Academic Theory to Practice Session Design in Soccer: Differential Learning Theory

Differential Learning   Another part of my methodology is called “Differential Learning”. Differential learning is about de-stabilizing the existing movement solution by adding additional components that create a de-stabilizing effect. This type of training does not always need to be highly game representative but I always favor more representative. The individual must self-organize their movements through the destabilizing process, pushing them to find solutions outside of their normal movement patterns. The main objective of DL is to allow an athlete to gain information about the solution space that can be used in future performances. The movement solution is the thing we want to explore, the de-stabilizing factors are the noise. These types of trainings require a feedback loop between the coach and the athlete. Movement patterns and skilled movement are unique to each individual. There is no linear path to skill and no time-scale – all skills are different. CLA and Differential Learning are slightly different but essentially everything is a constraint. However, differential learning can be used to explore the errors to open up new pathways to new solutions.   Below is a quote from Peter Cech talking about the Differential Training Methods he uses with his Goalkeeper Coach.  This is from an article in the “Daily Uk” newspaper.    “This is the way he works.  We try to catch different shape balls, bigger balls or smaller ones because then you need to adapt your hand-eye coordination every time.  Suddenly your brain starts working again.  You can use colors.  Imagine saving the ball but at the same time a card is held up.  You save the ball and shout the color – you are concentrating on more things.  That makes your peripheral vision better as well.  Your brain is working much more than just with a simple catch.  He is always searching for new things to bring it further, to be more efficient and try to make things happen for a goalkeeper to progress even at the highest level.  I keep using a table tennis robot which shoots ping pong balls out.  You have to catch it with one hand so it gives you a completely different hand-eye coordination.  Then, when you have both hands facing one football, everything becomes easier.”    Examples of Differential Learning  

  • Use of fields with radically different shapes & dimensions
  • Playing with different size & shaped balls
  • Playing in shirts with arms sewn closed – forces  arms to be tucked inside shirt and distorts balance.
  • Wearing of leg constraints
  • Use of blind folds