skills by challenging them to adjust their movements to changing constraints, leading to better performance in varied environments and situations.

    Stu – I’ve watched this happen in real time. Newbies who jump into boffer fencing now have “in between skills” that normally they would only develop in free play. In between skills include making small adjustments during an opponent’s prep, opening and closing lines more granularly based on respective positions and distances. That type of thing. They don’t have as many skills as someone trained the old way, but they seem to be able to use them pretty much straight away. They also seem better equipped to deal with actions that they haven’t specifically trained for, I think due to the greater variance in their training exercises.

  3. Enhances learning and retention: Because athletes are required to actively problem-solve during training sessions, they are more likely to understand and remember the skills they acquire.

    Stu – I prwtty much covered this in number 2 I think. Students are retaining and using skills immediately rather than having to recontextalise the drilled skill into one for actual fencing. I’m convinced it’s the variability and relative openness of the games that’s doing this. Doing set plays at high speeds and intensities (although better than drilling without intensity or movement) is not the same thing.

  4. Reduces injury risk: By designing training sessions that use appropriate constraints, coaches can help reduce the risk of injuries by encouraging safer movement patterns and techniques.

    Stu – I can’t really speak to this after 20-odd weeks. This would need to be tracked over years.

  5. Facilitates player-centered learning: The CLA approach allows athletes to be active participants in their own learning, encouraging greater engagement and ownership in their development.

    Stu – I’ve had far more actionable and enthusiastic feedback from students since the implementation. When the games are goal oriented rather than technique oriented, they really do need to be engaged as they are trying to win. I see students resting now because they are tired, but not because they are bored. Part of this might be the frequent partner changes we are using now in the name of variability.

  6. Encourages transferability: CLA training can lead to better performance transfer across different sports or activities, as athletes develop general movement skills that can be applied in a range of contexts.

    Stu – I don’t know about this one. The part of the lesson before free-fencing time is now a lot more dynamic and requires a greater work capacity so there may be some transfer there.

Overall, the Constraints Led Approach can be a highly effective coaching method that promotes creativity, adaptability, and learning, while also reducing injury risk and promoting transferable skills.

I’d agree!

Thanks ChatGPT!
Stu. Stoccata Baulkham Hills and Strathfield 20230327

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