How Sports Teach Creativity


In the eyes of most, my title is Coach Wooden, but from my earliest years I have viewed my primary job as educating others. –John Wooden

I always enjoy reading things about the education system, because I believe that sports participation is a part of (and not an addition to) the educational experience of student-athletes.  In a great TEDtalk about the global educational system called, Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity, he talks about how we “educate” novel and innovative ideas right out of the children.  Very interesting.

I’m not what you would call a creative person.  I can’t draw.  I sing, but not well.  I like to shake my booty, but I wouldn’t call myself a dancer.  In coaching though, I’ve found that creativity is a must.  If a coach isn’t creative, how on Earth will they create a team out of a group of diverse individuals?  If a coach isn’t creative, how are they able to make in-game adjustments to defeat an opponent?  If a coach isn’t creative, how are we able to keep team after team motivated and excited about our sport?

So let’s talk about creativity and how we can give our athletes a different definition of creativity than they’re used to.

What is creativity?  Robinson calls it “the process of having original ideas that have value.”  For a player to step out and try something very new and very different will require them to use their creativity.  While the idea may be old to the coach who’s teaching it, it’s brand new to the athlete and they’ve got to step out and believe in something their brain doesn’t necessarily understand…that’s creativity!  The willingness to try new things, without self-conscious worry of the outcome, is a great gift we coaches can give to our athletes.

How can we encourage creativity?  In his TEDtalk, he says that we stigmatize mistakes in our educational system so much so that we end up teaching our students that mistakes are bad rather than a stepping stone to an amazing breakthrough.  And we wonder why we have such a hard time getting our teams to understand that making a mistake isn’t the worst thing in the world!  If we read business magazines and blogs, we’ll see that most successful folks in business have had epic failures in their past…and learned from them.

Why creativity?  Great quote from the video: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”  I encourage bravery and risk-taking in my gym…how else will they test their limits?  Sure, sometimes they’ll screw up, but if we’ve taught our athletes that mistakes are okay, then they won’t be afraid to make them.  I’ve coached the player who won’t go outside of their comfort zone and it’s sad.  They’re pretty good, but they’re so afraid of messing up and looking silly that they won’t push their outer limits.  Those players are always pretty good…but they’ll never know how good they could have been.

Let’s agree to encourage creativity rather than kill it.  Our athletes will be better off for it.