To a Coach with a Hammer, Every Athlete is a Nail: Creativity in Sports Coaching.

To a Coach with a Hammer, Every Athlete is a Nail: Creativity in Sports Coaching.

Coaching is creativity.

To the successful coaches of the future, creativity will be a core coaching skill: right up there with communication, passion, empathy, commitment, the ability to engage athletes and sports specific technical skill.

But what does it mean to be creative and to coach creatively. And to coaches who are not naturally creative, can they learn to be?

Or to the coach with a hammer, is every athlete a nail?

Outside the box? I don’t think so.

I am often asked to provide “outside the box” thinking to coaches, athletes, Clubs and sports who claim to be looking for real innovation, genuine creativity and some new ideas to give them a performance advantage over their competition.

However, most are not really looking for something “outside the box”. They really want something that just makes their current “box” a little bigger to hold more of the same stuff in it or they want short term, quick fix solutions – using the “box” analogy – they want some nice wrapping paper and a pretty ribbon to make the old “box” look new.

It is rare to find anyone in sport who embraces a genuinely creative, innovative, “outside the box” approach to building a sustainably competitive high performance program: those who do are the real greats of high performance sport – the best of the best.

Sport is inherently conservative.

Sport is inherently conservative and therefore it does not progress as fast as it could and the real breakthroughs in performance that are possible take far longer to evolve than they need to.

Many times, in spite of the best solution often being obvious and readily available, we do not take it, preferring instead to adopt the solution which is the most politically saleable or the solution which will cause the least possible “stakeholder” objections: we compromise creativity in the interest of political cohesion, co-operation and consensus.

This may be OK for Administrators. It might be fine for Management. It could even be acceptable for Boards and Executive leaders.

But for coaches and athletes, compromising creativity kills.

Compromising Creativity Kills Coaching.

In high performance sport, where winning is about daring to be different, to take intelligent risks and to take the lead in introducing real breakthroughs by being unique, more innovative and more creative than your competitors, compromising what’s possible in the interest of what’s politically tolerable is a recipe for disaster.


So how can you be more creative in your coaching?

  1. You have to look outside your sport. It is safe to say that thanks to the Internet, anyone can find out anything, anytime, anywhere and for free. So the chance of you finding a winning edge or performance breakthrough by looking within your own sport is very very low. Look at how other sports, other coaches and other athletes – outside your sport – solve performance problems and achieve peak performance breakthroughs;
  2. You have to look outside sport. Sport is one very small part of society. There are medical professionals working as multi-disciplinary problem solving teams in hospitals all over the world and saving lives under the pressures of time and limited resources… you think they could help you improve your own sports science / sports medicine program? There are some outstanding educators around the world who have mastered scenario based learning, problem solving based learning and creative, tailored learning solutions to optimise the learning potential of individuals…….do you think they might be able to enhance your communication skills and the learning environment you have created for your athletes? There are some amazing things happening around the world in other fields of endeavour which have the potential to revolutionise your coaching program…all you have to do is look;
  3. You have to look inside yourself. Inside everyone is thepotential to be creative. We all dream. We all have imaginations. Creativity is taking your imagination and your dreams of what’s possible and turning them into actions and coaching behaviours. Everyone has the potential to coach creatively but it means looking inside and listening to the “little voice” – you know the one – the “little voice” that had lots of new ideas and crazy thoughts when you first started coaching – the same “little voice” you have stopped listening to now you are an older, more experienced coach and as a consequence started coaching like everyone else. Coaching creatively starts with looking inside and listening to the “little voice” once again: imagination leads to creativity and coaching is creativity.

Coaching is creativity.

Experience is often the process of learning to take fewer risks, to try fewer new ideas and to keep doing what you have done in the past: to play it safe.

High performance sport is not the place to be conservative. It is the place where the best ideas win and the best ideas come from the people who dare to be different, who dare to dream and who dare to think things and do things that no one else dreamed possible.

Dream big. Imagine what’s possible. Coach with Creativity. There are no limits.

Thanks to good friend and colleague Bill Sweetenham for his inspiration for this post. Bill is someone who inspires creativity in thousands of coaches all over the world and I would like to publicly thank him for his continuing inspiration in my life.

Wayne Goldsmith


  • Coach Dawn Posted August 26, 2010 11:48 am

    I totally agree! I’ve gotten hooked on business blogs, because as a coach, I identify with a lot of the management techniques that business leaders must employ.

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted August 26, 2010 3:24 pm

      Thanks Coach Dawn.

      I believe that now, more than ever, smart coaches will be looking at ALL sources of coaching knowledge and not just those immediately and obviously relevant to their own coaching niche.
      The secret to success in business coaching might lay in football coaching. The key to winning in baseball coaching might be in life coaching….who knows?
      But I hope all coaches are broadening their learning base and becoming much better coaches as a result.

      Thanks again,


  • james marshall Posted August 26, 2010 5:24 pm

    Hi Wayne,
    The problem is that sometimes creativity is stifled through the endless pursuit of drills or shortcuts.

    I have yet to see creativity mentioned on any coaching course (including ones that I deliver!!).

    More here:

    • Wayne Goldsmith Posted September 6, 2010 8:22 am


      Thanks for the comment and the link. A great one! Well done.

      As you know this is a theme I push over and over and over.

      Creativity is THE key coaching skill for success in my opinion. With the internet providing the chance for every coach in your sport to know what you know and anyone with the capacity to access anything, anytime, anywhere and for free, your biggest advantage is your ability to think smarter, faster, more creatively and more innovatively than your opposition – the best ideas win!



Add your comment or reply. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: All Content on this site is Copyright Wayne Goldsmith.