Reinventing the Game – RtG

As a teacher of Physical Education, being able to teach a game effectively is an obvious part of the job. The big question that dominates my professional thought processes is “What is effective teaching of a game?”. Do we want a student to replicate and mimic successful sports actions/movements and consider that effective? (I will use the word ‘Game’ and ‘Sport’ interchangeably at times). Or does good teaching allows the student to appreciate and adhere to that game even after the PE lesson is over? Contemporary education practices suggest that a deeper level of learning that goes further than just reproduction of actions is necessary. Personal understanding of the role of physical education in our lives tells me that skills learnt in PE classes need to embrace a part of the human psyche that allows a life-long contribution to that individual. It cannot be a once-off series of lessons in predetermined action movements that we require to meet our system’s short term objective.

Reinventing The Game (RtG) is about creating that environment of ‘reinvention’ for the students as they explore the Playability of games while they embark on the understanding journey to learning games.

In RtG, I explore ideas of Technical Concepts and Tactical Concepts. I look at games as a complex system and the solutions to solving problems in games (ie. learning in games) requiring complex system adaptation. Excellent work has been done in this areas by many and I find that pulling it all together is the work of us teachers. I once attended an international conference and sat in 3 concurrent sessions on learning. One was from a neuroscience perspective, the other from a cognitive learning specialist and the last from a pedagogy point of view. All 3 could have achieved more comprehensive pragmatic outcomes if they had come together to leverage on each other’s specialties when looking at the common point of how students learn. One of the big problem I see clearly (at least to me) is the lack of connection in research to the everyday on-goings of a classroom. Without doubt, the work done at the academia level does concerns the teacher and is vital information to lesson development in PE but I feel the need to also have good bottom-up initiatives from teachers on the ground to put together leanings from controlled environment research with their real day-to-day experience in a seemingly uncontrollable environment.

Follow me on twitter @ReInventTheGame



What happens in between teaching and learning during PE?

This reflection attempts to expand the definition and understanding of;

  • Teaching practises and learning outcomes. I can see the teacher input, I can see the learning outcomes but how is learning taking place?
  • Is the pursuit of questioning skills clouding effective teaching and learning?
  • Does non-linear physiological learning processes mean non-linear teacher implementation processes?

Between Teaching and Learning

I spent a lot of time by a swimming pool when doing my reflections. At the pool, I constantly observe kids being taught swimming by obviously experienced coaches that will probably suggest very effective lesson designs that still keep them in the business. From afar, it is difficult to hear the conversations that take place between coach and student. What I do see quite consistently are the coaches mimicking arm movements for their young chargers to follow. I guess for a lot us, this is how we were first introduced to techniques and skills, reproducing recommended patterns of movement. One common skill these coaches at the pool try to teach is the standing dive from the side of the pool. One particular popular reproduction method used consistently by many swim coaches is putting the learner at the side of the pool and positioning their body in a dive arc, replicating a snapshot of an ideal position before push-off. These learners are then either push into the water or asked to push off themselves. From afar, I still think it is not fair to evaluate a short session without talking to the coach, it almost seems like the expectation of a movement objective is expected merely by replicating the ideal biomechanical movement observed from more skilled performers. In recent postings on social media that caught my attention, this reproduction expectation seems to be suggested when being awed by snapshots of sportsmen doing impossible manoeuvres.

This brings to the forefront, for me, the debate between deliberate and emerging movement solutions all over again in my reflections. I wonder if the magic potion of good Physical Education (PE) lesson design is this recognition of how students learn, not just the when. To some extent, this may relate closely to what we want from active learners, for them to hold on to learning for life or at least over subsequent lessons, as oppose to short term replication. I remembered my own self-taught swimming experience where all the hand and leg mimicking (as a result of following popular available instructions on how to swim via reproductive methods) only made sense when I finally tried it out at sea where the buoyant water allowed me the vertical lift while I have the lesser focus of realising only the horizontal propulsion opportunities of the leg and hand movements. It all then made sense, and thus successfully executed, only when I realised the reasons for the suggested limb movement. Therefore, the successful external action outcome made internal biomechanical instructions meaningful.

Which one needs to come first?

Can they come together through clever lesson design?

And, most importantly for this reflection, what is happening within the learner when this teaching-learning cycle happens?

It seems that deliberate teaching might suggest bringing in technique before understanding for success. This is where a large part of what is suggest in pedagogies like Teaching Games for Understating (TGfU) and Constraints Led Approach (CLA) seems to indicate on the contrary. At times, this is where the expected linearity of teaching processes is debate on in line with contemporary awareness that learning may not be linear.

I will like to suggest that there may be a potential consolidation, when it should not, of the idea of non-linearity in learning functions and teaching processes. The teaching process may well look linear in its mechanistic outlook, i.e. teacher uses a tried and tested fix process to tackle known problems while keeping in mind the non-linearity of internal learning processes. It is this understanding of the non-linearity in internal processes that may shed light in the title of this reflection.

Now, it brings me to my main intended point of this reflection, does our teachings have a causal-effect impact or is it more correlational, to learning? Lately, I am beginning to think that much of the game related movement learnings taking place has probably not everything to do with physical education (PE) classes or at most have only a correlational effect with each other, not the causal-effect that we very implicitly think may be happening. This thought of mine was compounded on recently playing basketball with my son and realising he picked up a tremendous amount from Youtube (very appropriately named ‘The Professor’ taking the credit here) and his peers, with probably very little coming from his PE class or father! There is a whole field of motivational science that could explain phenomenon like this but what got me really to sit up and reflect was the possibility of something lacking when we automatically think we, as teachers, are influencing learning from a causal-effect viewpoint when we are not. In my school’s recent games day where we got the students to compete against each other, I also very sheepishly have to accept that the high level of play may not have come from our lessons but from their own over enthusiastic peers and learning sources! At the best, I, as a PE teacher, may probably take credit in pointing them in the right direction. Of course, I accept that part of our job is this discovery process we want to ingrain into our learners and accept our role in that while boosting and fine-tuning that self-learning that may happen. Encouragingly for my ‘teacher of the universe’ self-esteem, I know not every learner has that motivation to want to learn more and rely much on effective teaching to nudge them in the correct direction. Nonetheless, this realisation does take away quite a bit from this teacher who have for a long while made the very implicit assumption that most teacher initiated strategies are the causal-effect start of good learning.

In a recent discussion with a teacher, we were exploring what we think as visible (or the lack of) learning taking place. The conversation met a wall when I started exploring what it takes for a person to be considered as learning from a micro, ecological perspective. My teacher friend believes learning outcomes are sufficient as visible learning taking place. My simple thinking tells me that if I can nail this perspective to some depth, any depth actually, my teaching design process can benefit tremendously via validation or even changing mind-sets. My colleague reminded me that this micro view is too distant and most teachers will not be interested in it. For many, the proxy indicator of desired outcome is sufficient to connect teacher practise to learning. My view is exactly that, it is a proxy and learning could potentially be taking place in spite of us. I wrote about this when exploring possible cognitive processes when learning is occurring. If this is in any way a reasonable perspective, much of our visible learning realisation is just visible outcomes that is correlational and not causal-effect from our practises that we may very inadvertently think is.

Doing a quick article search, I also realised the importance the fraternity places on exploring correlational relationship between teaching behaviour (e.g. informing, structuring, observing, feedback, etc.) and outcomes (e.g. motor and cognitive engagement, etc.). This is understandable, as you probably have to dig much deeper to see overlaps, if any, into the fields of direct/indirect perception cognitive sciences and good old teaching pedagogies. I can see elements of this taking place in the areas of ecological dynamics, Non-linear Pedagogy (NLP) and retrospective (to some degree) connections in Constraints Led Approach (CLA). Therefore, what happens between teaching and learning is really highly theorised for those who are critical or highly irrelevant for those who just too busy implementing.

I also appreciate the fact that in teaching, we are very behaviour-outcome based, doing our best as the main bastion of responsible citizens entering the world. Our whole teacher training and professional development cycles also favours to some degree this input to outcome short cycle that may inadvertently lessen the importance of needing to know physiological learning processes that occur in between teaching input and student learning. You will find plenty of implementation importance in our professional life as to a large extent we expected to be masters of strategy implementation.

This brings me to my next point. In Games Centred Approaches (GCAs), the role of questioning seems to take on, at times, the definitive role of a GCA. I am concerned about this, as questioning is a secondary facilitative tool, amongst many other feedback-acquiring strategies, to the primary movement solution exploration process of the learner. Could this possibly be a sign of an input to outcome mentality that looks at correlational success of an input, i.e. questioning, to a proxy learning output, i.e. visible outcome?

Creating an independent importance in good questioning techniques for teachers makes implicit assumptions that I will suggest might go against the key impact of the intent and beliefs of a GCA. These implicit and potentially detrimental assumptions includes:

  • A good question is one with a good answer, with the latter potentially being learning proxy outcomes only,
  • Creating a good question-building ability is independent of the whole learning process cycle, and
  • Working on questioning techniques first before exploring the theories and philosophy of the whole game and learner centred teaching cycle.

I say the above after many years of observing convenient breaking down of GCA teaching schematics that unfortunately singles out the questioning aspect of the visual depiction. If ever you have heard that being game and learner centred is difficult because of the need to master potentially time wasting questioning mastery, chances are you are witnessing a prioritising of questioning ability above that of understanding the whole teaching process. The key here is not ‘questioning’ but perhaps it should be ‘getting feedback’. I wrote about it very early on when constantly been told that Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) requires much time for questions and that only very experience teachers have that ability. Every teacher is able to gather feedback and that alone settles the basic GCA need to know your learner and what your teaching impact is at any point in time. Feedback also benefits the learner, through self-learning and instruction realisation, if structured accordingly and this is what we often refer to when we emphasise the importance of questioning for teaching cycles. Without doubt, the ability to get feedback through using questions, is necessary but it should be appreciated for in its role as part of a bigger picture.

Much ado about Discovery!……in PE

Making sense of pedagogical strategies

This personal exploration looks at;

  • Teaching methodologies and wanting to find common ground amongst them for better understanding and implementation.

My writing for this article was interrupted by this interest in my professional learning network that seems to be often at odds to the value of Discovery Style teaching/coaching. Almost everything and anything has been put forward as going against this style of teaching that had me thinking with great interest. I even had an educator telling me that Non-Linear Pedagogy (NLP) is basically discovery based and therefore it will be good to let teachers either “…embraced it or allow them the choice to choose another approach…(paraphrased)”. To me, this is a potential inaccurate mixing and interchanging of different ideas and believes in the teaching field that does not scratched the surface of the true workings of what is needed in a comprehensive teaching flow from philosophy and theoretical underpinnings to implementation. Take the above example of the well-known teaching strategy of discovery/guided-discovery that has drawn a bit of flak from researchers, well regarded by progressive educators and blamed on by fans of failing sports clubs! In fact, all the different strategies will have its fair share of enthusiasm and critics. The point is, do we really look at a methodology deeply enough before we critic it? Are all such strategies so distinct in their workings and on their impact when all of them focus on the same learning process? Is there multiple distinct skill acquisition and retaining processes within the body that can explain the use of one over the other?

Let’s come back to the above NLP and discovery comment that is probably lumping together the social constructivism idea of discovery to the emergent acquisition process of the human body. Discovery can be an acknowledgement of the self-organising nature of the human body adapting to a known problem (not unknown). A physiological discovery self-organising process taking place within a learner can be targeted and look precise to an observer (e.g. in NLP/perception-action and its underpinning for Constraints Led Approach, CLA). A social and cultural discovery self-organising process within and between learners acting in an environment can be premeditated and facilitated without the need for a high level of ambiguity for educational settings (e.g. in Discovery and Guided Discovery implementation strategies). In such cases, if we go deeper to explore original intent of ideas, such concepts will not be put together in versus statements. Furthermore, if we accept that the physiological and social processes of learning are universal and need to be understood together, then it cannot be ignored when discussing teaching strategies for comparison. A teaching or strategy spectrum cannot overlook how we learn and is in fact the common thread weaving through the different styles on the spectrum. So, for example, even a command style teaching experience can effectively involve understanding physiological self-organisation (the body discovering the best way to accomplish a very specific task).

