There is so much which highlights coaches efforts in trying to teach their players to be creative and it got me thinking…
Can you teach a player or a team to be creative or should you base the team’s training and tactics on the types of player that exist within it already?
Creative players are not easy to come by and when they do arrive on the scene (like Henry Slade or Owen Farrell) much is made of them.
The question I am asking though, focuses more on changing and develoing the player into a creative force.
Can you change Manu Tuilagi into a player who can see spaces on the periphery, then executing skills that put the players outside him away?
Should we even be asking this question? He's got his strengths and maybe that's enough.
Tuilagi creates space in his own (effective) way by using his power and explosiveness and that shouldn’t be underestimated. The number of defenders drawn to him when he has the ball means there is space elsewhere.
Helping all players to develop their skills which in turn gives them more time on the ball, is key. Too many times I see players more than happy to stick with what they are good at and not looking to aquire other skills which they can evolve their game with. This is especially true in junior rugby where you have the 'big kid' who thinks running over, through and round players will continue for life......
When players have the foundations in place they can then look at the decision making process which leads to the choices between kicking, passing, carrying or running.
Decision-making is the crux of creativity.
Henry Slade is one of the brightest creative talents in British rugby. Image Source: exeterexpressandecho.co.uk
Coaches can therefore have a huge effect on the ability of a team to play a brand of rugby that people want to see but they have to have the knowledge of how to develop individual skills first.
Decision-making doesn’t come from listening to anyone; it’s not as simple as that.
Making good decisions comes from having learnt from similar situations during training and games and through experience and developing skills to enable players to cope with those situations.
Experience can be manufactured in training within all sorts of drills and game scenarios and it's possible to assess the creative ability of a player by reflecting on the decisions they have made in specific scenarios.
Coaches can shape the way players look at the game.
Do they see it as a direct physical battle, which means they run for the nearest pound of flesh or do they try to move the muscular figure opposite into a position that makes it hard for him to have an influence?
This is largely dependent on how the coaches played the game.
For me this is why we see more sides in the northern hemisphere trying to play expansively now; they have younger coaches with a desire to play in this way rather than the pragmatic and let’s be honest, occasionally mind numbingly boring style of rugby, adopted by some of the coaches of the past.
It’s more technical than simply shouting ‘get your head up’ or ‘just play what’s in front of you,’ which I was given as words of wisdom from some coaches in fairly weighty positions - I’m not telling you which ones though before you ask!
Creativity is nurtured over time and grown and it then seems to improve at an ever-increasing rate.
Encouraging players to make decisions that mean they won’t die with the ball is harder to do than say, but it’s the only way to help players uncover their potential.
You can’t teach creativity but it is certainly something that can be developed and nurtured with time and the correct mindset.
You don’t have to look far to see top coaches trying this, the question is what are we doing at a grassroots level to try and help the cause?