This blog contains two videos of a modified 3v3. In this session, PDP Lead Researcher & AIK Academy Coach, James Vaughan changes task constraints and encourages player reflection to create opportunities for learning with space for creative expression.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to work with just 6 players for a whole session. This is something I really enjoy after years of coaching futsal. However, working with small numbers of players for a whole session can be daunting. In this blog, I want to share the 3v3 and progressions I used a couple of weeks ago.

The background

The players (born 2005) came from a local Swedish school. Because the group normally contains 12-16 players, however, any session plan went straight out of the window. Working with these constraints, I designed a modified a 3v3 and used a few task constraints to evolve the session. As I observed the players’ movements I collected a few video clips that aim to highlight the emergence of collective behaviours and football interactions.

After the session, I selected some clips in an attempt to highlight key moments.

Then I asked for some feedback from key people. One of those people is leading practitioner in skill acquisition, ecological dynamics and learning, Mark Upton. Mark provided feedback on the first video (without the voiceover) giving his first impression of the session’s purpose without knowing the rules or constraints. Simply by observing the design and the players movements.

Check out the first video without any voiceover (or my cognitive bias). Keep in mind how the session design might direct players’ attention. What does the design require teams to be aware of when attacking and defending? What does the design shine a light on?

Mark Upton’s feedback

These were Mark’s first impressions:

  1. It looked like the purpose of the activity was penetration/playing forward, and for players to learn both to perceive and create affordances for doing so?
  2. As it went on the use of width became more prominent as players explored the ‘task space’? But I’m guessing this was not an explicit verbal directive/instruction from you?
  3. The task constraints (size of pitch, goals, playing numbers) looked about right for these penetrating affordances to be created and perceived regularly but without being too easy/obvious?
  4. I don’t know how these young boys normally carry themselves or the wider context of the session, but it didn’t look like there was massive engagement from them? Not particularly high energy or strong emotional reactions (laughing, celebration, frustration etc)?

(Note: Point 4 gave me a clear area for reflection and improvement when designing my next session).

Not only is Mark highly skilled when it comes to observing session design and identifying opportunities for action (affordances), but his feedback also highlights his skill as coach mentor/coach developer/leader. Notice that the points above are not statements but questions. Mark is guiding my own reflection while supporting my basic psychological needs (autonomy, competence, and relatedness). This helps to ensure that the feedback is not perceived as controlling – pressuring me to think or feel in certain ways. This helps maintain intrinsic and self-determined forms of motivation.

In the second video (below) I added a voiceover to explain the modified design and the use of constraints.


I’ve been fortunate to ask for reflection from some great minds with experience on and off the field of sport.

Dan Wright:

“A great example of a Constraints Led Approach in action! The players are searching and exploring for solutions that the constraint and the opposition present. I also think it’s worth noting that during this exploration or search the players are making mistakes both in and out of possession. This is what learning looks like.

It’s also apparent that the coach doesn’t step in to correct every time to transmit knowledge and give the answer! It’s messy and full of failure; but player’s search ends in finding successful movement patterns. As the practice progresses you notice more collaboration and coordination between individuals, followed by different types of attacking and defending.

As the constraints are removed, the game becomes more dynamic and random. Players now need to make decisions quicker as the affordances are emerging and decaying at a faster rate than previously.”

Keith Davids:

“Nice links between practice and theoretical concepts. Good points made for coaches, including several points at the end. The key message of constraints manipulations creating a challenging task is an important one, and the coach models the methods well by not intervening too often with verbal directions and instructions. A supportive learning environment is obvious. That is a key characteristic of the video clip.”

Dave Wright:

“This session provides an excellent example of how task constraints enhance decision making. The video clearly illustrates how coaches can scaffold a session to increase or decrease the challenge and realism relative to the needs of the players.

What’s most interesting about this clip, is the progress of the players in a short space of time to interpret and understand the task and then move through a range of solutions whether attacking or defending. This can be seen when the players work collectively in or out of possession to solve the problem in front of them. For example, screening out of possession or breaking lines in possession. We then see clear progress demonstrated in the clips of individuals identifying space (in possession) and scoring quickly as they become attuned to the environment.

In order to apply this to your own environment, it would be worth considering why you would put this practice on. Who it is relevant to? Could it be position specific? Consider whether you need to wind the level of difficulty up or down the coaching spectrum based on observation and the ability of your players.”

I hope the videos were helpful. Please feel free to feedback with your own thoughts or questions.

Image Credits: Unsplash

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