Recently I have the privilege again to listen to Tim Hopper and his presentation of his 4R model (Hopper, 2003) to help students scan and take action. The Rs refers to Read, Respond, React and Recover, in a seemingly cyclical descriptor of the outcome manifestation of a perception and action process. As I sat through his very rich teaching experience, I begin my own making of sense of this 4R approach in conjunction to all the other strategies, approaches, models, pedagogies, etc. that play important roles in most professional development (PD) journey that we embark on. I have reflected a lot on PD lingos and its apparent possible confusion that might lead to alienation rather complementary interplay, i.e. a false dichotomy of pedagogies. My sharing of my own perspective of a functional framework, Reinventing The Game (RtG), created confusion that it is a fit-all solution that is lacking, rather than an understanding of which exact hole it is plugging in the complex learning journey starting from philosophy to theory to implementation. A fit-all mentality that potentially creates a lot of model fidelity frustration in implementation occurs when the learning process is whittled down to a short implementation-learning cycle.

We share our own teacher understanding of learning processes through very serially biased means of writing, talking and sometimes even demonstrating. This is seen in articles, speeches, demonstration videos, etc. We have at our disposal plenty of visual schematic articulations of how we can design the perfect class through step-by-step processes. Coupled with these, we have just as rich schematic depictions of how students learn. Basically, the formal and informal sharing communication platforms suggest sequential physiological mechanics when reality may not be so. I can imagine our organic processes as being almost parallel in its workings while we attempt to dissect its mechanics and put back together sequentially to explain (non-linearity vs linearity). Does this auger well on the practitioner who wants to understand better for implementation? Is this where the fundamental and universal truth mentioned earlier (at neuromuscular level) needs to be considered before any convenient follow-the-steps implementation?

How do our students to learn?

How do we want to teach knowing the above?

Are the two preceding statements talking about the same thing? Is it sufficient to not worry about the differences and focus on only one of them and trust that everything will fall into place? Current established models of pedagogies make a lot of implicit assumptions on the area of body and environment interactive process for information gathering, manipulation and its long term existence (learning). As teachers, we are very comfortable with the way we assume we build up knowledge and its action influence. We use this as an implicit underlying understanding of skill acquisition to support the processes and functions that are inherent in the various pedagogical approaches we encounter.

The above questions and quandaries are age old and have been dissected plenty of times and probably the world doesn’t need more perspectives on these, or do they? My reflection for this article comes back to this after a long time looking at how possibly we acquire skills, i.e. learning. I am not referring to using models, strategies, established Process Structures (cyclical or hierarchical) and Functional Structures, etc. (My structured mind uses the word structure here even though I am not sure if it is the best way to describe it.)  Rather I am referring to how exactly do the body takes in information and spit out action! In my opinion, teaching strategies need to have one thing in common, that is an awareness of the way the body acquires skill at a neuromuscular level. Is it possible that there are multiple systems involve when considering skill learning at a micro level? I am not sure but put faith that there might be but fundamentally using same physiological-environmental interactive processes.

I define functional structures, see fig 1, as our pulled apart understanding of what contributes to a complex system. These functions are visible actions/decisions taking place, e.g. in the 4Rs mentioned above; the passing, scoring, interception and movement mentioned in my Reinventing the Game (RtG) framework; the game-play, practise, appreciation, understanding, etc.  in Game Centred Approaches (GCAs). This structures tend to influence us to think of the body as acquiring skills linearly.

Teaching Process structures are what that is suggested by methodologies as roads to reaching the functional milestones of a skill as represented by the functional structure depiction of different approaches, e.g. step by step instructions/facilitation. So if I come back to the 4Rs again, the Rs may assume functional roles (functional structures) of the various aspects of a skill or movement decision making. However, for teaching, each of Rs need to go through a separate teaching cycle to enhance its awareness and usually in conjunction with another one, or series, of Rs. So, I see a problem here if a movement functional structure is confused totally for a teaching process structure. I am not trying to pigeon hole any established methodologies here as it as expected that there are comprehensive and consist of both functional and process structures working in tandem.

Functional Structures; our pulled apart understanding of what contributes to a complex system. They may not be cyclical nor hierarchical but definitely overlapping most of the time. Tend to be identified via task/game/functional process decomposition.

Process Structures (referring to teaching process structures from henceforth); are what that is depicted as a road to achieving functional structures. They are usually cyclical or hierarchical and embedded in teaching models and underpinned by theories.

So, the sequential-ness that is depicted in schematics of various GCAs is plausible for implementation but also needs the consideration of the parallel or non-linear nature and interplay of functional and process structures. This could possibly mean that an effective teaching scenario will be expected to have multiple series of consideration before any intervention that ensures functional structures are not always put together the exact same way as their decomposed sequential depiction for understanding. Sometimes parts of a functional structure do also represent a process, e.g. the game to game appreciation in Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) when taken together sequential can also be a process to attain the latter. However, from game appreciation to tactical awareness and then to making appropriate decisions; they are more functional structures that need a pedagogical treatment at each step before it can be delivered to a learner. The pedagogical TGfU treatment (process structure) here is leveraging on modified game play and appropriate facilitation to create that decision making awareness. While skill acquisition and performance appears late in a TGfU model schematic, it does not necessarily need to appear late in the experience landscape of a learner. This two functional structures can also be incorporated in the process structures for game play, appreciation, tactical awareness and decision making. So indeed it is a complex non-linear system!

So, it is also possible that when we do use established process structures via models in pedagogical approaches, we may not take into consideration the non-cyclical nature of functional structures when connecting cyclical processes to them. I wrote a bit of this when describing the frustration of teachers who are road-blocked from using great ideas from Games Centred Approaches (GCA) due to not being able to meet assumed strict hierarchical functional structures in step by step depictions which seems to need an understanding and appreciation before actual technical and strategy conceptual learning.

Let’s take another example of the 4R mentioned above. From the perspective of a teacher breaking down a skill, this model gives a clear framework to consider what is needed for teacher hoping to leverage on this for lesson design. (In another article, I spoke a bit about cues used for problem identification and its possible shortcomings as teaching cues also.) The challenge for me is how to translate this problem/strength identification process to a teaching progression that aligns as best as possible to actual learning processes that may not be linear and therefore possibly at odds to a sequentially expected process. This sequentially expected process is enhanced by schematic descriptors and the tendency for practitioners to use what they see literally, even though detailed explanation by developers of such processes usually also demonstrate the need to adapt to the body’s non-sequential behaviour in learning. So, will a teaching scenario with 4R in mind inadvertently start off with a Read activity to improve Respond and then leading to Reaction and Recovery in a sequential order?

From an ecological point of view, I will put forward the possibility that Read may even occur after or during the Respond. It is the teachers job to understand the Read scenario for the Respond and create that environment. For the learner, the Read actually comes together or just after Respond (so difficult to be in exact temporal sync in descriptor language to actual body processes). In an ecological opinion piece by Orth et al (Orth, van de Kamp, Memmet, & J. P. Savelsberg, 2017), Creative Motor Actions as Emerging from Movement Variability, they spoke about “…creative solutions emerge in the act rather than before…”.  Creative motor actions here are defined as functional movement patterns that are new to the learner and that satisfy the constraints of the motor problem at hand. This paper challenges the idea of preliminary generation of an idea, i.e. reading a scenario before deciding on response in the mind before execution. It is a direct perception (sufficient information is present in the problem observation) belief that maybe at odds to the indirect perception that step by step instructions might suggest (information needs to be processed in the body first before execution). The Fosbury flop in high jump is used here as a classic example of how it first exists as a consequence of creative problem solving that took in the context of needing higher bar clearance that coincided with the introduction of high density foam landing mats that allowed more ingenious landings. So the creative solution of the flop may have been a result of parallel interactions with information from the environment. Guess we can say that a wider outcome of reading might have been to try a back-leading jump and the actual finer technique of responding and reacting occurring in the action itself. (Borrowing 4R terminology for this individual pursuit activity).

I will carry on to suggest that React is part of Respond if considering the parallel initiation of such cognitive functions that are pulled apart for better teacher understanding but which are very intertwined in actual workings. From a social constructivist point of view, Respond and Read may also occur at the same time as a consequence of knowing what is final objective and needing to React. For both physiological and social expectations, the Recovery process is an anticipatory phenomenon that only makes sense with the presence of the other Rs. So while it is easy to see the interplay between the Rs, the potential issue comes when we try to design lessons using the same sequential articulation as seen in a visual depiction of it on paper.

For me also, the language we use may potentially create biasness that does not favour actually body workings. For example, the literal word Read suggest taking in instructions before an action to build up knowledge, whereas the learning process of a body might be occurring best as the situation occurs. In the earlier paragraph on discovery teaching, it is obvious the literal meaning of discovery has unfortunately conjured images of lesson chaos that may be time wasting and ineffective and is used to simplify a lot of non-linear understanding of learning.

I guess my main point is that we as teachers need to be very aware of what we take in and to be careful to not fall into the Process /Functional Structures trap (look at Fig 1 and imagine what is consequence if function is confused with process). Looking on as an observer to action taking place gives a rich visual image of the functions of the movement that cannot be thrown back directly to learners (e.g. deliberate, explicit, etc.) without a pedagogical treatment that connects functional structures information to relevant process structures (using information of how learning takes place to create a teaching strategy). This dilemma is reflected well between decomposition, breaking down a task to functions, and degeneracy, a phenomenon of structural variation in achieving a task that can influence an organic process of building up a skill. Often this difference is ignored and attempts are made to teach via the direct introduction of a possibly ineffective sequential functional structure.

We need to be clear of important definitions and be able to place the many excellent ideas on models, approaches, strategies, pedagogies, etc. in their correct place and not dumb down everything in the pursuit of simplicity. This is where theoretical underpinnings lay their worth in the bigger picture of understanding and giving respect to the broad learning process that starts from philosophy to theory to implementation.


Readings for this article;

Hopper, T. (March, 2003). Four Rs for tactical awareness: Applying game performance assessment in net/wall games. Journal of Teaching Elementary Physical Education, March Issue, 2003., 1 – 12.

Orth, D., van de Kamp, J., Memmet, D., & J. P. Savelsberg, G. (Oct, 2017). Creative Motor Actions As Emerging from Movement Variability. Retrieved from Forntiers in Psychology:

A Tale of Two PE Teachers

A semi-fictional narrative between two Physical Education (PE) teachers on the possibilities of novel insights to movement learning (skill acquisition).


Two PE Teachers

Scene: In a gym during a teaching break, working  on the usual glamour muscles, in between sets.

Teacher Popular Styles (TPA):

I used to take psychology in university and will really like to pick it up again to help in my teaching.

Teacher Novel Insights (TNI):

Me too. I used to spend a lot of time looking at traditional psychology via sports psychology. Now, I am amazed at how Ecological Psychology sort of give a new perspective to how we think and behave. The traditional cognitivist idea of psychology gave a lot of credit to the brain for its role as central command to all decision making and planning. So now I am re-looking at much of my teaching practises to see what sense it makes if I were to shift my base understanding of the traditional neuro programming version of our decision making process towards one where we tend to learn rather independently of front-loading attempts and really more dependent on perception and action between the environment and learner. I see this as very important to beginner learners especially.


So what you saying? Can you summarize it in few words? Surely if it is so complicated, it is probably not feasible for us teachers. I understand using the game as a learning platform, putting the learner at the centre of teaching strategies but most importantly providing good, relevant information to students so that they know what to do.


It seems that there may be a need for a mind-shift about providing explicit information or emergent experience first. Definitely can’t say it in a few words as it seems there might be an alternative to how we think we think. This is big! There is stuff out there that just need more time to digest to reflect the complexity of it. For example, now as teachers, we probably imagine that our students store information like a library and we endeavour to build up that library in the head. Our lessons are designed with this role, putting importance to this version of information storage as a means to good learning, meaning if we store it well, we can retrieve it latter for use, i.e. very straight forward information processing via replication. This creates a cognitive and physical duality that we acknowledge impacts each other but unfortunately also creates expectations that the cognitive and the physical can be planned for separately. Added to this is the liberal sprinkling of a third affective component that can be observed at outcome and inadvertently planned for rather independently at times also. All this points to how we think we store and process information in the brain.

What if this is not exactly accurate? By the way, it is difficult to conclude exactly how our cognitive system translate information (past and present) to action at the moment. Depending on what you are looking for, you will probably find evidence for the angle you are biased towards. What if the key to reproducing past information or experience is in the interactive environment we exist and act in?

For example, if we want to teach hitting a pitched ball with a bat, instead of focusing on receiving and storing correct sequential instructions through direct means, we focus on achieving suitable range of movement solutions in practise directly through facilitation by a constraint designed activity that presents the movement problem of interest (hitting a pitched ball) and then trust that the body stores it appropriately for future use.

