A repost to the drills killing creativity argument

This week I am featuring a guest blogger in the shape of the genuinely awesome Bob Wood. Bob is a physical development specialist who can be found ranting about the world of sport and in particular how people move on his website http://www.physical-solutions.co.uk. I would highly recommend this super sarcastic and hilarious poke at the sports shoe world

I worked with Bob several years ago to development a series of movement games to help young golfers develop the physical capabilities to be able to play the game at the highest level. He has a sharp mind, a cutting wit and a genuine passion for what he does and i think this comes through in this repost he wrote in reply to my recent article on 'Why coaches like drills and why they are killing creativity'.

I really enjoyed this article and wanted to share it with you all. Bob comes at the discussion from a different perspective and I think it adds some interesting balance to the discussion.

I will let you read and then throw up some thoughts about this at the bottom

A word of advice if you ever meet him or work with him...

Never play him at Table Tennis!

Enjoy the post


Stuart Armstrong’s excellent blog article “why coaches like drills and how they are killing creativity” can be found here. It is bang on the money. A message that needs to be heard, and you could opt to read it before this. My favourite line is:

“Imagine a world where trying new things was applauded rather then met by side of the mouth whispers by arm folded tracksuits on the sideline.” I’ve seen a lot of that.

Now I know Stuart and he sees the bigger picture, but he likes poking people with thinking sticks, which is a good thing. In this blog he is playing advocate for “Creativity”. It’s like an episode of courtroom drama Suits and Stuart has slicked back his hair, pulled on something sharp, and is taking on the giant corporate coaching mantra of “repeatable predictable automaticity”, or in short the drill. So it’s quite a brave move and rattled my cage enough to write this repost.

In the blog, Prof Kaufman describes these incidents of creativity as being “original, meaningful and surprising”. He’s giving the loose and unpredictable nature of creativity some structure. He describes the creative incident as going beyond the standard repertoire and transcending expertise. And the very appearance of the creative incident is a surprise “not only to oneself but to everyone”. A surprise! It’s not often you hear the profs talk about those… they generally don’t like or take to surprises… it’s not what we pay them for. The problem is that you do get a lot of surprises in sport. Thankfully. I tend to ask my students to steer clear of too much logic and cold reasoning when it comes to thinking about sport. In fact I encourage them to apply and accept some “messy thinking”. That way they might find some sense.

So in the lawsuit we have “freewheeling creativity” on one side, and “predictable automaticity” on the other. Could be a sticky and long case. I thinks it’s best we settle out of court. Here’s why...

Let’s present some messy thinking arguments. Here’s one you will all be familiar with. It’s anecdotal. Anyone who knows me knows that I rate myself as a table tennis player. Anyone who’s played me may find otherwise. Anyway down the village club during the knock up I often find myself attempting and sometimes achieving creative incidents. I have a good knock up mentality… I just loosen my goose and let it happen. Wild slamming looping forehands off the wrong stance whilst pinned up against the wall are pulled off. I honestly don’t know how I do it (which is a good title for a sports psychology book). It is certainly a surprise to me and by the swear words a surprise to my opponents. And then the dreaded phrase is uttered; “are you ready?”. The match proper commences and I play in earnest… far too earnestly to allow the goose out. Safe backhands, chop returns, keep it in play, trust what I know works and what I feel I am reliably capable of. If its enough I may scrape a win, but infrequently. The messy thinking phrase here is “reliably capable off”. What I am capable of is knock up magnificence, but it is shackled by my current level and perception of competitive competence. Messy.

Lets try a contribution from an expert in the field of creativity… Michael Jordan. He was outstanding and undeniably creative in his approach to his sport and the basket. I remember a press interview during his peak when a reporter asked a simple question… “how come you are so much better than the other guys”. Jordan took quite a long moment and gave an equally simple answer… “its because I do the basics better than anyone else”. I don’t know whether he came up with it, but I’ve heard it used an awful lot since. It’s a different kind of a surprise when a mercurial creativity merchant such as Jordan credits his mastery of the basics as his cornerstone. Messy.

We could look at a move. Let’s take the Cruyff Turn. Surely one of the most recognisable creative incidents within sporting history… an I was there moment of genius. I found it described in the book “Sports Around the World: History, Culture and Practice”:

“He pioneered a move which has been dubbed the Cruyff Turn in which he looked as if he was moving to pass the ball but instead dragged the ball behind his planted foot leaving the defender off balance.” Perfect, I can see it, and anything pioneering must be scoring very high on the creativity scale. But then there’s the next sentence: “This move is commonly taught to young soccer players around the world”. That’s gone and messed me up. The most famous incident of football creativity has become a drill. So is the creative incident only creative once, and then it becomes common practice via deliberate technical practice… reduced to a drill skill?

I’m getting proper messy now. Is the creativity expressed as an incident or is it really an attitude. Is the creativity a skill itself, or the willingness to attempt to use that skill. Are there actually any new skills, or are there new ways to use established ones. The latter would really mess the court case up.

Stuart’s blog lists some of his own favourite sportin