Help Your Players Learn More—By Teaching Less


As a coach, there are always countless improvements that you want to see in your team. However, in ultimate, we are often burdened with limited hours training together as a full squad. It is therefore extremely important to get the most out of our practices.

At the 2018 UAP Conference, Jools Murray gave a talk addressing just that—how can we maximize our training time?  As a certified strength and conditioning coach currently working with the English Institute of Sport, Jools has applied and developed her knowledge through her experience coaching the Great Britain U23 men’s national team.

Constraints-Led Approach

Her secret is using a Constraints-Led Approach (CLA). Research has shown that a CLA is the most effective way to encourage learning in players. In fact, if you’re not using a CLA, you’re probably teaching too much! Using constraints, you can encourage your players to create their own solutions to challenges.

Research has shown this kind of learning to be more effective at both replicating results and adapting to new situations. You can’t proscribe a solution to every challenge your player will face in a game, but if you can create a team of smart, adaptable players, you will find your team’s success increasing.

What is a constraint?

Before you can use a CLA, you need to know what exactly a constraint is. A constraint is anything that eliminates certain possibilities or configurations for actions. For example, one common constraint used in ultimate is requiring that all 7 players on the field touch the disc before the offense can score a point. This eliminates a first throw huck or any other combination of throws not involving the entire line.

Constraints do not dictate actions!

An important feature of a constraint is that actions are not caused by constraints. Rather, the solution is the action created under the constraints. To use the above example, when you constrain your offense with a requirement that all 7 players touch the disc, you are not dictating the offensive flow used. Perhaps each player touches it exactly once on the way to a point, or perhaps your star handler marshals the disc down the field, touching the disc every other pass. What is important is that your players develop the solution to your constraint on their own. By doing so, your players will learn more effectively and efficiently.

This kind of learning is called self-guided organization, and it has been shown to be the most effective way for players to learn good habits that are adaptable for different situations. It is called “self-guided” because your players are “guiding” themselves towards finding a solution, rather than try to copy a solution that you give them.

How difficult should constraints be?

It is important to remember that, even when using a CLA, you should still find a balance between what you teach through direct instruction and what you teach through constraints. Teaching new players how to throw a flick is going to require a lot of direct instruction, but developing a consistent low-release forehand in a game situation might be better accomplished with a CLA.

Jools suggests structuring your constraints such that your players are successful about 60-70% of the time—any higher, and they are not being challenged enough to learn, while any lower, and it is too hard for them to discover replicable patterns of success on their own. If you find your constraints are too difficult, you should consider either relaxing them or providing more direct instruction before moving into your constraints-led approach.

Want to learn more?

Jools Murray has given multiple UAP Conference presentations on different ways to make the most out of your practices. Included with these presentations in the UAP Classroom are Q&A sessions, references, and research papers, as well as every other talk from every UAP conference since 2011!  

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