• Coach Skeff

Why do we kill creativity?

I wasback in England pursuing another level of the coaching education with the FA. This experience has been wonderful, giving to me not only more cultural exposure, but also, great people I have network with and more aware of what the federation can do to support their players and coaches comparing to other countries I have coached or played.

However, I would like to give a snapshot of what I came across during one of the sessions of my course. One of my classmates ran a session focused on "playing out of the back"building to "possession." He used a small side field with small goals in a 6v6 game. The flow of the session was well structured and the coaching points were very well done. I decided to observe this session from the back of the goal, perhaps I could hear his coaching points closer considering his main focus was playing out of the back. Everything was flowing great, the team he was coaching achieved success about his main coaching point and the session was almost over when, in the attacking half near the goal, one of the players decided to pass the ball using some sort of pull cruyff move while had his back to the goal and another player was running behind him. He missed the pass for a little bit, it was almost perfect and absolutely unexpected. If he completed the pass, his teammate would be face-face with the keeper. In my opinion, that was a FANTASTIC idea and I finally got excited about something I was watching.

To my surprise, the coach decided to STOP* the play and criticize the player, telling him he should just keep it simple and play the easy pass in front of him and keep possession. Like any other coaching course, after his session all the coaches and tutors (instructors of the course) got together and gave him feedback. The coach ran a great session and he received mainly compliments. However, I mentioned that, although I keep hearing coaches in England saying that they wish and want more creative players (enough that the new "England DNA" focus on player-centered practices to allow players to be more creative), when finally I saw one player trying to be creative he then got punished and criticized for it. To be more specific, I asked the coach again what was the focus of his session and he repeated, "playing out of the back," and I asked, "why do you feel the need to STOP* your session and criticize the player, when he was not even 'failing at your main focus?'"

My reaction created some "spicy" discussion between both instructors, the coach and myself.

I know exactly why I would advocate for allowing players to be more creative, but I decided to understand why there is this fear, almost an anger, from some coaches when players are creative, and obviously like anything else in life, they fail at it.

Creativity is REBELLION

Football, like any other human interaction, is made from a superior figure who is bossing/guiding other people. It is the same scenario in business, parental relationships, classroom, and in the military world. It is a person above us telling us what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. If we don't do what was stipulated, that attitude simply seems like rebellion and rebellion is somehow bad and offensive.

Living in a world that is absolutely unprepared to deal with confrontations and also lacks emotional intelligence, it is not surprising we don't appreciate actions of rebellion. It is a threat to the power and knowledge of the superior figure, consequently, that creates fear and anger.

I don't think I have to talk about how in business this attitude is already strongly criticized. People are more aware of the existence of different personalities (Task vs. Leader; Followers vs. Creative; Starters vs. Finishers; By the book vs. Critical thinkers), the power and importance of failure, and the common desire to have creative people.

If you can picture the most amazing player you have ever watched or the most beautiful play you have ever seen, I believe this memory consists of a magical player or unpredictable play, and that goes beyond what we can coach.

Creativity is UNEXPECTED

We coaches (and leaders) have this need to know everything and we are afraid to be wrong. Being wrong or assuming that we might not know everything is vulnerable and vulnerability is perceived as weakness. Consequently, coaches do not easily approve or EXPECT a player to be creative or doing beyond what was previously asked. The mistakes are easier to swallow when it is EXPECTED and PREDICTABLE: coaches seem to be more okay with players missing a 10 meters pass during possession or a shot out of target than if a player missing a pass doing the unexpected. I don't know how many times I heard the nonsenseexpression "unlucky" when someone fail to give an expected/simple pass or miss the target, but when a player try to change things up a little or perform the task in a different way, that attitude somehow is offensive, unnecessary and abusive.

Why not just see the creativity part of the game like everything else? Why not EXPECT the unexpectable? Not only allow your players to be creative but demand that in your practice. While watching the Men's World Cup in 2018, it was clear for me that all top nations are now mastering defending patterns and mastering attacking patterns. It is all so strong, systemic, disciplined... and the only thing that can break this is the unexpected, the unpredictable. It is the creative player who sees more and sees before (John Maxwell big quote). It was the player who instead of crossing he decided to shoot, or the player that instead of passing he decided to dribble or to shoot, or the player instead of shooting he decided to let the ball goes between his leg, and the player that instead of shooting the free-kick over the wall he decided to shoot the ball underneath it.

All of those players failed many times trying to do the unexpected until the unexpected became normal and achievable to them.

Don't forget that 15-20 years ago, goalkeepers were not expected to use their feet or being part of the possession in the game. The keepers who are skilled with their foot were perceived to be the creative keepers. Look where we are now.

Command and Control vs. Influence

I want rebellions! I want players who perform what I want in a different way that I asked. Let’s all be honest, players still make mistakes trying to do the most simple task, so why not expect players to also make mistakes trying to be creative?! The mistake during creativity is part of the process like any other technique in football. What type of coach are you going to be? The one who discriminate creativity out of fear and stubbornness, or the one that allows that to happen and motivate the players to keep doing it, but allow them to learn the right time to do it?


Here some advice:

  1. We can still pass along our word without critiquing the creativity per se.

  2. Coaches should not be offended when players try to be creative, EVEN WHEN THEY MAKE MISTAKES! Coaches should celebrate courage and sassiness.

  3. We just need to find the balance of how often the mistake happens and the right time and place to do it.

Note: here is an article about Ronaldinho. My favorite player of all time. The creative, the magician, the unexpected... The one who got all of us out of our chairs to cheer. The major rebellion: Noughty Boys: Ronaldinho was a magician, we just stood there gawping.

If you are into podcast, here is one of the podcast I was listening to when I decided to write this article: Qualities you need to Lead, with Kat Cole- EntreLeardership Podcast

*STOP= there are different ways to approach players and give them feedback. When you stop a session, you usually want to talk about something that is useful for everyone in the practice. That can be a currently mistake (or success) that you would like emphasize and avoid (or keep doing it), or if the mistake is related to the focus of your session and how, as a team, they could find solutions for the issue. If it is an isolated mistake from one player (like narrated in this article), the most appropriate approach is talking to the player individually in the flow or after after practice. Stoping the session in this situations perhaps can be perceived as: to all, do not try to be creative right now.

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