I am not referring to the higher level of advance holding and action techniques which have a bit more room of frontloading for advance learners due to them already having a solution manifold that allows them to incorporate such instruction affordances (what the instructions are suggesting) when needed.


What do you mean by trust? You mean storing that successful experience in the brain and therefore it will be produced well again? Isn’t that the brain-as-a-library story all over again?


Well, if you think along the traditional cognitive view, you can’t help but say that. Everything seems to start and end at the brain. I am trying to say just forget about that. Trust in the body’s processes to react appropriately in action selection (deciding what to do) and thereafter in action movement (executing that action). Imagine that these body processes come to life when needed to act in a situation. However, this situation needs to give visual, auditory and kinematic information to the body via all the senses. The body perceives all this information (they call it affordance) and reacts appropriately. If it is the first time the body experiences it, it is novel and that experience is kept, not in its entirety, in its component parts in the form of ability to react appropriately to different sub-perceptions in the overall movement created perception. Then at subsequent times, this stored ability is leveraged on to decide if it is needed again in its many combined possible forms (sub-perceptions coming together to solve the overall movement perception problem) or even if it is not needed if the situation is deemed as completely not what experience has ingrained into the body.


Ok but I still see that the experience you talking about as being stored in the brains like a library. Nothing has changed. So the popular good instructions (e.g. explicit and deliberate experience) approach may still be important??!! I understand the need to allow not so explicit solutions to always be the main focus and let them be very adaptable and flexible to the movement problems. But I still see the brain as we know it to be playing an important part and anyway, I don’t see how all this will impact the way I have been teaching. I just need to focus on providing a good experience for the students and it doesn’t really matter to me where that experience is kept and how.


I almost agree on your last sentence. Let the experts figure out where and how the brains store information for use. However, I do believe that an understanding of the cognitive mechanism (not the details) can potentially affect how we design and carry out lessons. If I stop thinking of the brain as a library and give credit to the whole body and its ability to respond and learn from its reactions to environmental conditions, I will put more emphasis on allowing the body to learn by itself. Some call it self-organisation. It is when teachers create problem samples of an eventual learning condition and allow the body to explore solutions. These problems can either have clear outcomes (e.g. I need the ball to eventually end up in this exact spot) with variable roads to it or variable outcomes (e.g. I need to ball to move towards the goal line in no fix trajectory or final placement) with likewise variable roads to it. Anyway, much of our teaching for understanding strategies fits in nicely at the implementation part of the above suggested cognitive direction which I really like!

And the way you think experience is kept for use later does impact the way you design lessons, even if you think it doesn’t.


I don’t think so. My approach is very clear. I present to the learner what is right and correct what is wrong when it is produced. I trust that all that is good is kept for future use by the mind or body or whatever. The longer and the more often you repeat a good behaviour, the more ingrained it is somewhere. Where exactly and how, I don’t really need to worry about. Teacher training never talk to me about it and I hardly hear about this when I attend or engage in professional development. In fact, if you think it is so important, why don’t you come out with a lesson package that is ready made for others to try!


Any lesson packages don’t mean anything if you don’t understand where it is coming from. This is the difference between following implementation strategies blindly and understanding how to create your own strategies. So, the best will be understanding AND trying out strategies. Like I already said, much of our practice is in the right direction. The big question for me is if learning can take place better with a more targeted understanding of the neuromuscular happenings when we carry out our lessons.

I mentioned earlier bit about how if you stop thinking of experiences in the mind as video clips or pictures (cognitivist call this representations) stored in a repository, you might stop wanting to provide experiences that are ready-made picture perfect. What if we accept that we can only store knowledge of sub-actions of the whole movement problem (which is made up of many actions working together to respond to complex problem), not the exact set-piece we envision learners encountering during an actual game? Meaning if we want to build up a successful experience in a tennis backhand, we might go through the usual technical and conceptual understanding facilitation for successful execution by using cues, instructions, activity design, etc. in which learner gets to intercept ball coming in from various positional scenarios. Moving forward, we then expect the learner to produce that same family of backhand movements when needed. We will facilitate this by giving cues and instructions that assumes a movement problem solving perspective rather than replicating a set-piece past lesson (the picture-perfect storage problem mentioned above). E.g. if a learner misses a ball on the non-dominant side (where a backhand will do the job), the facilitative statement to bring out past learning will be, “What do you need to do to reach the ball across your body on the weaker side?”. This will be as oppose to, “Remember what you did for the backhand training last week? Can you use that please?” This can be said to assume that the body remembers a past problem and its possible solution in terms of how to react with an implement (racquet) when ball is coming from an uncomfortable weaker side rather than how a technique is executed regardless of where ball is.

Another example will be feeding balls from the side as a teacher corrects batting technique in a striking and fielding game. This can be seen as a teaching perspective of creating a cognitive scenario of a decomposed movement for storage and eventual use (central command perspective), i.e. batting the ball. The teacher here might be focusing on creating an authentic environment up to the point of ball contact, starting from bat swing without considering game relevant ball direction and its influence. This can be describe as decomposing a skill and working on the decomposed task separately for future expected reproduction. The teacher might move on to feeding ball from the front, a more game relevant ball delivery direction. This time the teacher might allow the learner to react to different ball speed and minute directional shifts. Here, it can be said that the teacher is trying to get the learner to store perception-(sub)action responses (through movement degeneracy) that can be eventually put together in eventual game situation, producing needed response to different pitching variables. Both are useful strategies when used as targeted.

You might say that these are just examples of explicit instructions versus discovery ones. If you think about it, one assumes that perfect set-pieces are stored in a memory bank and the other assumes that your body needs a stimulus (affordance in ecology speak) to initiate a reaction that is problem solving in production, rather than solution reproduction on call. So the body seems to store reactions (problem solving reactions!) rather than the whole picture. Does it make sense?



Sigh, must we really consider so much? It sounds like you are splitting hairs. To me, it is either straight forward explicit teaching or letting students discover solutions by themselves for understanding, albeit facilitated by teachers. I don’t think I need to know more than that.

Anyway, I am very sure how my brain works. When I think about something, the whole image appears in my mind (sometimes in colour!) and it actually moves like I want it to. If I really want to teach well, I believe all I need to do is to build up this repository of images, ideas, movement scene, etc. as I need it to occur. All this is inherent in the lesson designs for learning that I plan for. It is very comfortable and well supported by practitioners to paint the exact picture you want to convey to the students in teaching activities.


I guess this is where we can consider if we want learners to replicate and reproduce or to create their own self-learning (self-organising), productive movement. For this, I believe we are all sort of convinced of already of the right way to go. I guess it is the need to connect this to how we process information coming at us (ecologist call it energy arrays from the environment) that might be a bit far fetch for many to want to consider as it seemingly might make a great impact on our practices and we are all creatures of familiarity.

Let me try explain more, for my own benefit also. About your imagery abilities that you just used as an example, what if I say that every imagery that you think of and its actual representation in your thoughts occur only when you think about it. Just before and after that thought, there is nothing there (or rather it dissolves to some other manifestation). So the act of thinking is the main crux! What happens then at the exact moment of thinking? Can we as teachers benefit by knowing details on it? How do we build up the representations that we can clearly see in our minds when needed, that is the thinking that we are most comfortable with and have for a very long time build up strategies for?

I suggested earlier that we are capable of storing perception-action scenarios, albeit only sub-actions of the bigger movement problem, which are based on the laws of what our body is capable of, existing in our environment. This laws are a mix of natural (physiological, physics, etc.) and artificially (social, cultural, etc.) created ones. I will think of these perception-(sub)action elements as the basic building blocks (reactions to single or limited affordances) of all possible reactions to a complex movement problem that is firmed up by experiences. So the moment we think about (in recollection) or are face with (in actual situation) a scenario, our body puts together all the perception influenced information available from our basic building block repository to put together a story and be able to execute an action, i.e. reactions to multiple affordances. After this situation has passed, the story is dismantled and the building blocks are stored back to whatever form and place it came from. So the full picture may never be stored in its entirety. If this is true, the whole idea of good instructions for good action behaviour reproduction goes out of the window and replaced by appropriate experiences for effective action behaviour production comes in via the building up of the basic building blocks of perception-(sub)action experiences mentioned above.

Do you see how teaching and assessment design might change ever so slightly if a teacher thinks along this way? I say slightly because I believe we are already doing well in wanting students to experience learning rather than be told! It is just understanding better what happens to these complex experiences within our body that allows its use again when needed.


If this was a storyline for a PE blog, I will say YES! But I guess what you saying also supports quite strongly the need to always get learners to explore the solution space, rather than just zero in on the exact reaction which mostly we teachers insist on. With this exact expectations, are the exact mass instructions and planning that very good teacher training and professional development may inadvertently suggest implicitly.  Every learner is different and sometimes we do tend to forget that if that is the case, it is difficult to expect similar actions even though game outcomes may be exact. Guess the debate for explicit and emergent learning may need to be understood better and its connection to how we directly or indirectly process the environment can strengthen that balance. I think I inadvertently just DID give that perfect PE blog ending response!

*Bell rings and the brain processes that affordance as needing to be in the next class before mayhem occurs. That scenario picture disappears into its basic building blocks in the recesses of the mind the exact moment after it was put together. *


Deliberate without being Deliberate: Deliberate Emergence in Physical Education (PE).

A continuation of discussion on Deliberate vs Emergence lesson design in PE.

Questions that inspired this article:

  • Is it ok to be divergent (exploratory) in activity design before converging to specific skills for novice learners?
  • Are set pieces meant to precede game-like play for novice learners?


Deliberate Emergence Pic

In my last sharing, I was caught up in this exciting dichotomy between deliberate and emergent practices. I suggested looking at it together and not as two different sides of a coin. As I talked, observed and read more recently on teachers’ experience, I noticed that this indeed is a major sticking point for many teachers who struggle as they separate these two ends of a spectrum. Not many consider them as symbiotic but rather at odds to each other, especially obvious it seems when trying to understand contemporary game-centred pedagogical approaches which usually put more importance on living the authentic experience. But how to live the experience when ‘technique’ and ‘skill’ doesn’t exist is the usual cry. I wrote very early on about technical skills that should be delivered conceptually, e.g. if I were to teach the ‘hammer’ throw in Ultimate Frisbee, students have to understand the purpose of such a high lob-equivalent throw for disc sports as they go through the mechanistic aspect of such a throw. Some will say that this simple example is actually a tactical concept, i.e. how to clear a Frisbee to far field for a scoring advantage. Viola! Maybe we can declare that “there shouldn’t be stand-alone technical/technique/skill sessions in skill acquisition and that all teaching is via understanding and concepts!”. In my previous article, I stated the believe that there is room for deliberate, repetitive and explicit drills and activity designs but it should have the direction of moving towards multi-dimensionality (operating within a more authentic environment) if it hasn’t already incorporated that in the first place. Maybe we can also aim for deliberate emergence in our teaching repertoire. Not deliberate or emergent but deliberate emergence! This is no oxymoron as the deliberate rightly points out to our role of facilitating and creating learning boundaries (providing the learning boundaries for a range of solutions rather than one solution to meet final objectives) and the emergence reflects the reality that as much as teachers think their step-by-step instructions provide exact movement focus, it is not true! Bernstein, a hugely influential neurophysiologist from the 60s, made popular the idea of repetition without repetition. He brought focus to the idea of motor redundancy. This redundancy problem (can be seen as a happy problem actually) refers to the fact that the body recruits its resources in different ways to achieve a certain goal. This happens across actions within a learner and between learners doing similar actions (this is a major influence for teachers of differentiated groups that requires a whole different field of group management to grapple and align learning sciences with, something that most research in the areas discussed don’t consider). Basically this variability in the movement process is what creates the anticipatory ability that is so important in sports. So motor redundancy (or abundance) is leverage on by learners for best fit adaptation. If this phenomenon is taken further, I believe a big chunk of our teaching resources need to be relooked at for schools.

Variability: The opportunities available in an activity design that allows exploration for solution emergence. While the final outcome for any movement can be specific in design intention (e.g. passing ball to the wings or hitting a net-shot in a net/wall game), the path to that outcome may vary.

