Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What cultivates creativity and imagination?

Sometimes, to help shape our coaching philosophy, we need to access information that has nothing to do with soccer.

I was motivated to finally write about this after tweeting back and forth with @nlevett 

Who has imagination?  Who is creative?  Are you born with it?  Can you learn it? Does it run in your family?  Will Lionel Messi's newborn son be just as good as he is? 

I don't believe everything is "natural" or that you are "born with it".  Many stories you read about the great players have a similar theme ... lots of practice and exposure (formal and informal) in an environment that is crazy about the sport they excel in.  The problem with accepting that much of that may be learned is it puts more onus on coaches and teachers to ensure the environment around children is always positive and nurturing.  For some people, that responsibility is too much.

My opinions about imagination and creativity do not have their roots in soccer, but affect how I think players should be coached.  It's always been topic that has captured my interest.

"...imagination is based on your past experiences and perception of reality..."

We want our players to solve problems in game.  Be imaginative.  But how can they if they've not seen the same situation before, several times?
  1. Problem solving is about imagination.
  2. A positive environment makes you feel better about what you're doing.
  3. A solid fundamental base gives you the freedom to act in given situations.
  4. Playing small-sided-games (4v4, 5v5, etc) exposes you to more situations more often that relate to bigger field game situations.
  5. With solid fundamentals and previous exposure to a certain situation, a player is in a position to be more effective during a similar game situation.
The science and stats of small sided games varies from source to source.  But the long and short of it is: more touches, more situations, more combinations with teammates, more confrontations with opponents, more goals, more learning.

To learn more about why small sided games work, you need to learn more about imagination and creativity as it relates to anything.

I've read several good books and many articles on development and talent that have little to do with soccer.

The Outliers By Malcolm Gladwell  and The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle were my favourites, but constitute only a small amount of what I've read over the years.

I would also refer you to two excellent podcasts on CBC Radio dealing with Imagination.  These are from the radio show "Ideas".   They are about an hour each but well worth the listen.

Imagination Part 1
Imagination Part 2

There is an old saying "Without fundamentals, there can be no creativity". 

Most of the literature I've read discussed development and technical proficiency as a way of freeing the person to be able to express themselves using the techniques learned.  Simply put, if you don't have to worry about whether or not you have the ball under control, you are free to put more thinking into what you want to do with the ball.

The podcasts were a little more cerebral, but said the same thing in a round about way.  They dealt with the theme that imagination was based on your past experiences and perception of reality.

Here is my imagination handbook in 5 points :)
  • Solid fundamentals give you greater confidence and a positive feeling about what you're doing.
  • A positive environment gives you a positive perception about what you're doing.
  • More exposure to what you're doing in a positive environment gives you access to more situations and problems that need to be solved, building on your past experiences.
  • Positive scenarios around failures builds your experiences even more.
  • You can imagine/foresee more options about how to solve a current problem because of your memories on how you resolved similar problems and your confidence in that you have the tools to solve the problem.
The environment and culture is HUGE in my opinion.  There is a reason that not many hockey players come from Mexico or baseball players come from Uganda.  It;s tough for a hockey player in Mexicoto build a love for the game if there is little hockey around him.

Your job as coach is to nurture as many aspects of a player's toolbox as you can and set them up to be in positions of having to solve problems, all in the proper environment.

You don't have to wonder why the player who rarely plays has little idea of what to do and even less confidence in whether or not he/she can do it at all. How can they succeed if they have had little to no exposure to a situation?  Then deal with it under pressure?

I'll leave the deep explanations to the books and podcasts.  I hope you find time to enjoy them

P.S.  The podcasts have a wonderful section on how imagination also shapes or kills hope.  It's really good.