Ludwig Wittgenstein made his thoughts rizomatic rather than arboreal.  Instead of starting from the roots and working in a methodical way to bring things under one rule, a rhizome approach is a network with diverse forms, no particular foundation, for ever increasing connections, but following lines in much the same way as an evolutionary tree.   I have taken this analogy and applied it to learning.   As the above diagram portrays, learning comes at us from many directions, in many forms and no particular structure to it.   We just LEARN.

Cognitive learning theory is the use of internal mental processes and manipulation of information during learning.   How the footballer uses his brain to make meaning out the information he receives.   He also gains learning and meaning from his football experiences which he processes in his mind.   How the footballer manipulates both new and familiar information in order to improve his playing efficiency.

Cognitive learning; how the player uses his brain to make meaning out of the information he receives.


The player ‘constructs’ her own learning and improvement by building on what she already knows about the game.   The coach encourages her to be ‘active’ in her own learning.   Interacting with other players helps football learning to be more effective, and individuals are encouraged to make sense of the information for themself.

Examples of learner-centred experiences are realized when the player is encouraged to discover how to solve problems themselves, the coach guides them towards solutions.

The coach cannot assume that his players will receive the knowledge exactly as he has delivered it.   The reason for this is that the player may reconstruct the information to suit her previous knowledge of the game.

Inquiry learning provides opportunities for players to work together in order to solve problems.   This is attained by the players working, collaborating and cooperating with each other.   They assist each other on football related tasks and the search for solutions.

Strengths of constructivism.

The players ‘construct’ meaning in their own minds which is built upon their previous knowledge of football.   They actively learn more about the game by participating in their own learning, rather than being passive receivers of football knowledge from the coach.   Players use their teammates, coaches and managers as part of the football environment which they learn and operate in.

Limitations of constructivism in football.

Developing player-centred learning can be time-consuming, because questioning techniques, guiding players toward solutions, and getting the players cooperate in their own research needs to be developed and cultivated.   Developing a supportive football environment can also take much time to implement.   Discovery learning doesn’t suit everyone, it can be frustrating for players who lack the experience or motivation to go out and seek information.   Instructing and directing players is a quicker method of making a coaching point and is preferred by some players.

Deep approach to football learning.

In many cases football is a life-long occupation or vocation and therefore learning about the game, whether it is technical or tactical, needs to be well established in long term memory.   The player attempts to build on what he already knows, for example, expanding on his current tactical knowledge into new areas of tactical expertise.

The player needs to expand on his current tactical knowledge.

The cognitive approach encourages the player to be intrinsically motivated to learn and study the game.   The player can enhance his own learning by asking questions during a training session, by revising after the session, by talking to teammates about the session and if possible teach his the learning to younger or novice players.    These are all strategies which enhance the deep approach to learning about the game.

Schema Theory – part of the constructive view of memory.

A player’s football knowledge is organised in thematic units called schema.   A schema is an organised structure which helps to make the footballer’s world predictable.   It can be an overall framework of the game in which new experiences are being constantly added.   However, new learning’s and experiences are interpreted in the context of this schema.   For example, if the coach introduces a new system of play, the players interpret this new system based on their previous experience of playing systems.

Players adapt to new tactical information based on their past experience.

Scripts are a special type of schema which contains a player’s knowledge of how to behave in certain situations.   For example, she knows how to conduct herself regarding her pre-match meal by eating the correct nutrition and giving time for the meal to digest prior to the game.   She has a script (schema) for getting to the airport by; catching a taxi, getting to the airport in plenty of time for the flight, going to the check-in counter and waiting for the flight to be called.   Attending training sessions also has a script; packing her gear, driving to the training venue, being in good time to be changed; ready to start warming up prior to the main session.   These, and many others, are all scripts which she carries around in her mind helping her to negotiate her football life.

To summarize the above points; new football information is interpreted on the basis of existing football knowledge.   Players will interpret new football information from the perspective of their previous learning, knowledge and experience.   The new experience is incorporated into comprehensible schemas in their mind.   Therefore, new football information is integrated with existing football schema.

New football information is integrated with existing football schemata.

Cognitive View of Learning

Footballers remember their experiences and this is how they learn and become knowledgeable about the game.   Their memories of playing experiences become a central part of cognitive learning in football.

Footballers remember their experiences; how?

Memory, of course, is a vital component of football learning, therefore it is useful for both coaches and players to understand the standard model of memory, the different types, characteristics, and how information is moved within these systems of memory.

