Constraints based training is one of the most important concepts in coaching. As I mentioned in a previous post, the definition of a constraint is, “the introduction or natural occurrence of something that creates a boundary or limit, which make some actions possible, and leaves other actions up to the learner to explore”. Constraints can be classified as individual constraints (body size, fitness, strength, speed, aerobic capacity, cognitive ability, concentration, focus, motivation, emotional control, decision making ability and personality factors), environmental constraints (physical and social factors. Physical – light, temperature, terrain, auditory feedback. Social – constraints based on cultural norms) and task constraints (factors closely related to performance in sport like bats, racquets, pitch sizes, number of players, rules of the game or instructions by coaches). The interaction between the constraints and the player will lead to specific skill development over time. The longer the time frame and the more a player trains with constraints, will determine the skills that emerge over time.
The common belief used to be, that using constraints might hinder or be seen as a barrier to creativity, because when a person is forced to work in a confined environment with limited resources or choices, it would reduce potential options and creativity. However, it has now been proven that people actually become more creative, when they are forced to come up with solutions to problems using less resources. In fact, when people have an abundance of choices, it hinders creativity. Psychologists have found that when we have less to work with, we begin to see the world differently. When people have an abundance of resources at their disposal, they have little incentive to use what’s available to them in novel and unique ways; when people face scarcity, they allow themselves the freedom to use the resources in unconventional ways, because it is necessary to do so. In essence, having an abundance of resources is often counterproductive, when we lack what we need (constraints), we are forced to get creative to solve the problem. Example: If we don’t have a place to sit because there are no conventional chairs, we are forced to come up with a solution, making the best of what we do have. Compare that with always having an abundance of chairs and everything else you need, the brain gets comfortable and is never forced to become creative, following the path of least resistance. Working in an environment with constraints we focus our mental energy more productively and creatively.
So how does all this relate to soccer development? By placing constraints in training, it forces players to find new solutions to problems, in order to be successful. Players will be forced to think differently, develop alternative strategies and even acquire new skills, in order to operate successfully inside the constraints. Constraints in a soccer context can be anything from using touch restrictions, eliminating certain passes (no square balls, no straight forwards pass, 1-touch back passes only), mandatory playing to channels before scoring, must play though wide gates before scoring, restricting speed, using different size soccer balls, playing on different surfaces and many more! Each constraint allows the players to experience the game in a different way, the trick as a coach is understanding the constraints, how to use them and the affects they might have on the player development over the long term.