Let’s look at possible reasons why the idea of deliberate emergence might seem difficult for Physical Education (PE) teachers who work with beginners. It’s seemingly messy with a reputation that only the most experienced educators can cope with such designs. It supposedly time consuming and many times, big classes of beginners need to move through limited PE lesson time to meet end goals of being able to play a game competently very quickly. Many high level resources, i.e. coaching manuals, video examples, coaching examples, etc., use deliberate and explicit activities as its most obvious recommendations (perhaps more suitable for higher performing athletes who may have already fine-tuned emerging related characteristics, e.g. enhanced quiet eye that facilitates high level of focus just before action movement). The representation of a successful PE programme as a movement outcome and not a lifestyle movement one supports the use of very explicit and deliberate replication processes, together with the previously mentioned need to follow typical decomposition processes of education.

Let me use a personal experience to wade through what this could potentially mean in a typical PE lesson. Currently I am trying to get a bunch of very differentiated group understand the horizontal (in relation to attacking direction) attacking formation in rugby. One popular way is to get learners to line up and pass the ball across the horizontal formation as they go down the field unopposed, a clear drill like activity. I did the same but with a preceding exercise in smaller groups where they have to figure out how to move down a playing field length with the following conditions;

a) with a passing rule that allows them to only pass towards their own end zone (many will like to just say pass backwards) and,

b) each person in the group have to receive the ball X times (to discourage one person running with the ball all the way and get them to also focus on passing).

So, what I did was create learning boundaries with very drill-like instructions. However, the movement outcomes were far from the typical drill-like expectations. The learners demonstrated a varied range of movement outcomes (overall objective of movement, moving down the field, is still met somewhat) that demonstrated not only motor redundancy but also cognitive redundancy (my labelling of leaners making sense of my instructions in different ways and thus executing movement accordingly). This irritates the hell out of my traditional teaching mind-set many times. This is my sunken cost bias (putting much faith in what we are used to and have put effort in) taking over and wanting behaviour to mimic instructions exactly. I need to better accept the deliberate emergence environment that I had inevitably created.

This typical versus-zero exercise may not be representational of play that have defence pressure but I can argue that my focus was initial understanding of how primary rules (rules that effect directly the movement needs) of a game invokes very unique and necessary functions of rugby game play, e.g. movement formation (horizontal stacking due to primary passing rule) and relating defensive formation to it (due to effective defence cover and the off-side rule). So while not totally representational, it does allow for variability in the target area of learning which satisfy my prerequisite for deliberate emergence.

Let’s take another example of a backhand tennis volley that was being discussed recently with a colleague. He suggested a two hand grip (internal cue), ‘low to high’ motion with the racket (external cue), allowing force of the action to bend the elbows (internal cue) and with a follow through to end with racquet face above the shoulder (external cue) and elbows to face the front (external cue) at end of execution. The cues suggested here are plentiful, with a combination of external (bringing locus of attention to outside the body) and internal cues (bringing locus of attention to within the body). A teacher can be even more explicit in the instructions, e.g. by insisting elbows bent at certain angle (internal cue) and racquet face to end up at certain height or orientation (combination internal and external cue), to ensure exact biomechanical replication. A teacher can also use affective/cognitive effecting cues (cues that provides a recollection of such a movement base on experience and its relation to a descriptor instruction verb – e.g. think along traditional cognitivist Recall and Recollection schema in Schmidt’s Schema Theory), e.g. use a ‘quick whipping’ action for the low to high racquet interception of ball, to get learner to explore best fit.

Another example is the Frisbee backhand throw. I observed recently an expert player suggesting that the elbow stops at a specific point (internal cue) as it moves laterally, after which the fore-arm takes over (he seems to be encouraging the bringing in of the wrist action with the forearm as the main influence for good speed and direction – perhaps the ‘whipping’ action coming to play again). This expert, at the point of observation, did not mention the forearm and wrist, perhaps hoping for their implicit desired activation base on elbow positioning instruction.

Both the preceding examples are action movement (the needed steps in how to execute an action – technical) examples that may not include an action selection (combining factors involve in deciding why to use this particular action – conceptual) component, like the rugby example.  So what is the best combination of teaching cues to be used here? The internal cues are restrictive in variability at times. The external cues may allow exploration for best fit (involves cognition to a deeper level?) that takes into consideration learners’ state and trait predisposition to that movement in relation to environment. The affective/cognitive effecting internal cues (used in combination with external cues mainly) provides movement exploration also. I will conclude for the above examples by suggesting allowing variability to come in first, deliberate emergence. This can usually be done when there is an action selection component to it and letting the learner explore that. This action selection factor can be secondary, e.g. I need to decided how to deliver this ball/disc in a specific way, or primary, e.g. I need to decide how to deliver this ball/disc in such a way that my teammate/opponent have a better chance of intercepting (or not) it. Both require a conceptual understanding of why they are doing what they are doing.

Explicit, precise instructions are more suitable for fine tuning at a higher ability level where in built mechanisms that can cope with narrow range of variability to meet very specific outcomes are matured. Even then, the act of being precise in instruction giving can be said to counter the body’s need to explore (because everyone is different) before self-organising to best fit. Of course, explicit instructions can many times get the ball rolling (pun intended), e.g. grips and holds position, directional and speed instructions, etc., but the key here is probably the overall exploratory, allowing variability, and understanding direction of the lesson. Deliberate without being deliberate!

What about the examples of successful use of specific (opposite to allowing variability), drill-like designs that have created great overall learnings so far? I will stick out my neck by saying that such learnings occur in spite of such design (especially for beginner learners). If variability facilitates learning by adaptation, then learning will be observed whenever because variability occurs in spite of or because of lesson design (assumption: variability still happens within narrow boundaries of exact instructions, albeit under suffocating conditions). This is where I am offering the following line of thought for consideration;

  • While I truly believe in the role of deliberate and emerging outcomes as both playing a role in good learning, I will like to put forth the consideration that all (if not most) learnings as happening best when given the opportunity to self-organise during/after a period of experiencing variability. Given this, the notion of deliberate emergence can vary from very little variability (direct instructions with narrow range of exploration) to full emergence (comprehensive opportunities to discover/self-organise through variability) – see Fig 1.

It is very difficult to directly relate any learning to a specific set of activities. It is also almost impossible to standardize human movement behaviour (cognitive, physical or affective) regardless of outcome similarity. There is always variability happening in any learning designs (explicit or implicit). It just a matter of us accepting it or ignoring it. Are we assuming that learning takes place because of consistency of movement to exact instructions when it is possibly not the case? So, an area to explore is whether our lesson designs are creating learning effectively in ignoring and suffocating variability or will it be better to enhance it by being deliberate (deliberate emergence as presented above) about it.

One big question, for some, is there even a need to consider the role of facilitated variability in lesson design if it seems that learning is taking place anyway without it being considered in design, i.e. is creating variability a primary concern or is replicating selected playing conditions enough to let nature take its course? Yes, of course it does. It potentially goes towards better lesson designs and more effective progression. In Fig 1, I am suggesting a possible learning flow (represented by the green arrow) for novice learners that moves from the mid region of a deliberate emergence continuum towards a lesser region (only if needed) before moving back. This might possible go against the usual instinct to provide less variability to learners in the beginning (the two questions posted at beginning of article). Teaching for understanding (e.g. Teaching Games for Understanding, TGfU) suggest allowing exploration before the convergence to more specificity, when needed. Teaching by constraints design (e.g. Constraint Led Approach, CLA) also suggest the divergent exploratory theme as a good way to learn something new. In a recent online discussion on deliberate vs emergent design of learning activities, Richard Shuttleworth shared the Fig 2 schematic from his coming work, in press, with Chow, Davids and Araüjo. I find it an insightful putting together of the various pedagogies in teaching/coaching and how they can exist together, making sense of the their seemingly dichotomous aspects, which it is not, when it comes to scientific discussions on it.

Shuttleworth False Dichomy

Are cones the enemy? Deliberate vs Emergent solutions in Physical Education


Cones the enemy 2

In this article, I reflect on;

  • Deliberate and Emergent movement solutions in activity design (The use of cones or other inanimate objects to replace authentic moving elements of a game are sometimes considered non-representational or without any effective task relevance – too deliberate and not emergent friendly)
  • My understanding of emergent behaviour and how it relates to the importance we teachers place on memory and experience


Recently I started teaching a different age group that I have yet to experience in my teaching career. These learners are 17 to 18 years old and they come with a whole different mind-set that I have yet to experience. This reminds me of the importance of contextual application as we deal with different learners within different contexts. This is also a good time to relook at my personal capital (borrowing from the Boudieusian lens of capital, habits and field) and attempt to bring in the best (for myself) from the sciences of learning, both established and emerging ones!

Recently, I have been thinking a lot of the embodied cognition influence to our important but humble calling of a profession. This approach brings in the exciting sciences of ecology and dynamic systems into the fray of what we need to do to refine, realign, replace or reduce in our praxis as we seek even better ways for skill acquisition. This is a major influencer in high performance sports but yet to make much impact at school level. While ecological dynamics is very rich in ‘lower’ cognition understanding, much work is still ongoing in the ‘higher’ cognition process (the role of experience, memory, social norms, human interaction, etc.). My personal strategy for the moment is take stock of what I already believe and heavily invested in and to cross reference current practices with deeper findings in these ‘newish’ sciences. I have yet to find any reason to throw out any babies with the bath water! The big advantage we teachers have is the constant engagement with actual on the ground teaching that is a rich daily explorative laboratory but at times can also be a maximum security prison for outdated ideas.

Take for example the new age-group of more highly motivated and disciplined learners I have to encounter now (I am currently involved with groups of learners who choose their area of physical activity (PA) leaning). It is very much like working with a beginner sports group outside of a school curriculum where the assumption of learners able and wanting to learn is perhaps more easily realized, I hope. This experience coincides with me re-looking at concepts of embodied cognition and emergent learning (movement solutions occurring directly from human and environment interaction) from the field of ecological dynamics (the science of Ecological Psychology and Dynamic Systems). These concepts suggest a need for better insights on how memory and experience play a part in this perspective of cognition that suggest no representation occurs (the front loading of information before action may not be supported the way we popularly think it does) in the brain but rather all actions are part of the person (the agent) interacting with the needs of the environment (which includes the task at hand) [you see this in the application of Constraint Led Approach (CLA) using Non-Linear Pedagogy (NLP)].

This explains well for me in the teaching of actions for novel skills but how about the next stage when actions seemingly become associative and autonomous due to experience. One idea is that the acting out of skilled performances is a result of simultaneous reactions to multiple environmental and task stimulus (the body reacts to affordances from environment, task and self). The information that comes from this stimulus is not only direct ecological information (e.g. if the ball is to my side, I will need to get into a better position to receive) but also indirectly socio-cultural and philosophical (e.g. the ball is to my side, I need to move away from it because my teammate is in a better position to receive it and proceed to a scoring position which is characteristic of how you play the game). One theory looking at this is the Skilled Intentionality Framework (SIF), see (Research by Erik Rietveld, 2015). The people working on this consider all information as part of ecological affordance but the pure Gibsonians (James J. Gibson was the prominent ecological psychologist who declared that our behaviour is basically a reaction to direct information from around us without the need for brain level processing of that information) will declare the difference in the kind of information that the body receives as ecologically lawful (following ecological laws – that direct perception from the environment is rich enough to inform on action movement without any need for information processing) or not (information that is not ecological but useful enough that the body uses it to decide what action to select). Seems a lot of discussion is still ongoing on the latter, based on my limited knowledge and following of the area. Thus we understand better where the mantra phrase of perception-action comes from!

So what in heaven’s name has all the above got to do with the humble Physical Education (PE) teacher on the ground! Well, aren’t we all about how we can expect learners to use information and from where should that information come from. Coupled with the latter is where should that information come from first and foremost, e.g. from the explicit or implicit teaching, from deliberate or emergent solutions, from technique based or conceptual based lesson designs, etc. The preceding sentence really seems to encapsulate all discussions when it comes to what is the best for game learning when comparing a traditional cognitive view versus embodied cognition. In fact, at the 2018 Football World Cup, every upset and triumph (and there was plenty, the biggest being football wasn’t going home!) seems to be explained via this chicken and egg issue of what should and did come first that resulted in that impressive or disappointing outcome. The informal discourse on this (on social media, with colleagues, etc.) seem to not want to go further into what exactly are the functional and mechanistic processes involve (still a lot of ambiguity on the processes) when considering how we use information in the above seemingly dichotomy examples. My personal take is to stop looking at it as either sides of a coin but rather what is needed for different context including hybrid uses.

