Creative Coaching

Posted on Oct 30 2020

As coaches, we preach the importance of creativity in our players and encourage them to try new things and bring their personality to the game. But are we practicing what we preach and bringing a level of creativity to our coaching?

Whether it be at the youth level or in the professional setting, the modern coach needs to be creative both off and on the floor to create a “point of difference” for their athletes and teams.

What is creative coaching? In a recent Zoom conversation with the Basketball Australia Emerging Coaches Initiative cohort, the coaches spoke about what it means to be a “creative coach”. Some elements of the conversation included –

  • Innovation
  • Practice organisation
  • Language
  • Game planning
  • In-game coaching
  • Courageous decision making

Innovation –

“When is the last time, you did something for the first time,” Melbourne Football Club CEO Gary Pert defining innovation.

The leading coaches globally are innovators. In recent years, the NBA has been one of the most innovative coaching environments in world sport, from Mike D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” and “micro-ball”, to Nick Nurse using “box and one” and “triangle and two” to Erik Spoelstra’s “forwards out” zone in the 2020 championship series.

While some may see this sort of innovation as a gimmick or trend, it demonstrates the ability and willingness of these coaches to be innovative and to try different things in the most pressure environments.

Gary Pert’s definition of innovation via question is a great “self-assessment” tool for coaches on how creative they are being in their approach.

Practice Organisation –

Planning and detailed organisation is crucial to efficient and worthwhile practices. Most coaches have a template or structure as to how they plan and document practice.

These sort of templates and structures are important; but can also lead to “template-thinking”. Template-thinking can bring a “sameness” to practice and may lead to lack of creativity or innovation.

Spend some time in thought about how you can bring a level of creativity to practice, how you can guide the learning through more exploration. Add elements to current drills to provide change and think about what constraints can be implemented to help athletes discover solutions.

Build in some random change to your practice planning. Do you always scrimmage at the end of practice? Why? Talk to your assistant coaches about their thoughts of how to be creative in the planning, without losing function or efficiency.

Language –

What is your coaching language? Do your players and staff know and understand your language?

Your coaching language should be creative and descriptive. Use terms, phrases or coaching cues to paint a picture and describe the action and outcomes you are looking at.

Don’t be afraid to incorporate new terminology or language if you believe it will add value to how the players learn and react. Often, we worry about young athletes being confused by different terms; young people have a more heightened ability to adapt to different settings and communication than we as coaches give them credit for.

Game Planning –

Game planning is more than scouting. The scout is primarily about the opponent, the game plan is your approach and strategies for an individual opponent.

Being creative in the game planning requires some bravery. Sometimes a creative game plan requires the coach and players to leave their collective comfort zone and comes with an element of risk.

Creative game planning isn’t always about a box and one or a new ATO or set play. It can be linked to rotations, line-ups or tempo and can be quite nuanced. What is your “Plan B” and do you have an ace up the sleeve as part your game planning.

In-game adjustments –

Consider your “policies” around in game coaching –

  • Two for one opportunities
  • Fouling 3 points up on last possession
  • Foul situation substitution
  • Substitutions
  • Use of time-outs
  • Changing defences
  • ATO’s

How flexible are with you the above aspects?  Are you creative in your approach or do have strict philosophies around them?

Courageous Decision Making –

The creative coach is brave in their decision making. There can be no significant reward without an element of risk and some areas that will require coaching courage are –

  • At the selection table
  • Recruitment
  • Scheduling
  • Positional/personnel
  • Tactically

Thanks to the coaches from the BA Emerging Coach Initiative for their input into some of the themes and concepts from this article.


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