Constraints-Led Approach

Create games with constraints that force your students to do things the right way.

If you've ever Googled the constraints-led approach (CLA), you've probably found yourself drowned in academic terminology that's hard to understand.  This is unfortunate because the CLA is a powerful framework for sports coaches, and anyone interested in learning or teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu should at least be aware of it.

I'm frankly not smart enough to explain the CLA well, so here's a description from Adaptive Movement:

"The constraints-led approach (CLA) is a framework for teaching, coaching and practicing motor skills. It takes a holistic and individual approach to learning by considering the interactions between different ‘constraints’: the performer, the environment and the task. The CLA advocates a hands-off -approach, where the coach designs the environment and directs learning by manipulating the constraints, rather than using prescriptive instructions and corrective feedback. The learner is challenged to find his own functional movement solutions through variable practice and trial and error. The CLA is not a magic bullet for all learning situations, but according to preliminary evidence, it is an exceptionally well suited method for efficient motor skill practice."
 Adaptive Movement

Or, to state it more simply:

  • The old-school way:
    Just tell your students what you want them to do.
  • The constraints-led approach:
    Create games with constraints that force your students to do things the right way.

On the podcast, you may have heard us suggest you "train with purpose": structure your training so that you have specific learning goals when rolling.  The constraints-led approach is a specific way to train with purpose.  Ryan Hall and Rob Biernacki advocate for a method they call "F*@k Your Jiu-Jitsu," which is also an example of the constraints-led approach.

How can I apply the constraints-led approach to BJJ?

Here's an example of how I use the constraints-led approach.

I've long stated that in BJJ, grips dictate position: whoever gets dominant grips will likely be the person who advances position.  If I were coaching using the "old-school" method, I'd simply tell my students this concept and hope they absorb it into their game.

But now, I use the constraints-led approach to teach how grips dictate position.  I create a simple game for my students to play:

  1. Start without anyone having grips.
  2. The first person to get dominant grips (where they have some degree of actual control) wins.
  3. When someone gets grips, reset and play again.

By using constraints, I've created a version of Jiu-Jitsu where students can only train the engagement phase.  If they play this game long enough, students will be forced to understand the importance of grips, rather than just zombie-walking into their opponent's guard.


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