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Redefining Player Creativity
During my time in the United States, I had the pleasure working with a six-year-old Mexican boy. Whenever he had the ball at his feet, he would dribble around his teammates easily. Several parents watching him from the sidelines during practices and games used to say, “We wish that our kids could play and be as creative as this little boy.”
I am a great believer that all kids have different types of creativity. We usually talk about two different types of creativity; the first is very much dependent upon their growing personalities (emotional creativity).
Once they possess some skills then we talk about cognitive creativity. To better understand what my point here is I’d like to introduce my own experiences working with young players.
A 7-year-old boy called Jamie had problems beating players in 1v1 game situations. After several attempts, he still didn’t succeed.
“What would you change to beat a player and score?” I asked afterwards.
He replied, “I wouldn’t change anything. I don’t like to score goals!”
So I asked him, “Why?”
He said, “In my local team, I really like to play as a defender. I enjoy stopping the striker from scoring goals!”
Listening carefully to what he said and respecting his feelings and thoughts, I allowed him to be a defender for the majority of the time during training and matches. In fact, he has some of the best defending skills I have ever seen at that age!
Now you may ask what this has to do with creativity. Well, this young player has developed cognitive creativity. A large part of which is developed in a consistent and disciplined manner by executing the same skills. It is dependent on a players’ conscious recognition of his preferences.
In Jamie’s case, it was individual defending. Because he played by his choice in defensive positions for his local club that meant he had already consistently repeated and executed the same defending skills for a long time already. Therefore, his ability to defend improved and developed all the time because he recognized his own preference. This experience makes a significant impact on a child’s brain through neuron connections throughout a training session.
Jamie’s brain absorbed information in a repetitive way and stored it in his deep memory, resulting in Jamie becoming better at what he liked to do. His existing knowledge about individual defending allowed him to find new, i.e. creative, solutions for problems that occurred during games. It follows that he developed further and further using his cognitive creativity to master his defending skills. From a coaching point of view, I not only allowed him to do so but openly encouraged him. I was only prepared to help him if he really needed or requested me to.
For my next example, I coached a girl named Lilly. At that time she was 11 years old. I met her for the first time coaching an after-school club. I quickly realized that she had a good technical ability and could solve problems on the pitch in a very positive way. She’s had the gift to quickly assess situations and make correct decisions. Her passing decisions were outstanding. If she made a wrong choice, she immediately learned from it and moved forward.
This type of leaning ability is closely linked to emotional creativity. Lilly could quickly find solutions for existing problems on the pitch because of her emotional relationship with the game situation and her previous experiences.
Next, we have Matt who is a good example of someone who possesses connecting creativity. In simple terms, he learned very quickly from others. He had the ability to absorb and process large amounts of information quickly. Then, afterwards, he was able to create new and better solutions to problems on the pitch. Matt never focused on the final aim or outcome. Instead, his concentration was consistently directed towards the process. Young players with connecting creativity will always look for a good balance between the training task and the skills they already have. Therefore, training exercises that we initiate must be neither too easy nor too hard. They must be specifically adapted to a player’s abilities and skills. Then, and only then, will the player use them and effectively develop his type of creativity.
Simply speaking, this modality of creative thinking will connect with a positive environment where players will not fear mistakes and feel free to take risks. This is a very beneficial outcome.
The next type of creativity to consider is called unpredictable creativity. Taking risks, showing innovative behaviours on the pitch and quite simply having fun are characteristics of this type of creativity. We can stimulate this type of creativity by adapting different game formats (2v3, 3v4 etc.) and physical activities. Creating the right conditions during practice sessions increases the chance to demonstrate and develop unpredictability.
Small sided game format provides players with the opportunity to have to deal with under/over-loaded game scenarios and are great tools to improve this type of creativity. This results precisely because of the increased opportunities for unpredictability and innovative solutions to problems that these games provide. We can also stimulate this creativity by applying different challenges throughout the game such as:
a) You have to score a hat-trick to win the game
b) You can only play backwards 3 times
c) If your pass beats at least 3 opposition players and your team score, the goal counts double
When I met Robert, he was 12 years old. He was always first to arrive in training sessions. He spent his nearly 20 minutes of early arrival time improving his individual skills. This was a great opportunity to talk to him. During conversations I found out that he liked to watch football matches (is not that obvious when you are 12!). I asked him what he likes in particular. He said that he likes to watch an attacking play. Mainly, he focused on attacks because he is very much interested in how scoring opportunities are created. He tried to remember what had happened on the pitch and attempted to imitate them.
Robert had very a high level of anticipation and perception skills. Therefore, his movement on the pitch was more clever than others. Perhaps watching football games was the main influence factor on the way he moved on the pitch. We talk about observing and analyzing creativity. Robert used previous playing experiences as well as information from watching football games for his own benefit. He used all that on the football pitch. I have to say, he wasn’t as open as other kids. He liked to reflect on his own performances in a solitary setting. His motivation was pride in the effort he puts in rather than score line. How many of you worked or perhaps still working with these types of creative players?
Have you worked with the young players who failed on some occasions only to be successful in the end? I’m talking about young players who didn’t take failures too personally. I have had the pleasure in my career to work with Grace. We had been working together for 4 years. She had good technical ability; however, it was something else that caught my eye. She always tried finding new solutions to existing problems on the pitch. Showing determination and ambition. Often, she was taking risks, sometimes failing but never giving up. She held on to her strong belief in her own abilities and she knew that success would come sooner or later. She had what I might call personal creativity. Her skill was believing in her own ability and creating new and differing solutions until she succeeded. There are a lot of young players who fail, however, the talented ones treat it as a learning experience much more than others. I knew at that time she would be able to play at a very high level. I wasn’t wrong. She now represents her own country playing for U18!
Children who are creative will always be looking for new challenges and experiences. They hate monotony and reject routine. Julia was exactly like that. When I started coaching her, she loved to play as goalkeeper. But every two weeks, she asked to play a different position. At that time she was 12 years old. For me as a young and inexperienced coach, this was something new. Curious, I asked her why she wanted to keep switching positions. She replied to me by saying, “I need new challenges to get out of my comfort zone. Also, new experiences have a very positive impact on my motivation.”
She was open to new experiences which were different but closely linked to her creative traits. A new challenge brings new emotional outcomes and with it, develops a different type of curiosity and openness to further new tasks. All these traits have common cognitive and emotional origins and should be openly developed. As coaches, we talk about new experiences as creativity. In football especially, specialization comes later in any player’s development with the possible exception of keeper. This particular young lady taught me a new type of creativity. I learned a great deal from and about Julia because of her strengths and weaknesses. I was able to develop a complete picture of where this girl’s potential lies and how I can best help her develop her talents for the future.
Lastly, when children frequently ask questions, many times we become frustrated and simply stop listening. Is that right? If the young player is curious and even argumentative, perhaps he is also being creative in a learning scenario?
I call this curious creativity. These types of kids always want answers to their incessant questions about what is around them. They want to know why we do things the way we do. Often, they are looking for answers because they see solutions from an entirely different perspective which may, perhaps, be the better one. They are persistent in finding their own way to success. If we ignore their questions, we harm the player in many ways. He will not only lose confidence and self-esteem but we also lose any possibility to develop him. We, as coaches, simply can’t afford that. We need the opportunity to develop each player according to their individual and differing creative behaviours.