Creativity can be defined as the use of the imagination or original ideas in the production of an artistic work. This fits perfectly with my view of the game and coaching, as an art, rather than a science. While you could use this definition and apply it to soccer, I also think it requires context. Creativity for a five year old is going to be wildly different than that of an eighteen year old.
So can you teach creativity? If you showed the five year olds a demo where you pick the ball up and run, would it still be a creative solution to the problem? If you made an intervention in the 7 v. 6 activity and told the striker to try flicking it up and then volleying goal wards, would that be an original idea or the use of his imagination? The answer to both, of course, is no.
So if you can't teach creativity, where does it come from?
For me, there are a number of factors that contribute to creativity. Firstly, players need a base knowledge of skills and solutions to problems they've seen before. They can then riff of these and experiment from this foundation. That's why creativity is different for a five year old and an eighteen year old. Their frame of reference and base level is vastly different.
This is linked to the above concept of having a base of knowledge. Intelligent players have likely built up a greater base knowledge of the game, have a variety of scenarios and mental pictures they've come across before and are able to chunk information and recall it quickly in order to play the game. This then has a knock on effect of being able to process information quicker and perhaps see things others don't or try things slightly differently than before.
This is a concept that I think often gets overlooked and is becoming a rare commodity in a world that is always switched on and connected. We are at a point where we fill all the gaps with scrolling through feeds of information and consuming content. Kids are no different as they have access to endless content through tablets and phones. However, boredom allows the mind to wander and form connections subconsciously, allowing and facilitating new ideas, solutions and creativity! It's the reason we get those great ideas in the shower or when we lay down to sleep - it's the only time we switch off and allow our minds to explore.
Furthermore, boredom is not a concept a coach ever wants to build into his or her session. Who wants players bored when they come to practice? For me, this is why repetition is important within sessions. Repetition (correct repetition) is fantastic for gaining a mastery of a technique or skill, but sometimes this can become a little stale for even the most focused player. Yet, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. You'll start to see the players that are a little more creative as they break your activities or complete them in different ways. Try embracing this every now and again, allowing players to try different methods to see what works and what doesn't.
Create The Environment
So if you can't teach creativity, what can you do? We've started to touch upon a few ideas above and typically they're linked to the environment that you create as the coach.
Incorporate Elements of Free Play
By all means build up their base knowledge within your sessions, but just as importantly, let them have free play at the end. No conditions or extra rules - just let them play the game. Don't eat into this time because you had one more learning outcome or coaching point - that's your job as the coach to manage. The time at the end is theirs - let them have it. Allow them to play, experiment, enjoy. (Maybe also consider using small sided games as your arrival activity to maximize their 'play' time)
This methodology appears tailor-made for creativity and is great for your coaches toolbox. By using the initial activity (Whole) you can allow the players to experiment and play the game with very little instruction or coaching. The coach can then actively observe and identify specifics for the next activity (Part) and give players some ideas and solutions, as well as repetitions, before returning to the original activity (Whole). By allowing players time to experiment, tweak and develop their technique/skill and then returning to the experimenting, they have ample time to be creative and identify new solutions to the problem posed.
Effort Over Outcome
A coach's praise can be used to build an environment of experimentation and creativity. It can also be used to do just the opposite. A coach that reserves praise only for successful execution or that is highly critical could limit their players. This might lead players to keeping things simple and playing it safe. However, a coach that praises the attempt, or idea, encourages players to experiment and come up with new solutions, safe in the knowledge that that's what the coach is looking for.
A Coach's Influence
Creating the environment can appear a somewhat passive approach that leaves a lot of coaches uncomfortable. For those that want to be more hands on, you can try to have an influence, but remember, you can't do it for them...
- Build up their repertoire of skills and techniques. The more they know, the more they have to play and experiment with. (Then actively encourage them to try new things)
- Inspire them. Give ideas, suggestions, videos to watch. Show them something you can do. Demonstrate. Play (if safe to do so).
- Use questions: "can you show me another way you could do it?" or "who can come up with a finish we haven't seen yet?"
- You can't teach creativity. (Or imagination. Or original ideas.)
- However, you can create an environment that caters for and fosters creativity.
- Having a base of knowledge and skills gives players more tools to play around with.
- Coaches can encourage, guide and inspire - but ultimately, creativity comes down to the player.
Written by Dean Atkins