Overcoaching can kill creativity

Posted 2/18/20

One of my oldest friends just sent me a video montage of Ichiro Suzuki, the baseball player. In an 18-year career in America with three different teams, he was a .300 hitter, a Gold Glove outfielder, …

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Overcoaching can kill creativity


One of my oldest friends just sent me a video montage of Ichiro Suzuki, the baseball player. In an 18-year career in America with three different teams, he was a .300 hitter, a Gold Glove outfielder, led the American League in stolen bases, and holds the major league record for hits in a season.

The video my friend sent to me was nothing but highlights of Ichiro hitting balls that were *not* in the strike zone for base hits. Some of them were not *close* to the strike zone, and some of those, he hit out of the park for home runs. It is a wildly entertaining video, as some of the hits don’t look like baseball as much as they do a tennis player playing “volley” to warm up before a match.

And, weirdly, one of the first things that jumped into my head was “this guy clearly never went to the University of Whatever” summer hitting camp. The swing is so unorthodox, the approach to hitting so unusual, and the results… well, the results speak for themselves.

That dovetails nicely with an interview I heard on the radio last week. One of the sports stations was interviewing Dan Orlovsky, who is an analyst for ESPN who specializes in quarterback play. And, as they were talking about the Kansas City Chief’s remarkable young quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, Orlovsky said “He plays like he’s having fun. Like he’s never had the creativity coached out of him.”

Had the creativity coached out of him. Interesting thought, dontcha think?

Some of the greatest players to play any professional sport do it with a flair and a spontaneity that defy explanation. Nothing about their approach looks like the cookie-cutter approach everybody else seems to take. And, certainly, sometimes it doesn’t work out very well. But, then again, Patrick Mahomes just won a Super Bowl, and Ichiro had a 28-year professional career, so sometimes, it does. It really does.

As a teacher, I understand the reliance on proven techniques, and the need to drill fundamentals into young students. Without a foundation, there is no achievement. But I think sometimes, as a society, we get caught up in trying to “overcoach” our kids. I’m guilty of it, too. My son loves to go out in the driveway and kick the soccer ball around. For a time, I started trying to get him to “work on things,” and, weirdly, he stopped wanting to go out and kick the ball around so much. My bad.

Those 8, 10, 12-year old kids should be going out in the yard, playing around with their buddies, trying to imitate their favorite players, no matter how strange it might look.

That is where creativity is developed, that is where talent starts to take hold, and—wait for it—that is where the joy of the game is learned.

A 10-year old quarterback should not be out in their back yard practicing a precision 5-step drop with a crisp pivot and core thrust towards a target…without throwing the ball. That’s fine for a varsity high school player trying to hone their technique; it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a kid who still hasn’t hit their growth spurt. And, to be fair, I would say the same thing about a young musician: I would never advocate for a 10-year old musician to spend hours a day on scales and arpeggios, never to actually play music. Let them discover the joy of music first, then work towards the minutiae that takes them where they want to go.

Our kids are not in a good place right now, as a society. And I am quite certain that part of it is there’s no joy in anything. As Orlovsky further said, “the so-called ‘adults’ need to put their minds towards building the best 22-year olds, and stop worrying so much about the bragging rights of having the best 12-year old at the P.T.A. meeting.”

Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.


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