Creativity in Soccer: It’s Child’s Play Really

Here’s a recent article that was posted on Soccer Classroom.

Coaching Creativity in Soccer; It is Child’s Play Really.

I’ve been reading the growing number of articles and commentaries in the press and social media, which highlight the current lack of creativity in soccer players on both sides of the Atlantic. Coaching, it seems, has focussed heavily on the technical, tactical and physical development of players for the last few years. However there seems to have been little done to enhance creativity, innovation and flair.

Where’s the flair?

Who still has the ability to do the unexpected? Who surprises us with moments of unique, spontaneous skill? Who has the power to be unpredictable?

I know what you’re thinking….Lionel Messi.

That’s the problem isn’t it. We cannot think of a dozen players easily. We don’t even have half a dozen names that come readily to mind. There are a lot of players who have superb technique, but they are not necessarily ‘flair’ players. Where are the Diego Maradona’s, the Pele’s, the Johan Cruyff’s?

The fact that we do not see the number of unique, inventive and creative players suggests that something has changed. There is something different about the way soccer players are developed now-a-days. So what’s changed?  Perhaps the answer is that we’re coaching more. Ironically, many soccer players spend more hours being coached today than their predecessors. Maybe the technical, tactical and physical development has stifled their creativity? If we’re coaching more, but producing players who are not as creative, it suggests that the way we’re coaching is probably part of the problem.

So, how do we coach creativity?

Let’s start with the basics. There has to be a reason to create something. One reason could simply be that creative acts are expressive. Like many other creative acts, such as dance, music, poetry and art, it is fun. That, in itself, is a great reason to create. However, many creative acts were initiated for different reasons. Perhaps there was a problem that needed solving or a challenge that had not yet been met. Inventions and technological creations are normally a response to a problem or an unmet challenge. As humans, we often wonder how we could to something better, or do something which has never been done before. Of course, to do this we have to recognise that there is a challenge or a problem in the first place. We also need to have a desire to solve it. Interestingly, sport (and life) throw examples at us all the time. Most of the time we do not see them, because we have a pre-determined solution ready and waiting. Instead of looking at how things could be done, we choose the easy option and do things the way we’ve always done them (or the way we’ve been taught).

How many ways are there to kick a soccer ball? If you stopped to think about it (and maybe try some out), I bet you’d find dozens. However, we coach players to use a tiny fraction of the possible ways that you could kick a ball. We teach them the ‘right’ ways. If they kick a ball any other way than the ‘right’ way, we call it an ‘error’, and work to correct it. I wonder why players these days are less inventive……?

To create, it seems that we also need an opportunity. We need to be able to do new things, try new ways, discover, experiment and make mistakes. We need to explore the possibilities and decide which ones we’ll keep and which one’s didn’t work too well for us. Many people have barriers that stop them from taking the opportunities to create. Their lack of confidence, or lack of courage, stop them from taking risks and making mistakes. Often, it seems, the culture and environment that they are in has a profound effect on their ability to dive in, experiment and give it a go.

As a sport psychologist, I find it interesting to look at the basic ingredients for creativity. When I summarise the basic points, I can see some familiar components:

  • We need a challenge that stretches us.
  • We need that challenge to be intrinsically interesting to us; one that we’re genuinely curious about.
  • We need to have the confidence (and lack of concern for failure) to dive in, immerse ourselves in the task and give it a go.

Sounds like child’s play to me!

Those three components are also key ingredients for ‘flow states’, ‘the Zone’ and peak performances. That presents us with a phenomenal opportunity as coaches. That means that when we create the conditions for creativity, we also create the conditions where we allow players to play (I mean play, not just participate or compete. I mean spontaneous play, like we see in young children) and the conditions required for peak performance. That’s a great triple whammy! Imagine the kind of player that you could develop in an environment that fostered creativity, peak performance and play. They might have flair.

If you liked this article, check out the Webinars.