By Bruce Brownlee
Creativity in play equates to ingenuity and willingness to use variety in problem solving in the match, so as to make play unpredictable and dangerous from the opponent's point of view, and, consequently, entertaining from the spectator's point of view.
Most coaches don't deliberately teach individual creativity. Some of the most successful coaches are smart enough to let it happen when it is spontaneous, but don't know how to sow the seeds or grow it.
To grow creativity, you must teach technical speed, encourage innovative problem solving, provide challenge, and have fun. Love and praise seal the deal.
To teach and grow individual creativity, you must teach good technique and develop technical speed in your players so that they are comfortable on the ball under all conditions of time and space pressure. Unless players are able to look up from the ball under pressure, the only problem solving and creativity they can provide is heads down dribbling to survive. Once players are comfortable and relaxed on the ball, they have time to solve other problems and enjoy doing it.
Innovative Problem Solving
The Fleck's (father and son) gave a nice problem solving training session at the NSCAA convention in Atlanta many years ago, Michelle Akers Stahl and Karl- Heinz Rummenigge being the guests of honor that year. The Fleck's training session was a lot of fun, and focused on small games that involved creative thinking and soccer-related problem solving. The exercises challenged the kids to find new ways to solve problems, and to not be bound by their assumptions about the rules.
I have the notes buried somewhere, but to make up an example: relay race, three players per team. Rules are: first team to get their ball down to a cone 10 yards away and back three times, once with each player, wins. Losers do push-ups (press-ups for our members in the UK). Ready, set, go....
What happens ? It starts out like an ordinary relay race, kids sprinting with the ball, agonizing over not being in first, race ends. Losers hit the dirt.
Coach repeats the exercise, this time emphasizing "the ONLY rule is that the first team to get their ball around the cone three times, once per player, wins." A couple of kids get the hint. Ready, set, go...
By the second runner, team 3 is losing big time. As surprised dribblers for teams 1 and 2 stare in amazement, the nerdy kid who went first for team 3 sprints over and clears team 1's ball into the bushes and steals team 2's ball and runs away with it. Team 3 wins.
Provide Challenge And Have Fun
These are nearly one and the same thing, not separate topics. Kids love challenge in training, and the coach who can set the challenge at just the right level of discomfort will be providing challenge and fun for all. If the challenge is too easy, it is boring, if it is too hard, it is frustrating. When the kids are having a little success but falling down a bit as well, they are having fun and making progress.
The smart coach brings two or three new challenges to every practice, and smiles and laughs with the team as they stumble and succeed. A challenge can be a seemingly impossibly difficult technique or a game that's really hard to win, it does not matter that much.
What matters is that the coach's smile and enjoyment of the challenge sets the tone for the team and encourages risk taking. The kids look to the coach to interpret what's happening, and the smiling coach having fun during a training challenge gets the most success.
Bruce Brownlee coached boys soccer from 1978 to 1988 in Marietta, Georgia. Coached girls teams from 1988 to 2003 for Tophat Soccer Club in Atlanta and AFC Lightning Soccer Club in Fayetteville, Georgia. Served as a staff ODP recruiter and coach in 2002-2003. Returned in 2010-2011 to help coach his granddaughter’s U11 team. Won 4 state cup championships at Tophat. Proud of his four children who played top-level club soccer and amateur and college soccer later. His site Soccer Coaching Notes.com is a terrific resource for club and amateur soccer coaches.