How relevant to current practise are the ideas of ecological dynamics in the interesting area of how we present information to leaners for their consumption in schools? Our current practises that don’t necessarily reference the latest in the sciences, do work as a whole. However, we consider what we do as successful also because the outcomes of our profession can be very subjective and the only thing that we can probably be very confident in is that we are not doing harm to our students. It definitely helps to consider the sciences as it reaffirms approaches and allow greater refinement. All these thoughts make me very conscious of the one thing that matters to me most at the moment, i.e. the interaction with information by learners, which I believe is that tipping point that can lead to all the other aspects of better teaching.

I have reflected on the use of the traditional cognitivist information programming (i.e. front loading learner with necessary information for action movement and selection) approach to teaching. I will like to present another way of possibly looking at this aspect. We are constantly, we may not consciously do it, providing information that needs putting together by the learner either by deliberate reproduction (explicit execution of what is described) or by emergent production (encouraging natural body reactions to a movement problem that suggest the intended outcome/s needed). So this describes the end points of a dichotomy dilemma of what should come first and in some quarters, even what should not happen. Added to this quandary is also the complexity of movement problem given if you choose to go the way of the emergent direction (even though the deliberate direction can also have complexity).

The teacher on the ground will most probably use all the above mentioned strategies in the need for educational progression rather that focus on how the information handling works at each point and if they complement or contradict each other. The educational progression flow is a reductionist approach that decomposes outcome for systematic building up via step by step teaching that have seen success in other educational domains. It is common in schools that we create learning conditions that are linearly progressive and thus using a lot of deliberate and explicit processes that assumes front loading of information for processing is needed before action can take place [see picture below which very likely will be agreed on by many teachers as a successful typically task decomposition (breaking down of skills into its exact component parts) example]. We tend to be more system centered than learner centered, i.e. we are driven by the needs of the curriculum. Our strategies inadvertently aggregate past experiences for a final common finishing line. For PE, we use cones, inanimate structures, orderly movement, repetitive movements, etc. that seems to go against everything the emerging solution scene encourages. As teachers, one big reason for our linear approach is also our own experience acculturation [when teachers rely on their own personal experience as an athlete to inform on their practice rather than their teacher training or known knowledge – see (Moy, Ian, Keith , & Eric , 2016) for more information].

Coming back to my new teaching environment, the same dilemmas cropped up, what information shall I expose the learners to first? Should I be linear or non-linear? Do I deconstruct skills (specific solutions to specific problems) or degenerate (allow generation of complete skills by exploring many solutions) them? In a very interesting work by Renshaw and Moy  (Renshaw & Moy, 2018), they discuss the struggles of Games Centres Approaches (GCAs) to make a presence despite it being accepted as innovative and meeting all the aims of contemporary PE. They mentioned a more than decade old perspective of a Singaporean teacher that mentions the “…Singaporean mind set of structure, organisation and consistency…” challenging the GCA flavour of exploration that goes against him able to do more in the area. Eleven years later, it will be interesting for teachers in the same country (myself including) to relook and see how far have we gone from that perspective. Renshaw and Moy reported a mention of the mistaken view of seeing GCAs as step by step implementation strategies that needs strict compliance, like a ‘recipe’. I agree and personally will encourage looking at GCA approaches as a thinking flow that looks at each aspect of a lesson from the perspective of what it takes for a learner to achieve a functional objective (i.e. understanding and thus able to leverage on solution/s to solve a range of movement problems) and not just a mechanistic one (i.e. just able to replicate given solutions to specific movement problems).

Renshaw and Moy suggested the use of the framework of NLP via a Constraint Led Approach (CLA) that might help catapult GCAs further into the praxis of teachers (it is a good read on CLA and NLP work for teachers). The biggest proponents of CLA, using NLP underpinnings, are very true to ecologically lawful perception-action processes, i.e. they see all necessary information needed from the task and environment framing directly the desired needed actions. So if I want more opportunities at goal being taken, I might widen the goal area to increase affordance and attunement (giving attention to) for goal taking and perhaps even reduce number of defenders. In the above mentioned paper, they warned against adapting constraints to the extent that it becomes irrelevant for eventual game scenario, which might happen in a GCA influenced modified design. Task relevance through representation of final movement environment is regarded as important for the emergence of desired game relevant skills (e.g. over emphasis on technique learning is not representational of actual use of technique in a game situation – are cones the enemy?). This is where my initial comments on the progressive lesson designs of teachers might go against.

Delberate tennis exercise example

Picture 1: What works the best? Deliberate of Emergent?  Explicit or Implicit? (Photo credit: Still grab from a video by Nexon Dunakeszi Tenisz Klub website making the rounds on social media as an effective strategy by creative coach)

The assumption here is that the end point is performance in a universally accepted game situation and I believe not enough is done to consider what exactly a game means to different learners and different programme objectives, which might mean that direct perception information coming from the environment and task can represent different end outcomes for different learners. Related to this is the need to bring in more the role of learning experience and its impact on action selection (as oppose to action movement which a lot of our activities focus on), i.e. based on past experience, what action will the learner choose from a range of possible actions. This experience is a philosophically, socially and culturally influenced one that may even be considered as independently derived (other than connected by association) from the activity designed at hand, i.e. obtained from a past movement experience and use in decision making for current lesson. Therefore, not much information from current environment will provide that direct perception role. Renshaw and Moy allude to the interdependence of decision making and skill execution as part a package that comes with the good design of activities that are appropriately representational to final game environment.

Renshaw and Moy also emphasised on the need to consider the learners’ past experience in play, e.g. their ‘backyard’ play, and leverage on this learner background for intra-learner development. As such, designs such as 1 v 1, small sided games, using cones to dribble around, etc. are considered as potentially not as contributing to development as they differ too much from past high-autonomy game participation and expected future game play behavior, i.e. no autonomy or task relevance. They suggested leveraging on past experience to bring learners ‘back to the future’.

So while it is acknowledged that experience does impact present learning in some way, the exact functional and mechanistic role of that connection can be looked into a bit more. I expect it is possible to provide for a substitute experience in the present that will create that richness for current learning and future performance. Furthermore, if given better clarity in the sciences, I believe we can leverage on explicit, deliberate, small-sided games, etc. to provide for that missing experience that doesn’t need a similar past movement experience for effectiveness. Even the simplest reproductive activity can be tweaked to take on more dimensions that goes towards better task relevance in an overall productive (and emergent) learning environment. It is too simplistic to brush off any activity design that is not directly related to final outcome or past experience merely based on movement similarity. We must also consider functional similarity.

A game experience means different things to different people base on their needs, abilities and wants. The understanding of what is a competitive environment, that is pivotal to the effectiveness of appropriate perception-action experiences offered, is too rigid. The researchers in the paper above did allude to not focusing just on mimicking final competition environment but being selective to the affordance introduced to build up leaner’s ability to react eventually. So the grey area here is where exactly is the line drawn for affordances offered in training that just falls short of being transferable because it is too non-representational (Picture 1 might be considered an example of an over modified activity that is not representational). Is one of the criteria the ‘look’ of the activity that should resemble the final game or is it ok to just represent a sub function of final outcome that can look very ‘un-game’ like. What makes a game? I reflected on this in a previous article. So, if you got leaners going around cones undefended but competing in speed against another leaner (or even by themselves), is this considered enough of a competitive environment? Is this representational of the actual game need for functional movement speed and direction changes? I will say yes to both but will need to encourage progressing (or even progress from) to more complex task that constitute more affordances in line of actual game scenarios as decided by curriculum objectives and individual abilities for that teaching level. Cones are not the enemy. What you do with the cones is the deciding factor!.

I think more emphasis must be put in the benefits of indirect perception, i.e. past playing and training memories, that may not be strictly ecological and assume such contribution involves information processing in some way. This information might seemingly not come from the way the physical learning is set up, SIF says it does, but by past experience that is triggered by the present physical environment. Traditional cognitivist might refer to these as memories stored in the long, short and working memories of our brain. This indirect perception is what many teachers are guided by as activities are designed from simple to more complex. The beginning of the spectrum might look very un-representational in the mechanics (functional similarity must still exist) and without the usual environmental and task stimuli. One might even say the use of selected simple drills and such are attempts to add to the social-cultural-philosophical information influence that is necessary (in bit pieces while keeping in mind that the whole does not necessarily add up from the parts perfectly) to help in decision making, e.g. action selection.

The understanding, e.g. in Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU), approach will want to limit this (drills and pure technique based activities) and bring in the authentic environment where possible to create a constructivist (learning by authentic experience) approach. This doesn’t mean the deliberate or explicit experience don’t provide towards understanding. It does I feel. This is where I believe in the idea of concepts surrounding technique driven activities (technique within context) as much as conceptual tactical work, with one needing the other.

I see a need for balance in the way we look at traditional cognitive science and ecological approaches which should impact the way learning activities are designed. This balance needs to be underpinned by our main educational needs and also take into consideration the fluidity of end outcome based on learners’ needs. Our inputs include ensuring fair effort placed for all learners, customizing experience based on what learners’ needs are (vis-à-vis educational objectives), encouraging a learner philosophy of reflection, etc. This is in addition to skill and knowledge acquisition. So, if we were to bring in ideas of embodied cognition, we need to see where all our important educational needs can also fit in when considering flow of information for direct and indirect perception.

Readings for this article

Moy, B., Renshaw, I., Davids, K., & Brymer, E. (2016). Overcoming acculturation: physical education recruits’ experiences of an alternative pedagogical approach to games teaching. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 21(4), 386-406. doi:

Renshaw, I., & Moy, B. (2018). A Constraint-Led Approach to Coaching and Teaching Games: Can going back to the future solve the «they need the basics before they can play a game» argument? Ágora para la Educación Física y el Deporte, 20(1), 1-26. doi:

Simplifying and Overloading in games learning for Physical Education (PE)

Total GameA theoretical ideal understanding position for the learner in all aspects of the game, usually with respect to the formal game as known universally. Our processes attempt to reach this utopia.

PlayabilityThe environment we create for leaners that represents heading towards the Total Game. However, depending on leaner ability, the game scenario consists of elements that make it meaningful for learners and may not look like the formal known game.

What’s in a Game?An attempt to codify aspects of a game through deconstruction without deconstructing! This process is done with realisation that movement solutions come with degrees of freedom which means the sum of the whole usually don’t add up to the whole.

Confusion – All the above:-)

Recently I have been thinking much about the different aspects of a typical lesson design in Physical education (PE) classes. These aspects include putting labels and descriptors to functional facets of a lesson design over its literal action/skill purpose. These functional facets include;

  • elements of a lesson that can be manipulated for learning or understanding (modification of constraints),
  • controlling distracting sources of the game environment (attractors that are part of the learner, task and environment),
  • using teacher related influences (the quasi-constraint) like setting of instructions, facilitative behaviour, questioning, etc.
  • must all be aligned to outcomes of PE!

All the above are with the aim of simplifying a learning scenario or overloading for fine tuning and enhancement of an action/skill (or a movement). At these point, I am risking a position that says all design basically boils down to these two destinations. The third neutral category is performance at its purest authentic existence, the actual game, which hypothetically lies in the middle of this discrete continuum (see Diagram 1). I say discrete because the complexity level of a design also has different sub elements with its own continuum (see Diagram 2). It is also possible for both simplifying and overloading to occur at the same time for different learners operating in the same theatre of performance. Over here, simplifying can be considered as underloading, e.g. in a 4 V 2 activity…the team of two is being overloaded and the other being underloaded. So, you might see the former performing in Zone 1 and the later in Zone 3 (see Diagram 1).

For me, when considering constraints and attractors, I consider functional task elements of;

  • Passing (P)
  • Scoring (S)
  • Interception (I)
  • Movement (referring to the act of getting into position/in-preparation for the above) (M).

Again, the above are focusing on the functional aspects of the learning action/skill that is intended for teaching. This codifying of lesson design allows also calibration of activity gameness (working towards the Total Game – where all knowledge demonstrated by learner of a game situation is unpinned by understanding) to meet the needs of wanting to learn via experience in an authentic environment, an important underpinning for approaches like Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) and Constraint Led Approach (CLA). The PSIM scaffolding also allows me to design according to Playability, a concept for me which reflects making every learning experience about a learner meeting his/her needs of wanting to exist in a game environment that meets their cognitive and affective needs for recreational movement. All game centred and learner centred proponents will talk about this in some way and my attempt is to make it very primarily deliberate in lesson design. (I received laughter from my students when I first mentioned Playability to my class after declaring I made the word up to reflect a learning scenario I need to offer them – it was very unusual for them to not receive technique based instructions primarily) This can partially explain the concept of the Joy of Learning or Play that comes about when on the ground practices intersects with leaner needs and ability.

