In this video and article, PDP Lead Researcher, James Vaughan shares a 3 v 3 + 1 practice from a session with AIK players in Sweden. The video and session plan outlines how manipulating simple task constraints can allow players to solve problems, collaborate, make decisions and work on a variety of moments in the game.


Have a look at the video above, it aims to demonstrate how session design, rules and constraints can educate attention and intention, towards skilled intentionality.

‘Skilled intentionality is defined as coordinating with multiple affordances simultaneously in a concrete situation’ (van Dijk & Rietveld, 2017, p. 8).

The session (our concrete situation) is a continuous directional game with multiple affordances (opportunities for football interactions) that players are constantly engaged with, in other words, there is constant, continuous decision-making in the form of perception-action.

Personally, I hated standing in lines as a player or constantly coming in and out of the action in training sessions. So as often as I can I try to make sure that all players are active all the time. This means the session has no ‘downtime’ if players aren’t ‘coordinating with affordances’ at all times it’s easy for the opposition to exploit the situation (once they are attuned to the relevant affordances – gaps to score).

A key consideration for session design came from the Skilled Intentionality Framework (SIF).

‘In the SIF, acting individuals can be thought of as continuously forming aspects of the sociomaterial environment and thus part of the landscape of affordances’ (van Dijk & Rietveld, 2017, p. 8)

In other words, the movement of teammates and opposition shapes (spatiotemporal dynamics) and a relevant field of affordances; opportunities to pass, dribble, shoot.

Bruineberg and Rietveld (2014) define a field of affordances as: ‘The affordances that stand out as relevant for a particular individual (football player) in a particular situation (the session a coach designs).

The key points being:

  1. The movement of teammates and opposition shapes a relevant field of affordances (spatiotemporal dynamics).
  2. The session should be designed so that relevant (and representative) affordances stand out.
  3. Therefore the movement of all players should be as skilled and realistic as possible at all times.

The aim of the session was to evolve the play towards a game that is more and more representative of football by progressively educating attention and layering/balancing intentions.

Consider the defenders perspective stepping into the session:

‘Ok, how are we going to stop them scoring in that massive goal when we can’t go over the halfway line?’

The session ensures that the defenders become acutely aware of (attuned to) the ‘need’ to close spaces and gaps by defending together. In other words, they are required to coordinate their behaviour and become aware of each other’s movements and the gaps that open up. In this way, they are constantly, and skillfully shaping and re-shaping the attacking team’s field of affordances.

As the session evolves consider the attackers perspective:

‘Ok, so it was really easy to score at first but how do we score when they sit there in that block and move from side to side closing the gaps to the goal?’ 

The defender’s coordinated movements have raised the bar for the attackers, challenging them to come up with more solutions.  Solutions in the video include better ubication (positioning coupled with body profile), purposeful passing, rotation of positions, patient build-up and forward runs.

A key point here is that the session wasn’t designed to determine what players should do or what they will learn – there was no ‘topic’ or ‘learning outcomes’. The session continuously asks the players what can you do and how much could you learn. How far can you raise the bar?

We see players becoming attuned to the relevant field of affordances when they coordinate in both defence and attack. Defenders closing gaps and spaces and attackers coordinating to create gaps and spaces. As the session evolves the opportunity to press is added; educating attention toward other information, offering more affordances and layering the intention of the defending team.

So, alongside the ‘need’ to close gaps (to stop the opposition scoring or moving forward into spaces to score) defenders must balance this intention with opportunities to press and win the ball. In the video, we see the risk-reward balance of these intentions.

Throughout the session, we see that the quality of attacking play is interdependent with the quality of defending, leading to a natural evolution towards a field of affordances that are representative of football at the highest level. Consequently, the skills developed in this environment can transfer to a higher level of the game.

It’s important to stress the solutions that emerged in this session came from the players, not the coach. By designing the session as described in the video we can shine a light on the relevant affordances that we believe are appropriate for the group without determining how they will meet the challenge. When done well this provides space for players to experience autonomy and explore novel potentially creative solutions.

Below is some feedback from PDP’s Dave Wright and AIK’s Head of Education Dennis Hörtin.

Dennis suggested that if we wanted to increase the challenge for the defenders we should increase the space and where possible make the goals bigger, so they have to really ‘work and struggle’ to cover the spaces and close the gaps.

Dave said: “This session is a fantastic example of how coaches can utilise the principles of play, simple task constraints and small sided games to work on multiple outcomes. Not only is it a first-class example of allowing players to self-organise through the use of task constraints, but it demonstrates that in directional practices (which are representative of the game), a multitude of topics can be coached and repetition of actions and decisions can emerge. Regardless of whether pressing, screening, forward runs, combination play, positional play, passing and receiving or finishing were the ‘topics’ of the session, all of these could be coached within the practice. It’s important to note the ball-rolling time, deliberate lack of direct instruction and freedom of the players to solve problems and collaborate in order to deal with the challenge in front of them.”

All thoughts and comments are encouraged.

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