Coaching the Creativity Out of Athletes

At a recent session with one of our groups of young ladies I experienced a rather jarring moment.

We were working on separating upper and lower body movements.     As anyone who has ever tried to teach this can attest, it’s a hard concept at best and for some players it’s paramount to asking them to push a boulder up a hill with their nose.

This group however, was absolutely nailing it.   They were flying through the challenges so fast that I had to improvise and add more difficult aspects on the fly.    While I was making them better players they were making me a better coach.    It was glorious.     Smiles everywhere.   Fist pumps and celebrations as they powered through every obstacle that I put in front of them.


I asked them to show me their best, craziest, most outrageous move and the entire session came to a jarring, grinding halt as if I had just drained all the oil out of the engine.

“Can you show us one?”  they asked.

Boggled, I asked them again, just show me something crazy.  Try anything.  Don’t worry about if it works or not.  Have fun with it.

“But, but… we have no idea what to do.”

Reluctantly they gave it an attempt, but of the 15 ladies in the group, 12 did exactly what we had just been working on, like robots.    They learned quickly, and could replicate what I was showing them.   They could even recite when and why they would use the skills, but they couldn’t skate down the ice and come up with an outrageous move on their own.

So, where did the creativity go?

As I asked more probing questions it became clear that the creativity that should been something to embrace had been “taught” out of them.

“My coach says to always do it this way.”

Good intentions gone wrong.  There is no single way that anything in hockey should be done.  There are simply too many situations to box up skills that way. Teach habits, not structure.    Teach creativity, not systems.    Let the player mix their skill-set and their habits in a way that makes sense to them.   Every hockey journey is unique.    Teaching hockey as if it was a manufacturing line in the industrial revolution is a recipe for disaster.  Habits transfer to higher levels of hockey.  The same can’t be said of systems.

A player with great habits and creativity can fit into any system.     Let them run.  Let them experiment.  Let them make mistakes, the more the better.

They will amaze you.

This Ted Talk sums it up better than I ever could.

Thanks ladies for making me a better coach.

Stay positive!

See you at the rink,



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