Above or below the PSIM, underlay or overlay, will be the more common preference to look at defence and offensive objectives of game teaching with direct references to techniques needed. When it comes to an overall approach of reproduction learning, I can imagine a teacher wanting to get straight to the crunch by being very specific what they want learners to replicate. This can be seen many times when technique directed drills, versus zero set pieces, detailed instructions focusing on internal cues, etc. are emphasised on to get students moving immediately in the desired manner. Both teacher and learner looks very busy! (Assumption: Technique centred practises (solutions that are specific) are subsets of movement solutions (solutions that adapt with degrees of freedom) that are the objectives of game teaching. Not the other way around.)

Simplification and Overloading in PE Fig 1

Simplification and Overloading in PE Fig 2

The diagrams above sort of encapsulate a portion of what I have always been trying to achieve (key: trying!). Recently in some discussions on social media, the topic on using simple words and ideas to help in conveying important knowledge is much appreciated by most. I call this ‘tell me in 10 minutes or move over!’ rule.  The counter to this is the need to understand complexity in actions and environment as it is and not dumb it down to suit ease of implementation. I feel that it is important (and I have stated this quite a few times in my reflections) for a middle layer to make sense for the rest of practitioners at the very least. This middle layer can be curriculum leaders both on the ground and at policy development and implementation levels. Eventually such broad knowledge need to make sense to everyone and constantly on the mind in delivering learning opportunities in school.

In trying to sort out my own understanding of what a multi facet design process might entail visually, I use the diagrams above. The question I ask myself, using the need to describe as simply as possible without losing any important embellishments, is how to scaffold approach to design and evaluating with the best information that is available out there. Again, quite a bit of my reflections are based on this beginning theme of trying to understand popular scenarios in lesson and working backward, a very inductive to deductive flow of thinking. There are flaws to this way of thinking as there will be a tendency to believe personal experiences are universal, which are not.

Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) suggest that a learner will need that push from a more knowledgeable teacher or peer to reach a level where successful performance is possible unaided. This involve identifying the appropriate learning zones (what to teach) where such progress can happen (how we teach). The key here is the differentiation and scaffolding needed for different learners in the appropriate independent learning scenarios and probably not a one-size-fits-all (in strategies and learning outcomes) situation which is very tempting for the over whelmed teacher with plenty of students and classes. What this well-known idea espouses is something very familiar to us, i.e. making it relevant and authentic for learners while creating good learning. In Diagram 2, I have added in a shifting Playability Locus that reflect influences of relevance for learners. I can imagine that this zone shifts with different level of learners, making everything we do so much aligned (to learning and objectives) when it falls within such locus. End of day, amidst all the fancy (self-declared) schematics shown, this shifting Playability Locus is perhaps what we most want to identify for learners, together with what we need to achieve for PE.

This independent (learner centred) learning scenario is set by the teacher and could be artificially modified. What this can potentially cause, if not used careful, is a unidimensional task outcome that does not commensurate the authentic learning environment we strive for (Zone 1 in Diagram 1 and 2 – outside of Playability Locus). One key example, from thinking about ZPD and what it effectively entails, that crops up in my mind, is the use of Information Technology (IT), i.e. video technology through smart devices, for learners to compare internal cues with established biomechanics of expert movers or with each other. If left at that, the assumption is that the technology is doing the teaching via comparison. The IT here is the ‘expert peer’ allowing students to compare performance cues of self to expected ones. While this might seem like a collaborative effort with peers and technology with minimal teacher influence, I will say that the learning task is too unidimensional for any good transferable knowledge to the next stage of learning, if this is indeed deemed as an effective first stage. Of course, there are many other considerations here, from the efficacy of task decomposition to learners need to process information efficiently. What this examples say to me is that we are constantly trying to find ZPDs but may inadvertently create a learning opportunity, a learning zone, that suites merely a successful fixed outcome (easier for assessment?) more than an authentic one needed for better learning, e.g. in the extreme ends of Zone 1 or 3 in Diagram 2 as compared to Zone 2. I guess my intention is to say that not only must all learning must eventually move towards the centre, Zone 2, but also aligned to what we suppose to teach. We all have our own scaffolding abilities to ensure that we reach our objectives and the above is just an attempt to put a personal understanding to paper.

Another example of learning zones that may have to be considered further for its place in a learning journey is the growing movement for Gamification, a lesson design process leveraging and acknowledging the success of computer/video games and its ability to attract users and keeping them on it. The idea is using elements of its discovery and target achieving effectiveness for PE. The potential for outcomes becomes very remarkable.  I have seen incredibly elaborate and interesting lessons created based on this that really seems to capture learners’ attention. Its relevance to the learning process is clearly there but I worry about the overlapping needed relevance to the objectives of PE being sidestepped. With this in mind, I will add the need to qualify Playability as also making meaning for students in the appropriate PE direction. Anyway, I believe that a lot of what is used outside recreational movement fields as attractors rely heavily on primitive needs to find competence, autonomy and association, right up our alley!

One key direction for moving forward is to consider a learning environment with a broader Bourdieusian lens of looking at capital available (expertise available out there), habits (how the different stakeholders in the scene operate within their influence) and field (how different stakeholders in practise, research, academia, policy, etc. interact) might bring us closer to realising how the system can best close gap between theory and practise of the way we operate, taking into consideration what is available. A lot of our reflections are of our own habits (practises), neglecting the needed engagement of our own capital with that of what is available out there, i.e. social capital, expert capital, economic capital, etc. The whole synergistic need is made more difficult when the field operates neutral to a collaborative need. Even as I stubbornly pen down my thoughts, I am aware of the potential richness that could have been if I had put more effort in accessing a more synergistic network of theory and practice.


“Easier Said Than Done”, 2018, A Frustrated Teacher

Teacher Constraints vs Skill/Action Scenario Constraints in PE (Constraints To Learning and Constraints Of Learning)

Constraints to teaching

In this article, I look at how constraints in teaching, as made popular by Constraints Led Approach (CLA), might be misunderstood at times as being a literal constraint to teaching.

Is there more than one way to looking at the role of constraints in learning for PE, more specifically motor learning or skill acquisition? To some extent, meanings of labels do affect our strategies, especially in a climate where we tend to run with the headlines! Recently, in a discussion on twitter, the topic of the teacher putting constraints to learning was brought forth, in relation to Constraint Led Approach (CLA) strategies. How indeed do we as teachers put constraints to work in teaching and learning? Its ‘headline’ meaning, constraint sounds negative, seems very counter intuitive to teaching and learning and I wonder how many actually think this way, effecting lessons designs inadvertently, when trying to understand the valuable role of constraints that are shared by CLA and to a large extent in some form in other pedagogical approaches.

Newell’s theory of constraints, from which CLA took a bit of work from, talk about three domains or types of constraints that effect motor development. These constraints are learning skill/action related occurring factors (that needs to be adapted to – it doesn’t disappear) that may get in the way of learning and they are in the domains of individual (structural and task), environment and task. These constraints also fit in somehow with Games Centred Approaches (GCAs) that hinges from an educational and social constructivism birth that focuses a lot on the learning of a task through understanding and experience. The task constraints in GCAs are heavily relied on for modification and sampling to bring about the best circumstance for a learning opportunities (that is if we borrow this terminology of constraint from the ecological folks).

So how does the ‘Constraint to learning’ and ‘Constraint of learning’ dichotomy (from the title of this article) of experiencing constraints come into the picture? Will the idea of constraints to learning represent lesson design that inadvertently add in barriers to develop the desired movement solution that counters or slows down learning? I can see this very possibly happening as we hope to replicate a suitable learning scenario through the use of task modification. So Constraint to Learning over here can also be referred to as Teacher Introduced Constraints.

Then we have the ‘Constraints of Learning’, which I will see as skill/action related constraints to that said skill learning that exist in its authentic environment (Skill/action Scenario Constraints). Over here, I can imagine the teaching aim of working towards the surrounding constraint environment, around the desired learning action/movement, to allow more attention (attunement in perception-action terminology or awareness for understanding) and solution planning opportunities (affordance in perception-action terminology or opportunities for understanding). At this point, it is obvious that I am using popular ecological descriptors like constraint, attunement and affordance with reference to Game Centred Approaches (GCAs) also. Most of us teachers have very similar functional structures in our teaching repertoire. We may not call it the same things and perhaps even not give too much definitional importance to it as it becomes an instinctive aspect of our praxis.

So, are these two perspectives of constraints affecting identification and handling of appropriate constraints for teaching and learning? I started this thinking thread when I came across a twitter thread lamenting on the role of using constraints in teaching as stifling as it suggests limiting movement solutions. I can imagine why someone who may not grasp the full appreciation for constraint led learning might say this. It might also be an impression for GCAs where the teacher seems to put in design elements that may seemingly get in the way of expected learning. There also might be a possible confusion of the term constraint as its literal meaning doesn’t seem to suggest a symbiotic function and maybe even an antagonistic influence. This confusion is especially pertinent to me as I shared my thoughts recently on the role of the teacher as a quasi-constraint, also an important influencer to students desired learning areas. The last thing we want is a situation where a teacher’s over-influence actually prevents effective learning. So is it fair to say;

  • A constraint is not an action but more of a function that can be modified (simplified) depending on what is needed for a learning area, also used when constraint is enhanced for fine-tuning of learning area for more advance learners (overloading).
  • If an element of a learning scenario, part of a game context, does not interfere adversely with learner behaviour, it need not be considered a constraint (see next point).
  • If an element of a learning scenario, part of a game context, but not part of the targeted learning area affects behaviour, then it is an attractor that can be taken away or modified to encourage focus on learning area. You can also think of it as a secondary constraint (focusing on secondary constraint that is secondary to desired learning area over that of the main primary constraint might result in lack of progress in lesson outcome – frustration and bewilderment why students are not learning).
  • Constraints and attractors tends to be individual learner dependent, even though is possible to predict trends in its impact across learners.
  • The most basic of lesson activity is one where all constraints and attractors area taken away (ending up irrelevant to learning task ).

Consider the below examples which is an attempt to clarify my thoughts on the above and how some scenarios may consider constraints as a constraining action and at other times a facilitative  function to learning;

Table 1

Constraints of Learning (Skill/action Scenario Constraints) Possible outcomes

– Getting beginners to alternate between standing and sitting while bouncing basketball.

· Body positioning with ball (Expected Learning),

· Defence pressure (pressure negated) and moving to target are considered as constraints*.

– Reducing task constraint movement complexity of having to dribble ball with opponents while getting learners to get used to ball manipulation.

– Standing and sitting as representative of body re-positioning while dribbling and keeping ball close.

– Getting learners to bat a slower or bigger ball.

– Getting learners to try different bat hand holding positions.

· Successful striking/batting (Expected learning)

· Speed and size of pitched ball, hitting implement handling are considered as constraints*.

– Reducing task constraint complexity.

– Allowing task degeneracy (movement solutions are generated via various means and not just one way) opportunities.

– Using external cues as teaching points and limiting it to one or two cues, e.g. Get under ball, Try hit the square on the backboard.

· Executing passing or scoring (Expected learning)

· Individual positioning is considered as a constraint*.

– Reducing task complexity.

– Aligned to cognitive thinking flow.

– Allowing task degeneracy.

*Constraints here are interacting constraints on the learner, at the targeted learning area, as a result of needing to carry out skill/action. These constraints are modified accordingly while considering the effect of attractors (distracting factors other than the constraint of relevance {the area in which teaching is focusing on at the moment} that can either be taken away or modified) to allow opportunity for learning.

Table 2

Constraints to Learning (Teacher Introduced Constraints) Possible outcomes

– Instruction for beginners to stand on the spot while learning how to bounce a basketball.

· Body positioning with ball (Expected Learning),

· Defence and moving to target pressure negated – Treating attractors (secondary constraints) as constraints*.

– May be considered as a modification but not entirely falling into exaggeration, sampling or representation, i.e. there is no part of game scenario where there is extended stationary handling even though one could argue that the next step is to move around while bouncing, a progression.

– May be considered as reducing complexity.

– Giving beginners a set of instructions to internalise before executing skill/action.

– Demonstrating to beginners exact hand and foot position in a batting exercise before executing skill/action.

