Affordances Explained – Some brief notes… part 2

Affordances, again, but simpler…

I attempted some form of analysis on the meaning of affordances in part 1, but whilst being stuck in my academic ivory tower it offered little clarity in the use of them, ultimately widening the gap between coaching and theory.

In an attempt to write something more useful, I’ll quote sections from the previous post and unpick them in more applied ways, as much as I possibly can.

“Affordances are fundamental relational properties of the environment – they imply the complementarity between the animal and its environment”

As previously stated, affordances exist, they are literal ‘things’ within our field of vision. Everything, and anything is an affordance that aids our everyday actions in life. A door is open-able, Close-able, push-able or pull-able; the properties that have created the door make it action-able in certain ways. In sport, a defender presents all number of affordances, dependant on the how they act. A defender that is unbalanced provides the affordance to dribble past them; a defender that is pressing quickly may create the affordance of passing the ball away from them. The key is the ‘complementarity’ between the perceiver (player) and the affordance presented, we’ll get into this further now.

“Affordances, thus, are governed by control parameters informed by the constraints imposed by the environment, and their relational position towards the skills available in that given task.”

Affordances are relational in nature, whilst they exist, their use-ability is dependant on the perceiver of said affordance. A spoon can present all number of opportunities for action in relation to the task it requires. If I intend on eating, the spoons properties provide a useful tool to scoop food, if the task changes I could (In a very loose and extreme view) use the spoons dimensional properties as a weapon, or a projectile. All the properties exist, but my dependence on using it to solve tasks creates a certain disposition of it.

“Our interaction with affordances comes through the perception of information that exists in the form of affordances. In order to perceive an affordance, Gibson understood that to perceive occurred through ‘discrimination’ of behavioural response, the pick up of information is to limit behavioural opportunities to certain desirable performance solutions.”

Beyond the philosophical talk of affordances existing and being relational in nature, what does it actually mean for one to interact with them? My understanding of this is that it is through visual search strategies (this will form part 3). A perceiver of an affordance must pick up the visual information provided by the affordance in order to act, thus a player must be attuned to the appropriate visual information. After speaking with Mark O’Sullivan he provided me with a great example about how an individual may interact with the available affordances. I hope he doesn’t mind me presenting it here…

“Most defenders on defending potential long balls are focused on the nearest forward and the runs they are making. But a top class defender will use the affordance offered by the player on the ball, say, 30 meters away. If the defender has a clear sight of the ball and the player in possession then they must drop as that player has a clear view of the space behind in and around the defender. If the defender has no sight of the ball or player then they can step up and get closer to the nearest forward as the player in possession does not have a clear view of the possibilities in and around the last line of defense”.

The defender has become attuned to the variants, the relational properties of the affordances. By being able to recognise the trigger of the opposing player playing a long ball they can either drop off, or push tight, based on the available interactions. The education of attention to the right cue allows for a necessary behavioural discrimination, by refusing to engage with certain actions in favour of others demonstrates an expert understanding of which affordances to interact with, in order for success of that given task.

“Affordances are ultimately task specifying, and relative to the organism, the definition of said affordances bares no importance, rather the ability to act upon it provides its worth.”

This final quote I think is the most important in regards to understanding the nature of affordances. The choice to act with them relates to a few key areas; do they improve the chance of survival (or task completion), and is the affordance act-able in a way that the human can be successful (am I tall enough to reach the ball).


Constraining to afford, altering the philosophical embedding of constraints…

The below image is taken from Renshaw et al (2015), the full citation is at the bottom of this post. The image depicts the mutuality of CLA and Non-Linear Pedagogy.

Its useful to see this model as a way of understanding affordances and how they can be manipulated in practice design, or ‘constraining to afford’.



There’s often been a misinterpretation of constraints as a tool to completely redirect the behavioural responses. For example, 2 touch rules completely alter the information to the point it is no longer representative. The constraint shapes the decision making entirely, rather than the player. If your focus is on making players move the ball quicker, an alternative would be to decrease the playing space, altering the interpersonal distances between players – if the time on the ball is decreased because of the decreased space, players will naturally search for moving the ball early, whilst still having the opportunity to take extra touches when needed (i.e when protecting the ball). The affordance here is to move the ball early; the decreased space makes the affordance the most attractive as the task demands have changed.

In another example; a key determinant of successful counter attacks is to attack as quickly as possible. A constraint I’ve seen often is to give the attack a 10 second time limit, if a shot or goal hasn’t occurred play is stopped and reset. The issue here is that the attack at speed is forced, it may be that the defensive side have managed to recover enough defenders; the direct counter attack may now not be the most successful option. The constraint has made the decision. A slight tweak could be to stagger the value of the goal, scoring inside 10 seconds and the goal is worth 3, inside 15 and the goal worth 2, anything beyond this the goal is just worth 1. The incentive is to attack with speed to get the 3 points, however if the counter attack is no longer the best option, it still allows the representative disposition of recycling the play and attacking at a new angle.

A further alternative to this would be to heavily overload the attacking side, constantly providing them with a spare direct pass that would afford them the opportunity to break up the pitch with more speed.





Ian Renshaw, Duarte Araújo, Chris Button, Jia Yi Chow, Keith Davids & Brendan Moy (2015): Why the Constraints-Led Approach is not Teaching Games
for Understanding: a clarification, Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy,

2 thoughts on “Affordances Explained – Some brief notes… part 2

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