Coaching Theories: What is Non-Linear Pedagogy?

Non-Linear Pedagogy Infographic

What is it?

The phrase “Non-Linear Pedagogy” might sound complex, but if we break it down the words, it can be simplified (without trying to oversimplify). “Linear” refers to a progression over time, where each phase is predictable in how long it will last. “Non-Linear” is unpredictable, as the outcomes can be unpredictable and phases can be accomplished at various stages. “Pedagogy” refers to education and how we learn and grow. Therefore, “Non-Linear Pedagogy” refers to
the human development, where stages of learning can be accomplished at different times. For example, not every child will learn to tie their shoe laces at exactly five years old. Some will learn sooner and others could learn later.

Principles of Non-Linear Pedagogy

With regards to implementing a Non-Linear Pedagogy approach in sport, Mark O’Sullivan mentions there are four key principles (Podcast with Josh Faga; Mark’s footblogball). Ben Franks mentioned that Non-Linear Pedagogy are the principles of Ecological Dynamics (Podcast with Josh Faga). The principles below are not separate, but interlink with each other.

1. Game Learning Representative

The learning environment must reflect the match, as the aim of practice is to replicate it in the match. Ben Galloway (YouTube Video) explains that this allows skills to transferred from training to a game. Ben Franks provides an example in the podcast above. By practising throwing a ball against a wall you will get better at it, but it won’t transfer to the game as it isn’t realistic to the game.

2. Repetition with Variation

Also referred to as “repetition without repetition”. As every action in the game varies, practising a skill with different variables (for example, making a pass can vary in distance and angle) helps the learning of a skill. Ben Galloway (YouTube Video) says we want players to continually search for solutions, which can be accomplished through variation.

Learning about Schema Theory in the first year of my Sport Science degree, Schema Theory was taught. Schema Theory suggests general motor programs and schema (external information) is added to this from long-term memory (previous experience of performing the skill) to produce the movement. Therefore, practising a skill with different variables strengthens the motor program and how to information is processed to perform successfully.

Although Ecological Dynamics, of which Non-Linear Pedagogy is the principles behind, tries to disprove Schema Theory. Ecological Dynamic states movements occur due to constraints (environmental, physical and task) interacting with the learner’s stability and the necessary ability. This related to Skill Acquisition (Science for Sport article), which will be looked at in greater detail in another blog post.

3. Keep perception-action coupled

With action determined by the situation presented with. There was previous thought that action can be practised separately and then perception can be added afterwards. As mentioned above, strengthening of a skill relies on the addition of information available and if no information is coming in to assist with decision making, the learning of the skill is limited. “We must perceive in order to move, but we must also move in order to perceive” (YouTube Video).

4. Promote an external focus

Allow players to concentrate on the information from outside their body rather than too much focus on what they are doing. As mentioned in the above two principles, external information assists with decision-making and acquisition of a skill.

How is it implemented?

The main way to incorporate Non-Linear Pedagogy is through session design. This can be accomplished via representative learning design and a Constraints Led Approach. Mark O’Sullivan said he uses principles of play to plan sessions rather than using themes to plan sessions. Through the use of session design, a particular solution or outcome (i.e. dribbling to exploit space) can be encouraged through the use of a Constraints Led Approach.

Read more about a Constraints Led Approach and how it is implemented here.

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