· Body positioning with ball and hitting implement (Expected Learning),

· Instructions giving here considered as a constraint* (learner is inhibited by cognitive information processing in executing skill and therefore carefully crafted instruction will help in that, i.e. neuro-programming).

– Affecting cognitive flow processes for beginners. (Traditional cognition vs Embodied cognition)

All attractors and constraints removed.

The constraints* considered here are more attractors (secondary constraints).

– Using specific biomechanical cues (internal cues) as teaching points for advance learners in a 1 v 0 drill, e.g. free throw cue of Balance, Eyes on target, Elbows aligned and Follow through.

· Successful scoring (Expected learning),

· External cues given here considered as constraints* (learner is inhibited by cognitive information processing in executing skill and therefore carefully crafted instruction will help in that, i.e. neuro-programming).

– Restricting discovery approach.

– Restricting degrees of freedom for movement – decomposition (breaking down a skill to its smaller parts and putting it back together) of skill. Restricting exploration for understanding.

All attractors and constraints removed.

The constraints* considered here are potential attractors (secondary constraints).

– Using a prepared lesson plan (fixed activities) for a class of many students

· Successful delivery of expected learning from pre-planned tested strategies (Expected learning),

· All attractors and constraints are considered as similar for various learners – learner will benefit from strategies and focus issues from previous batches of learners and is unlikely to differ from past learners needs.

– May not meet differentiated needs of students. Mixing up primary and secondary constraints for learners pre learning, not learner centred.

The context and individuality of constraint functions not totally considered.

*Constraints here become literal hurdles that are introduced that may not be the spontaneously existing constraints that comes together in the task, environment and learner domain for the said action/skill targeted learning area.

*The above for illustration purposes only. All strategies are multi-faceted in its perspectives and lesson designs cannot be evaluated based on a uni-dimensional judgement.

The above two tables are just an attempt to explore the very real possibility that we as teachers may sometimes can inadvertently get in the way of learning. This is a very vague area to come to any easy or definitive conclusion on because it is very unlikely to find a teacher who is not creating learning in their teaching, regardless of their approaches. To some extent it is because of the broad definition of learning. An improvement in an action/skill is usually the minimum we expect and it always considered as happening in our subjective observation. On the other end of the spectrum (my thoughts are full of spectrums!) is optimization, a concept of learning that considers the network relationship between all constraints and attractors in a learning scenario and its synergy in being able to adapt to different needs of a game environment. There is always a role for all the different approaches working together or individually in a PE class or a sports group, whether it is personality driven or scientifically backed. One of my approach in reflections is to look at the minutiae to appreciate the complex interaction that is the bigger picture, while working towards generating effective approaches to teaching well.

Do we need brains for Physical Education?

Do we need brains

Will discuss in this article personal learning and perspectives of;

  • PE as an educationally cognitive subject for learners
  • Some views of how cognition appears and operate in PE
  • What does it mean for teachers who are game and learner centred

The need for ‘brains’ or very loosely representing the role of cognition expected in education is something that probably influences quite a bit how Physical Education (PE) is perceived in our workplace, for better or for worse! In discourses talking about the place of PE in schools, it is sometimes described as being marginalised by the education processes that exist in schools. This I will take to mean how PE can sometimes be considered more as a temporary relief for the real cognitive work of the other educational demands of school, i.e. the other classroom based subjects. They are few ramifications to this which we PE teachers are quite familiar with as we go about our daily task trying our best to ensure PE remains  a relevant part of the educational climate.

What exactly is this relevance to the educational process that PE can provide for? This question is only valid for a teacher if there is believe that the outcomes of PE provides a complementary alignment to a bigger picture of what education is expected to provide for the young of our society (e.g. knowledge and the ability to use the knowledge for a better future). For this approach to education in PE, a possible teaching direction is one where the building up of the cognitive function to ensure both knowledge and the processes to use it is intertwined with those that is needed for existence in society in general. The PE teacher of this thinking might be very enthusiastically looking at this aspect when considering lesson design and outcomes. I sense a lot of what I believe in as being important in PE coming from this direction.

On perhaps the other end of a continuous spectrum, I can also imagine educators who might well teach PE for the sake of instilling physical attributes that is needed as a good-to-have proficiency that will impact the ability to lead a physically active life in the future but not a direct contributor to the philosophical intention of existence. This could be the technique-driven, reproduction lesson focus that meets the desires of a series of sporting/playing outcomes that is by itself considered the ultimate educative aim of PE. This could also involve production styles teaching approaches as we teachers get more aware on the role of cognition in physical movements. Teachers here might probably be confident that such an outcome will impact the learners in their adulthood through knowledge and the appropriate processes of how to live healthily and be involved in physical activities and nothing directly further than that.

So we seem to acknowledge the fact that the role of cognition, as perhaps represented to some extent by the above, is a central element of the PE education process.

The next bit of narrative here is what might potentially be of big interest to many PE teachers, i.e. the way we have been teaching PE which includes engaging at a level of leaner involvement in teaching processes that we usually allude to as influencing their cognitive domain. In the teaching approaches we strive for, It is easy to understand that the cognitive should be influenced, e.g. if I am teaching a way that requires no cognitive involvement, I will probably not think it is important for school. In fact, teachers do spent a lot of time thinking of cognition and how it is affected by activities designed for learners in a very discrete relationship where one occurs after the other, i.e. cognition before activity or vice versa. In PE, the role of cognition, e.g. the traditional idea of information processing happening in the central command of the brain, and what is happening on the ground has not really been questioned by many teachers but more often debated on by specialist in the area of psychology (cognitive and ecological {the relations of organisms to one another and to their physical surroundings}), neuroscience, movement science, etc.

Are our ideas of cognition for PE valid? I can safely say that my own presumptions on this is that our PE needs for cognition is very much of a central command view and I realised that this possibly could be a different interpretation from very interesting positions at the moment, where the influence of the external, the environment we operate in, on our movement might play a bigger part than our internal processes, i.e. cognition as we know it. Reid did a convenient (for me at least) summary of two cognitive views in his article Physical Education, Cognition and Agency (Reid, 2013), exploring the role of PE education to a learner in an educational landscape that is gradually becoming more scientific. He described the pressure that PE had to face to meet educational expectations through satisfying the cognition demand that is expected of it, i.e. the development of theoretical knowledge and understanding, a traditionally epistemological perspective. He went on to suggest that this view shifted towards the naturalization in philosophy, i.e. needing to take into consideration external influence of scientific assumptions and standards in explanation, “…is a fresh, scientifically informed approach to the philosophical issues of knowledge, cognition and action (pg 925)…”

He went on to discuss two views; an internalist view based upon information-processing or neurocomputational models of motor skills acquisition and an externalist view based on dynamic systems (a theory that looks into understanding complex and nonlinear systems in our environment) , i.e. embodied cognition (see below).

The internalist view is what we are probably used to as teachers. It represents a learner’s ability to learn actions and repeat it at will through a process of encoding such instructions into the central command of our central nervous systems, usually before actions. All this build up the cognition that we deem as important and that usually shapes our instructional programmes. So our brain works like a computer and we key in the necessary instructions through pedagogy to help build up that repertoire of skills that is expected in PE. This perspective accepts the role of feedback via our peripheral nervous system but relies heavily on the information processing ability of the main central command of our brain. When we consider our use of Games Centred Approaches (GCAs), we can say that our main effort is in the building up of the encoding opportunities of this computational-like system, facilitated by strategies of getting the learner to experience and understand movements. In strategies like isolated practice, technique driven drills, reproduction drills, etc. the idea of encoding learning this way is also very strong.

The externalist view offers a motor skill cognition process that does not begin with the brain as we are used to as teachers and perhaps reflected by much of our practises.  Reid offers an informed understanding of this as “…meaningful action characteristically occurs within a context, an external situation with properties of its own which are beyond the control of the agent (learner)…” This is something that we PE teachers understand well in our learner and game centred approaches. He went on, “…Motor outcomes cannot be fully determined by central plans and programs (the central command I was referring to above), because they are subject in various ways to physical and mechanical constraints (such as the effects of inertia, friction, gravity, momentum and muscular elasticity) arising from the interaction of the moving body and the physical environment together with which it forms a complex system…” So, for this view, the idea that action is an outcome of internal processes is not considered but rather the body is able “…to settle into stable rhythms or patterns of coordination, equilibrium and self-organisation without the need  for a centralised internal controller to process and interpret input, determine output, analyse feedback, monitor performance, correct deviant behaviour and maintain stability…”  This ‘mindless’ viewpoint can be quite mind-boggling to the average person, let alone an educator. Constraint Led Approach (CLA) has its theoretical underpinnings from this ecological dynamic view (e.g. Non-linear Pedagogy, perception-action theories).

So cognition over here is Embodied Cognition. The cognition represented here is an emergent (occurring as it happens) cognition that occurs as a result of leaner and environment interaction. Basically the cognition as we know it is no longer the star of the show and even be considered just a supporting factor (or of equal importance), if it exist at all! The adaptive behaviour of the body (which is not controlled by the central command of the brain) can help generate the learning patterns that we teachers all strive for. This adaptation of the body depends on the environment it exist in and the task it sets out to do. The use of constraints to bring out this learning is important to approaches that relies on embodied cognition.

So the idea of embodied cognition (an easy to understand perspective can be obtained from the blog is that the brain does not store a set of preprogramed instructions but rather rely on the response behaviour of the body to environmental and task stimulus. The challenging aspect to understand here is that the responses does not originate from the brain but from the body’s evolutionary ecological mechanisms that reacts according to needs, e.g. survival and learning. For example, if a learner have to catch a ball, a conscious decision making mechanism that gets input from experience might initiate the understanding that our hands need to be used, rather than the legs for example (selection of movement). After that, the hand moves into action with all commands going local to the limbs and its set of nerves and muscles while completing the task at hand (carrying out of movement). The exact neurology and physiology of these processes need more comprehension by me and I believe more looking into from sciences also (have yet to fully embrace this huge exciting field which is considered fairly newish (perhaps since the 1960s and still evolving now) even though aspects of it has been studied much earlier).

The pattern of responses created (degrees of freedom) as a result of reacting to context stimulus (what a task presents a learner in its context) is where main learning takes place, if you consider the effective range of body responses as indicative of learning outcome. So, the brain and cognition that is associated very closely to it has shifted in importance somehow with this understanding of embodied cognition, both in where actual learning takes place in the body (the brain is not the only resource nor does it precedes learning with information processing) and how as a teacher we influence this learning process. For the catching ball example above, what embodied cognition says is that it doesn’t matter what instructions or verbal set-ups is given to the learner beforehand (this gives information that may not directly influence expected motor outcome). The body will use body-scaled (depending on the size of the image of the ball moving towards the catcher, the body will react accordingly with knowledge of where is the furthest it can reach) or action scaled (depending on the action needed and what the body can do, it will offer an appropriate action to meet task demands) affordances (opportunities created by learner, environment and task characteristics that allows a specific type of action to take place) to allow self-organization behaviour that decides what is necessary to reach out for the ball. These actions will also contribute to development (via experience and memory) and will resurface in influencing action when similar context is met again. Therefore, from an externalist view, it is believed that even higher order skills that requires pre-planning and experience (developmental) requires the same body-environment activation, albeit with influence from preceding representative actions.

Some will say that they still see information processing taking place in the explanation above and therefore that brain processes still behaving as traditionally expected. I guess the main gist offered in this ecological perspective is that the body-environment interaction is THE processing and not a bunch of computer-like programming that precedes the temporal-spatial moment of action. There is much attraction also in wanting to equate the latter (computer-like programming) to a central area of the brain as the main ‘learning’ area. The direction from emergent based systems (Ecological Psychology and  Dynamic Systems) sciences is that we need to get away from thinking of a central command (with a central location in the body) that dictates all but rather all aspects of a complex situation contributes to learning which is put together by the body and not just the brain. For us teachers, this view may challenge our traditional epistemology (theory of knowledge with methods, validity, scope, etc.) educational view, where the understanding of knowledge is with the mental contents of beliefs and reasons that allows decision and judgement making abilities and the prerogative to perform well in society, regardless of environmental influence in its inception.

