Apr 27

The ‘Art’ of Teaching and Coaching – Part 2

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Developing Creativity in Your Athletes


In April ‘Tips of the Week’, I ask whether or not you ever wondered about the apparent lack of creativity among younger and older athletes  (unless in those sports depending on this aspect)? According to German 17th century literature (and there are volumes on the subject of creativity and play), childhood ‘play’ is important to foster creativity, initiative, self-satisfaction, self-determination, validation (self-confirmation), and risk taking. Albeit, the ‘Glimmer Box’ (my German sarcasm for TV), texting gadgets, and video games have become modern ‘play substitutes.’ Think about it! Even some two-year olds are now given ‘tablets’ by parents to keep them occupied! So, it is not surprising that younger athletes nowadays and some of the elite lack a certain amount of initiative and creative problem solving ability.


During my childhood in Germany, eight to ten neighborhood kids would meet daily during the summer morning to gather at the communal sandbox at the swim park where we collectively created a number of projects, from sand castles to zoos (including tiny toy animals), to knighthood and battles in the castles (with armor created by my older brother). We also shared and discussed different ideas, agreed and disagreed, and decided which ones to use to build on. Sometimes, we worked silently. Other times, the process was very dynamic, and sometimes it was competitive as we voted for the best solutions. One of our favorite games was ‘add on’ whereby one idea was expanded as everyone tried passionately to see what was going to be the final outcome. This process encouraged creative and innovative thinking as well as critical analysis, all of which we called ‘play.’ The most valuable aspects besides teamwork were accepting others’ ideas, and risk taking to lay out one’s own idea, having it accepted or rejected, and maybe being laughed at! ‘Himmel, Himmel’ (heavens!), come on Moni, (short for Monika), where in the world did you get this brainy idea! UHHH! Nowadays, that would be considered as a horrible and embarrassing experience…and self-esteem would be seen as damaged! Help! Well, I was always ‘off the wall’, being an Aquarius after all! Check it out as US presidents, writers, singers, artists are of this sign! Once, someone said to me: they are ‘free spirits’ these Aquarians but also one of the higher numbers in the nuthouse! There you have it!


It is not surprising then, that I consider education and coaching to be a cooperative art in a setting where teachers/coaches and athletes develop a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship based on mutual respect and trust. The question is how do we achieve such a learning/coaching environment today? How can we ensure that all young athletes are given an opportunity to express and expand their thoughts in a critical and logical manner without fear, and express their ability to seek creative solutions?  I have used several techniques. I design a drill, we try it and then through ‘playfully drawing of numbers’ with the team one athlete gets to build or expand upon the same drill; OR one athlete gets to create the drill for a specific skill or theme of the day. It takes on the name of the creator, just like it is done in gymnastics or figure skating. So, lets do the SAM or JANE today! Children really do feel important when praised by their coach and accepted openly by their peers (since the team now has to perform the drill)! We have a ‘playbook’ full of such creative drills! I really find the ‘Sandbox’ approach to be an excellent teaching and management tool, and one that you should try! Remember we should learn and have FUN!

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