Constraints Led Approach and Adaptability

Andrew Harris
3 min readJan 13, 2019

Constraints led approach is a popular and relatively new concept in the world of baseball. Constraint means a limitation or a restriction, which can be from the athletes own physical limitations, or from a limitation we place on them to help them feel a certain movement. Constraints are an incredible way to help athletes feel different movements and make adjustments that can have huge impacts on their swings/pitching motions. It has been shown to have a much higher success rate than verbal cueing. Though there is still a place for cueing an athlete, the cue may be different from what it once was, such as saying: hit the ball over the shortstops head, instead of saying follow through.

As I’ve gotten more into constraints in coaching, I’ve began to look at my environment as an elementary physical education teacher, to see what holds true about constraints and adolescent adaptability. I’ve run some anecdotal experiments, with minimal verbal cueing to see what happens in the classroom. The results, though not thoroughly scientific, have made me believe more in using constraints and letting athletes figure things out, rather than cueing them to death to try and fix issues. Here are 3 things I’ve learned through my elementary students.

Kids Will Adapt

I have never had a shoe policy in my 7 years of teaching. Being a teacher in a low-income area, I never wanted to limit students ability to participate, so whatever shoes they showed up in, they could participate. I’ve had students participate in 3 inch heels, in flats, in shoes that are falling apart, and I’ve only seen 2 major injuries in 7 years, and neither of them had to do with shoes. Students make adjustments based on what shoes they’re wearing. If in high heels they slow down, if in flats, which aren’t grippy, they don’t make as tight of turns. In shoes that are falling apart they’re careful to keep their shoes from falling apart and to be safe in the environment.

Secondly, As a PE teacher there are times when you have to have two classes at a time, 60 + students in an elementary gym is controlled chaous, with more emphasis on chaous than on control. However, the students don’t have a problem with it, when we play freeze tag they adapt to the environment. They know there are more students in the classroom, and without direction from me to be careful, they will adapt to what the conditions dictate. They will keep themselves safe, while still managing to play the game that is required.

Some Adapt Faster than Others

We always want our athletes to get better quickly. However, sometimes that isn’t the case and it doesn’t necessarily mean the coaching is bad or the athlete can’t do it. It just may mean that it takes longer for some than it does for others. This is the case in my classroom as well. Whereas some kids adapt quickly to the environment, it takes some kids getting knocked down before they realize they have to adjust. It takes running full speed into someone else and getting knocked to the floor to get that they can’t maintain the same speed as they did before without consequences. It’s like putting a guy with great exit velo off the T or in flips against a high speed pitching machine. He’s going to fail intitially, and that’s good because he will realize he has to make adjustments. Some will do that quickly, others may take a long time.

The body will organize to the environment

I have seen many PE students move in ways I didn’t think they could to avoid someone who was trying to tag them. When they are running for a test all they have to do is run straight, wait for a beep, and run back. However, when running away from someone, you may have to move forward, backward, sideways, up, down, etc. It causes students to explore different movement capabilities, some you didn’t think were possible. This is why constraints can be so helpful. They can help athletes move in ways they never thought possible before, and they can feel what it’s like to move in an efficient manner.

A constraints led approach doesn’t take away coaching, but it allows coaches to coach in a more efficient manner by manipulating movements for our athletes, allowing them to feel what needs to be done, instead of trying to inernalize verbal cues. It can help coaches to be more efficient in helping the athlete achieve their goals going forward.



Andrew Harris

Mental Performance Coach! Love Jesus! Working to continually grow as a person and coach