So what does it mean for us teachers who for ever have relied, to a large extent, on the need to initiate and influence learning before it actually happens, specifically in PE? For me, the idea of emergent (happens because of body-environment interactions rather than dictated by preceding information processing) learning and development seems to align adequately to teaching for understanding processes where the learner is encourage to discover movement ranges through authentic game context. Most game-centred and learner-centred approaches already accepts the role of learning in context (with learner, environment and task influence), acknowledging cognition operates better that way. The impact of emergent learning may be the realisation that cognition not only operates better this way but might possibly be also different from the central command-in-the-brain type of cognition we are very used to. My own lay understanding of how we take information from our structurally convenient short, long and working memories for PE might need to consider this shift in cognitive functioning understanding and perhaps give me a fresh way at looking at ideas like implicit teaching, and cognitive loading. I don’t see much of a change in the implementation strategies that have been working well for us but instead influencing a more comprehensive understanding of why our strategies work and allows us to create more informed lesson designs.

So I will say in conclusion that the overall effective pedagogical influence from the above ideas on cognition (internalist and externalist) for me is that cognition has more to it than meets the brain (literally), a premise that does not surprise me at all, knowing the complexity of our body’s operating mechanisms. The need for us teachers to know exactly where learning physically takes place in the body, i.e. the brain, and the sequential stages in the learning process is something that is perhaps ingrained in us by artificial training processes that favor step by step progressions. I don’t think it is flawed and only see better shoring up of teacher capacities in being scientifically informed in the developments that make up our teaching processes. The general theme of building a repository of representational skills with rich degrees of freedom (not fixed skills) through authentic experiences for understanding still hold for me and I am still exploring!

 References and recommended reading

Reid, A. (2013). Physical Education, Cognition and Agency. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 921-933. Retrieved from


The forgotten Constraint: The Teacher! & the role of Teachers, Principles and Theoretical Frameworks for this particular teacher.

The forgotten constraint

The title above is not entirely fair. Teachers are never forgotten. The role of the teacher as the connector between learning scenario and learner is vital. Take for example the act of facilitating with instructions, e.g. via the setting of rules. Rules to a large extent shapes the game (the learning game) in a socio-cultural environment where the influence of systems shaping behaviors is everywhere. It is probably the strongest influence to a beginner learner’s game attitude and behavior, e.g. “I don’t like this game, the rules are just too complicated!” or “Tell me the rules or I won’t be sure of how to play this game.” When I first started reflecting deeper on my teacher-learner interactions, I find myself very heavily relying on rules, or facilitative instructions set as rules, to lay out the teaching scene. One of the reason for this is the propensity for young learners to focus more intently on anything associated with rules, especially in a teaching and learning environment that is just embarking on a more learner centered platforms where actions need to go beyond standalone movements. Seems the word rule does seem to capture attention more intently for students!

In constraint or modification based approaches like Constraint Led Approach (CLA), Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) or any other Games Centered or Based Approaches (GCAs or GBAs), an application aim is to create a game-like scenario that gives opportunities (affordance) to learning focus. Typically, this opportunity giving design looks at environment, task and self for constraint modification. (Constraint: A function of an aspect of a game situation that provides opportunities for targeted affordance, usually referred to in learning scenarios.)

In CLA and sometimes even for TGfU in its application, its pedagogical objectives are implemented based on the principles of sampling, modification representation, modification exaggeration and tactical complexity control. Inevitably, this might suggest that the ‘teacher’ in this approach is the lesson design. (Later I will mention more why this ‘face’ of TGfU does much injustice to what this approach is really about)

This is where my notion on the teacher being the quasi constraint comes in. The teacher and his/her facilitative instructions, e.g. via modified Rules, seems like a secondary influencer that can also be the prime mover for activity implementation articulation by teacher to learner. I say secondary because if we look at a constraint based approaches, the first part of implementation planning will look at activity set-up before the necessary implementation mechanics of giving instructions, by whatever mode, to guide that set up. In educational based GCAs, the teacher intervention in pre-activity, in-activity and post-activity plays an important part in the learning experience. In these educator involved approaches, the role of verbal set-up can very effectively involve the setting of rules or instructions to complement and facilitate the planned activity. This intervention includes the setting of activity through instruction manipulation. So, we can argue that the direct intervention of the teacher (not to be confused with direct teaching) in shaping student behaviour, aligned to modified activities, precedes the successful expected learning outcome, as much as we rely on the well-designed activity to do likewise.

In the foundation years of TGfU, the role of rules as primary (rules that defined the game) and secondary (rules that are effected by how the game works better and can be changed, usually by governing entities, without changing the essence of the game) (Almond 1982 and reported by Harvey, Pill & Almond, 2018) reflected very early on the appreciation for how games and its training derivatives can be shaped by rules or rather supported by the teacher direct instructions. In instruction manipulation, we can temporarily change the primary rules to meet affordance needs. Very early on in my blog reflection, I described how I rely on tweaking primary rules to demonstrate playability in games for learning. Thus I am tempted to also state that the principles of sampling, representation, exaggeration and complexity can also rely very successfully on the clever use of rules as part of good teacher instruction manipulation!

So, it seems the teacher factor also needs some recognition and similar focus consideration that task, environment and learner constraints go through if we consider that the teacher does at time operates like an extension of the learner, albeit with a sub functional extension relationship (as opposed to the main functional aspect of the learner as an actor executing a task in its environment) that exist between learner and teacher that might see both operating very dependently. This inter dependence between learner and teacher may not always be seen as a good thing as sometimes we want to work towards a total focus of learner to task and environment without any unproductive influence (This is something that is probably somewhat difficult from a pragmatic point of view where classes are huge, outcomes are expected instantaneously and stakeholders are a plenty!). Thus the teacher may perhaps also be considered the quasi constraint, a self-classifying one that influences the rest of the interactive affordance of task, learner and/or environment modification for learning.

Teachers, Principles and Theoretical Frameworks

This brings me to the second focus of this article, the role of the teacher in a GCA like TGfU and its possible resulting tension in different pedagogy/approach use, in my own context and opinion. As teachers, we gravitate towards sequenced, cyclical or linear relationships that is heavily influenced by administrative and logistical relationships (my own observation). This is perhaps our own undoing when there is a need to investigate more complex systems like the learning environment. The breadth of a GCA may not fully be embraced from its philosophical/theoretical framework birth under such sequential bias circumstances. To some extent, we neglect theoretical frameworks and put a lot of faith in proven (to our standards) working principles, different from research needs. I have been hinted to very often by peers of the irrelevance of such understanding in daily praxis, where administrative, logistic and operational matters triumphs in importance.

For all domains in education, the role of teacher as a facilitator and instigator of learning is not doubted. In Physical Education (PE), there is a very subtle accepting that the more important teacher experience (as a player or teacher) and its manifestation in the lesson design creates that learning opportunity {acculturation or past physical education and sporting experiences results in the maintenance of the status quo of a teacher-driven, reproductive paradigm – (Moy, Ian, Keith , & Eric , 2016)}. The teacher is just a conduit to replicate self-proven learning opportunities. The emergence of TGfU, representing the best (at least for me) of social constructivism and guided discovery theoretical underpinnings and its affiliated approaches heightened the importance of teacher’s learning situation analytical ability to facilitate the best lessons, as much as focus on the learner and the game also increases. Over the years, I feel that the influence of the theoretical, very educational aligned, framework that made the founders of TGfU sit up and do something about it in packaging and exhorting as best as they can a comprehensive, very plausible approach to better teaching in PE, has lessened somewhat. That is, if it had even been on a heightened state. TGfU has been relegated to an operational model with i) sequential necessity and ii) merely an approach based on the principles of sampling, representation, exaggeration and tactical complexity. These two descriptors has been used very often by senior educators and papers describing TGfU (or at least what I notice as one of the main tenet of TGfU in critical discussions on it.) This cannot be the end all be all of TGfU.

I don’t fully agree with this limited definition as this merely describes the implementation of TGfU strategies and the main body of this approach is the bigger framework of understanding and all its constituent aspects from social and educational fields. While the steps of the TGfU model has been shown often to exist sequentially (especially in schematics – adding to its operational reputation), the bigger underlying need is to understand the need of the learner and making an informed decision for the learner what is needed and this might not be reflected as sequential to the eye of an external observer (again, a personal reflection). The learning solution needed is never a convenient step 1 to step 6 implementation process. I believe the sequential representation, as much as it defines a sequential implementation process (and probably meant to for most cases), is also about the teacher thinking flow process where solution implementation may take into consideration what the learner needs are through a systematic educational (guided discovery) and constructivism analysis flow. The thinking steps might be ordered (as in diagram below) to facilitate analysis but I won’t be surprise if different practitioners adopt it slightly differently base on context, e.g. I might decide that game appreciation might be best be delivered in a skill execution phase of the lesson and the skill execution activity might be delivered in a game (see ‘What makes a game?’) where performance in a previous learnings is also allowed to be involve. A class session aligned to this thinking flow may not look like following a TGfU diagrammatic sequence (see below) but I will argue it is an acceptable understanding approach!

TGFU Diagram

If you take cue from Harvey, Pill and Almond’s 2018 article Old Wine in new bottles: a response to claims that teaching games for understanding was not developed as a theoretically based pedagogical framework (Harvey, Pill, & Almond, 2018), you will realise that it took a whole global village (not just Thorpe and Bunker – though these two, amongst the other instructors at that time, are my biggest direct TGfU influencers during teacher training) to come out with TGfU and it definitely wasn’t overnight! As I read this and papers like Clara’s How does TGfU work?’: examining the relationship between learning design in TGfU and a nonlinear pedagogy (Clara, Chow, & Keith , 2012) and Renshaw’s Why the Constraints-Led Approach is not Teaching Games for Understanding: a Clarification (Ian, Duarte , Chow, & Keith, 2016) and reconcile it with my own experience as a PE teacher in training in Loughborough, I get a feeling that the extent of the role of the direct (as opposed to the indirect need of the teacher to contribute in terms of knowledge needed to understand skill acquisition conditions and replicating said conditions) expert intervention of the teacher is very much also alluded to, albeit circuitously. When I reflect on the use of facilitative direct influencing instructions in the beginning paragraphs, I was keeping in mind the use of strategies that not only originate from learner, task, environment but also the fourth direct element of the teacher. Not a teacher-centric source of strategies but rather a teacher-influencing one.

I learnt a lot from all these academic writings (I have to confess that areas like perception-action, non-liner pedagogy, neuroscience perspective, cognitive and ecological psychology, etc. really satisfies this old constructivist brain of mine very easily!) and I try my best to reclaim a bit of the learnings that I was very privileged to have had in Loughborough as a not very attentive student unfortunately. My memories (perhaps a bit romantised) seems to fit these rich information very nicely without much tension, contributing to my own current personal professional development journey. I appreciate and look forward to exciting fields coming on to take the burden of proof for our established behavior approaches, to make better sense of my own current possible practices. In a recent interview in Singapore, Richard Shuttleworth (, a well know performance scientist, talks about needing a paradigm shift in thinking for coaches as they look at perspectives of coaching from information processing to emergence systems through constraints. He said he was worried to call it an ‘approach’ as it might eventually lose its importance and considered a fad. I agree on the last preceding sentence that at times very good work from different perspectives do put the blinkers on practitioners that seems to encourage the chasing of new ‘fads’ all the time. What is needed is the understanding that as much as movement is about complex systems, the world we operate the movement in is also a complex, multi-subject environment, requiring the knowledge of all. The paradigm shift needed is also the ability to take in all and work on knowledge development to make sense of all the information available for the teacher. The role of the expert teacher is still vital! Good learning does not occur on its own.

So, this professional development journey needs a strong conviction to take stock of all opinions within own context and make best decision. We the teachers on the ground are after all partly the subject of all these great works and the ones who need it out on the ‘battlefield’ on a daily basis.

Reference and recommended readings

Clara, W. K., Chow, J. Y., & Keith , D. (2012). ‘How does TGfU work?’: examining the relationship between learning design and a non-linear pedagogy. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 17(4), 331-348. doi:10.1080/17408989.2011.582486

Harvey, S., Pill, S., & Almond, L. (2018). Old wine in new bottles: a response to claims that teaching games for understanding was not developed as a theoretically based pedagogical framework. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 166 – 180. doi:10.1080/17408989.2017.1359526

Ian, R., Duarte , A., Chow, J. Y., & Keith, D. (2016). Why the Constraints-Led Approach is not Teaching Games for Understanding: a clarification. Physical Education and Sports Pedagogy, 21(5). doi:10.1080/17408989.2015.1095870

Moy, B., Ian, R., Keith , D., & Eric , B. (2016). Overcoming acculturation: physical education recruits’ experiences of an alternatove pedagogical approach to games teaching. Physical Education and Sport Psychology, 21(4), 386-406. Retrieved from