As football educators it is useful to have some knowledge of how memory works in order to influence learning in our players.   There are strategies for learning which include, chunking, rehearsal and elaboration of information which enable learning to be deposited in long term memory.

There are many questions surrounding what our memory system is like, how we encode, store, and retrieve what we learn.   There are also questions around the capacity of our memory systems.

Standard Memory Model.

The standard model of memory systems is usually based around, sensory-memory, working memory and long-term memory.   It is generally accepted that information moves from one memory store to another and when it is stored in long-term memory then the information is recognised as ‘knowledge.’   This is called the multistore method of processing information and is an over simplification of the process, but will it will suffice in the context of this presentation.

Sensory Memory

Sensory memory is how the football player takes in information through her five senses.   In a game of football she is constantly scanning the scene for information as to the position of the ball, her teammates and her opponents.   The sensory memory has a large capacity of perceptual information which decays rapidly as new information is fed in.   This system operates outside of the player’s conscious awareness and it is only when she focuses on a particular sequence, with the aim of remembering that sequence, that it is transferred into working memory.   For example, through her sensory memory may notice that her immediate opponent feints to the left prior to receiving the ball; this information is fed into her working memory.

During a game, player’s constantly scan the scene in order to gain information about the position of teammates and opponents.

Working Memory.

 Working memory is active in processing information; information can be retained by a method of rehearsal and chunking pieces of data.   In the example from above, the player processes the information; “my opponent makes a feint before receiving the ball,” by remembering and rehearsing the information.   At half-time she could repeat and reinforce the information that her opponent ‘feints to the left’.   Because of this reinforcement the information regarding her opponent should pass into a more permanent storage system in her long term memory.  The next time she faces the same opponent it is likely that she will remember that, “she feints to the left.”

Long-term memory.

It seems that long term memory has unlimited capacities to remember, and can be considered a permanent storage facility for information.   A characteristic of LTM is that it seems to contain three different methods of remembering.

Episodic: memories we have for life experiences.   Example; I can remember playing for Huddersfield Town reserve team, against Sheffield United, at Bramall Lane, on the day of President John Kennedy’s assassination in the early nineteen sixties.

Episodic memory is responsible for life experiences.

Semantic: memories about information and knowledge in the world.   Example; I can remember that Manchester City’s home ground used to be at Maine Rd, or that the World Cup finals are contested every four years.

Semantic memories are about information and knowledge in the world.

Procedural: memories which help us to recall techniques and skills such as how to make a ‘push pass’ or ‘defensive header’.

Procedral memories help us with physical skills.

Although these types of long term memories differ in their functions they are often interconnected.

A mistake often seen in coaches is that they use semantic methods to teach procedural knowledge.   They will often talk and explain football information when a good demonstration of the skill (procedural) will be more effective.

A good demonstration is often more effective than an explanation.

Executive Control System: is a system which is thought to control and move information between the three memory systems.

As discussed previously, what a player already knows is an important factor when presenting and understanding new football strategies.   Coaches should have an understanding of the previous knowledge their players possess otherwise learning can be difficult if there is little experience to build on.   How football information is presented and organised is important.   Coaches may have to use demonstrations, visual aids and other methods in order to get their point across to the players.

Focusing attention to the information which is being presented is an important strategy in a footballer’s learning curve.   The player needs to focus their mind on whichever skills are being practiced in order to gain full benefit from the session.   The coach needs to present the session in an organised manner so that the player can process the coaching points.   The coach can reinforce the player’s learning by reviewing the session and getting and receiving feedback.   The coach should monitor the player’s performance to evaluate his progress (or lack of).

Focusing attention to the information being presented is vital to the learning process.

Some of the strengths of the cognitive approach to information processing lie in the understanding by both the coach and player of how cognitive processes interconnect with the memory systems.   It helps coaches to understand how players think and process information, and empowers the player to employ strategies which can help him to assimilate and integrate football knowledge and skills.   The coaches and players are made aware of the place memory plays in the learning process.

Some of the limitations of this approach to learning are that the brain does not necessarily process information in a sequential manner.   The computer can be seen an analogy for information processing, however, it must be pointed out that human thinking is not so straightforward.   There are also, environmental, genetic and cultural influences to be considered when discussing approaches to learning.

There are environmental, genetic, and cultural influences to be considered in the approach to learning.