Practice Design Pressure

Affective Learning: What is it & how can it be assessed?

Train as you play. That is the mantra that is drummed into our ears. But how closely does sports practice actually mimic competition? The answer to this question will obviously differ for every player and coach, but more and more evidence highlights how subtle changes to the environment can cause different movement patterns to emerge.

Representative learning design is based on this premise. To ensure practice is representative of competition, practice should sample important perception-action couplings akin to competition.

Likewise, the practice environment should evoke similar emotion as competition. This is referred to as Affective Learning, which stems from representative learning design.

Jonathon Hedrick focused on Affective Learning for his PhD thesis. In an article published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, he highlighted three key points when implementing affective learning in practice. These are outlined below.

1. Adopt an individualised approach

Performance environments evoke different emotions for everyone. Practice should evoke the appropriate emotion for each individual to allow the necessary movement patterns to emerge.

2. Acknowledge different time-scales of learning

Emotions should correspond with the level of play for the performer. For instance, a 7 year old child will likely benefit from an environment that emphasises engagement and fun, whereas an elite athlete should benefit from a high pressure environment.

3. Embed emotions in situation-specific task constraints

Create situations in practice that resemble situations in competition. For example, a cricket coach might create the scenario that the batsman needs 20 runs to win off the remaining 30 balls. This would lead to a different emotional response compared to batting without a scenario.

How can emotions be assessed during practice?

Jon developed a short questionnaire for athletes to complete during practice.

Affective learning questionnaire
Extracted from Jonathon Headrick’s PhD thesis

Ultimately, learning environments that more closely emulate where the skill needs to be performed (i.e., in sport, this would be competition) are more likely to foster the transfer of skill to that particular performance context.


Headrick, J. J. (2015). Affective Learning Design: A Principled Approach to Emotion in Learning (Doctoral dissertation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia). Retrieved from
Headrick, J., Renshaw, I., Davids, K., Pinder, R. A., & Araújo, D. (2015). The dynamics of expertise acquisition in sport: The role of affective learning design. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 83-90.

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