The Basketball Podcast: EP315 with Kevin Mulcahy on Constraints-Led Coaching

RELEASE DATE : 10/04/2024

In this week’s coaching conversation, sports practice design specialist Kevin Mulcahy joins the Basketball Podcast to share insights on representative practice using a constraints led approach.

Kevin is an experienced sports and conditioning coach who has worked with sports teams, athletes, professionals, and clubs across three continents for over 30 years. He is the owner-operator of the Design the Game Project, a platform that shares coaching insights and research to a progressive and learning-led audience.

Design the Game promotes a Constraints Led Approach to Motor Learning and coaching. Kevin has studied on and off the field how humans learn to move and learn skills for well over 20 years.

Through the Design the Game brand has run several mini online courses around motor learning, decision making in sport and practice design. Kevin also runs TMC Performance, a sports and conditioning, personal training business that caters to the overall health and lifestyle of his clients from athletes to busy professionals through a strength and conditioning for life and sport mindset and programming approach.

Kevin has a strong educational background in coaching science, with a BSc in Strength and Conditioning from Setanta College, a certificate in Nutritional Science and Coaching from Precision Nutrition, and a certificate in The Neuroscience of Decision Making from Barcelona FC.

Kevin takes an ecological approach to coaching and life in general and has a deep interest in Ecological Dynamics and the Constraints Led Approach to coaching and Motor learning.

Kevin most recently has been a part of coaching teams that won Regional and National (All Ireland) Titles with Cork Camogie, National Superleague Basketball Title with Ballincollig Basketball and Cork Senior A Gaelic Football Championship with Newcestown.

Design the Game has online and in person workshops on decision making in sport to clubs and coaches around the world. 

Listen Here:

Kevin Mulcahy Quotes:

“Skill and technique are very contextual . . there’s a basic, coordinative level on all techniques and skills but there is no problem with supporting or introducing elements that are going to help a player to stabilize themselves, so that they can express themselves at a certain level.”

“It’s that fear of things not looking good in training, and that fear of failure in training and not accepting the chaos [that sometimes inhibits using a constraints-led approach].”

“Are you going to play against mannequins or air when it comes to the game? In real brass tack language, ‘Does it look like the game?’ There’s nothing wrong with routines and patterns just to get onto the floor or to deliver concepts to a player to warm up.”

“Research has shown in basketball as well as volleyball and a few other sports that repetitive practice actually makes competent players worse. Because at a certain level . . the variability and . . your challenge point continually changes.”

“The challenge point is a key part because . . we get better at attuning ourselves to various information so that we can then manipulate the ball to make decisions to shoot or not shoot or pass or whatever based on the distance away from the player.  We get better at what we practice. So, if we do a lot of unopposed isolated practices, that’s what we get better at.”

“The coach needs to think about it just purely as developing players. Can they [the players] do this? . . The way the ecological dynamics looks at learning skill is much more on a spectrum from exploration to stabilizing to exploiting.”

“I would appeal to coaches of any sport, if they [the players] can do this at a basic level, let’s challenge them, let’s find a new challenge point and get them exploring again and let them go through those phases.”

“If it’s important, do it every day.  If it’s important that we get better at it, whether it’s defensive work or whatever, let’s work on it every session . . But nothing ever looks the same though, so there’s the variability.”

“Your drill is a constraint. You’re lowering the variability of their practice . . But in terms of practice and getting better we need to be challenging and variable. So, if you don’t do that, you are constraining your players.”

“When people practice with variability and opposition, as opposed to the more traditional ways of practicing, the results are nearly always showing more positively towards the variability of practice.”

“Every time we’re playing the game, there are certain affordances allowed to us. So, when we’re creating practices, we want to create practice that’s going to open up opportunities for players to make decisions.”

“In some cases, I create blocks maybe six, seven, eight minutes of certain practices where I really want them to go for stuff that might be a little bit outside their comfort zone.  It’s very deliberate failure almost . . I’m expecting a lot of messiness and failure and then we’ll always play something a small bit more comfortable, maybe a full game.”

Kevin Mulcahy Breakdown:

1:00 – Constraint Led Approach
7:00 – Manipulating Task Constraint
11:30 – Elicit Skill
16:00 – Technique Development
26:00 – Poet’s Practice
34:00 – Feedback with Action
40:00 – Early in Learning
49:00 – History
52:00 – Playing Unstructured
59:00 – Affordances
1:03:30 – The Three Things
1:07:00 – Basketball Drills
1:12:00 – Free Throw

Kevin Mulcahy Selected Links from the Podcast:

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