Ludwig Wittgenstein made his thoughts rizomatic rather than arboreal.   In other words, 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.

The psychologist and educationalist, Lev Vygotsky, was born in 1896 in what is now known as Belarus, which at that time was part of the Russian Empire.

                                                       Lev Vygotsky.

He focused on how culturally developed tools, thought and language patterns, are internalised and then used.  In other words we learn directly from the culture which we are exposed to; this learning is internalized through the use of language and thought.   The practices and tools are then passed on from the more knowledgeable members of the culture to the less developed members.

The practices and tools of the game are passed on from the more knowledgeable members of the game to the less developed members (see above).

Vygotsky emphasized that the social environment was critical in the learning process.   For our purposes; we learn football in a football setting, in an environment in which we are exposed to the game.

We experience football being played and discussed by others and we learn about the game this causes cognitive changes (learning) as we use new skills during training sessions and games.

The Zone of Proximal Development.

Although this appears very academic it simply means the difficulty level of a problem that an individual can cope with independently and the level that can be accomplished with expert help.   The novice footballer can be guided and coached into higher skill levels by a more experienced player (the more knowledgeable other).

The diagram shows that on entry to the zone the player can cope without assistance, and outside the zone, at the opposite end, he/she would not be able to cope, even with the assistance of an expert.   However, as he/she moves progressively through the ‘Zone,’ with help and support from the MKO (more knowledgeable other) the player is able to cope with higher level skill sets and games played at a higher level.

In the ‘Zone’ the novice player and the experienced player or coach work together on football problems that the novice alone could not work on successfully.   Both parties bring a history to the ‘Zone,’ the novice footballer brings his/her past developmental history and progress, the expert brings a support structure to the relationship.

This can be referred to as ‘scaffolding’; helping the novice through the learning process until the ‘scaffold’ can be thrown away when the novice player becomes proficient.

At fifteen years, when I first came into a professional club at Huddersfield Town (see memories on this website), I had minimal knowledge on how to cope at that level.   I came under the guidance of Bill McGarry and Brian Gibson (MKO’s) and was ‘scaffolded’ into becoming a professional footballer.   I brought my history as an adolescent footballer to the relationship and experienced coaches guided me through the Zone of Proximal Development towards being an accomplished professional player.


This can be looked upon as an apprenticeship whereby a tradesman teaches the apprentice the ‘tools of the trade’ until the ‘scaffold’ is discarded and the apprentice becomes a skilled person in their own right.

All Whites Coach; Rikki Herbert


This type of relationship applies when young players play alongside older and more experienced players, and learn from them.   This can also be the case even at international level.   An example could be cited from the NZ ‘All Whites’ World Cup campaign in 2010.   In New Zealands defensive unit, Coach Rikki Herbert often teamed up the experienced Ryan Nelsen alongside the ‘youngsters’ Winston Reid and Tommy Smith.   Nelsen was able to display his vast experience and the younger players were bound to learn from playing alongside him.

Tommy Smith
Ryan Nelsen
Winston Reid


Inexperienced players participate in skills which may be beyond them at the time; however, by sharing the learning environment with the expert they can explore the territory together.   This enables the inexperienced player to understand the kinds of problems and opportunities that experts encounter, and helps them appreciate the knowledge that these experts can call upon to use as tools in problem solving.

‘Bedding in’ the learning’s.

In order to confirm their progress, the novice player articulates and explains to what extent, and how much they have learned during the process of their football education.

The novice footballer compares their own performance with that of others (both novices and experts), and reflects on their own progress with regard to their long term goal of improving their performance.

The novice player should be given the licence to strike out on their own and explore all avenues where they think that they can improve their game.   It is not desirable that the novice becomes a replica of the expert; there should be much scope for individual flair.

Implications of Vygotsky.

Most effective learning will occur within the Zone of Proximal Development combined with the help and guidance of the More Knowledgeable Other.

When facing challenges the learner needs to externalise their problems by talking to, and receiving advice from others.

Cooperation and collaboration among learners and between experts and novices is critical to effective learning and development.

Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934).

His theories contradicted those of Piaget because Vygotsky proposed that learning precedes cognitive development, whereas, Piaget claimed that development precedes learning.

In a ‘nutshell’; within the social and cultural environment, Vygotsky believed that the learner does the whole task with the MKO within the ZPD.   Through this process the learner will be able to achieve the goal of the specific task mastery.

Myself as the MKO (more knowledgeable other) working in a social and cultural setting.

Note: the importance of focusing on the topic at hand during the learning process is discussed elsewhere on this website; observe the focus of attention that the majority of these young Polynesian footballers are giving to the topic, during a tactical discussion (see above).

The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO) is not necessarily an older adult; it could be a more capable peer, or someone with higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a given task.   In contemporary society the MKO need not be a person at all; could be a computer!!!

Online learning is a large contributer to modern education.   Areas of football have also adapted to this method of learning.


Vygotsky.  I have been so fortunate in my life to work with so many people that recognized the concept of ZPD, even if they had no idea of Lev and his work.  When I was in my teacher training program, I became enamored with his concepts and decided that I would focus on designing curriculum accordingly. (Robert Greybeck, Jnr, Ph.D. USA).