Constraints based learning and ecological dynamics are concepts that Player Development Project has promoted for a long time. Football coach and University tutor, Ben Galloway shares his excellent video on the topic around how the concepts can be applied in your coaching environment.

The next couple of blog posts that I share via PDP will revolve around some videos that I have produced, stemming from Constraints Based Learning and Ecological Dynamics. Hopefully what these videos will provide is support to previously posted material and a platform for you to continue your own development and understanding of motor learning theory. Ultimately, what I hope these videos do for you, as a student of the game is put you in a position of reflection.

“It matters not whether your position is right or wrong (because there are seldom any right or wrong answers!), only that the stance you take can be logically justified.” J.A Scott Kelso – 1982

This information may just provide you with the start of your justification.

Constraints based learning is a contemporary pedagogical approach underpinned by Non-Linear Pedagogy (see more here from Mark O’Sullivan) and Ecological Dynamics. It revolves around the idea in the case of football and football coaching that players self-organise to complete tasks. Three categories of constraints where initially proposed by Newell (1986) individual, task and environmental.

Individual Constraints:

  • Physical or mental influences on behaviour.
  • Height, weight, limb length, personality, confidence.

Task Constraints:

  • Rules, equipment, limitations or outcomes that influence behaviour.
  • Field size, player numbers, number of goals, time, scoring process.

Environmental Constraints:
Environment is probably the most confusing word you will come across in the motor learning language. I will explain further in soon to be published blog. For now, in this context the term is used to describe environmental factors that surround the individuals playing the game. Temperature, playing surface, light, altitude, gradient of field.


Since, the initially proposal sub categories have since been added. Of note is the fact that socio-cultural constraints can influence all three above the above. This has been reviewed in-depth on the website by a number of PDP contributors, in particularly Lead Researcher, James Vaughan. I would encourage all coaches to watch and read his work across the site. Socio-cultural constraints refer the societal and cultural influences that are placed on individuals. An example can be taken from Paul McGuinness’s Masterclass Discussion where he discussed the fact that the Manchester United academy had a black boot only rule, to create a culture of respect and more importantly humility. Everyone was equal.

Finally I will leave with some practical implications. I hope you enjoyed the video. Any feedback or any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch!

Key Points:

  • Task constraints are the easiest for coaches to manipulate
  • Don’t overcomplicate the task by over constraining activities
  • Constantly review
  • The aim is for players to self-organise and implicitly learn. BE PATIENT!


Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash 

Popular searches: defending, finishing, 1v1, playing out from the back, working with parents