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Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Creativity!

When children are still quite young and starting to learn the names of colours it would be wrong to not to teach the right name for the right colour.

When children know several colours and their names it is good to revisit these to check recognition and memory as well as to introduce the challenge of learning new colours and names. 

Yet this simple learning process opens up so many new possibilities - what if you gave a wrong, yet familiar name, to a known colour?


So, if you hold up a yellow toy car and say, ‘blue car’, there are several response possibilities:

1. The child says ‘blue car’

2. The child says ‘yellow car’

3. The child says ‘red car’

4. The child says ‘ yellow brick’

 So what might be going on?

1. ‘Blue car’ - In the early stages, before the learning becomes robust the child may change their knowledge base in response to the renewed verbal cue – they are associating what they understand with what they are experiencing and can be swayed or corrected more easily.  As a coach we’d best make sure of our facts at this stage!

2. ‘Yellow car’ – The chid is able to challenge the call based on their own now more robust recognition and memory powers – often this is related to repeated experience – so, if we want to make strong memory in this way, as coaches we’d best be highly consistent in our approach!

3. ‘Red car’ – the child knows this is a car and also knows this is a yellow car.  However, their mind is now willing to experiment, they are starting to take risks, they want to know how you will respond when they say it’s ‘red’!  Do they have the freedom to play around with the cue you are giving them?  Your response as a coach in this situation may decide how they develop their independence of thought and action in the future.

4. ‘Yellow brick’ – the child knows this is a car and also knows this is a yellow car.  They know that they are all cars.  They know that you prompt them to identify the different coloured cars.  When they say it’s a ‘yellow brick’ they have taken a leap of faith – they have taken control of the central item – the car – and turned it in to something else – a brick – keeping the yellow colour allows them to let you know that they have done this.  Young children have immensely creative minds that are great at posing questions and exploring possibilities.  It’s how we respond that may influence the way they feel about being creative.  Was it fun?  Was it internally motivated?  Should I do more of this?!

Sometimes as a parent, teacher or coach we simply want them to learn what we want to teach; follow the processes we want to teach them; come up with the solutions that we are looking for which will allow us to assess them against some oft imposed norm.

So, in order to support this conformity we correct them, we kill their spontaneous creativity!

Test yourself!  As a coach how would you respond to a young child in each scenarios 1 through 4 above?

Why fuel creativity?

As a coach our ability to fuel creativity in our athletes is fundamental to the development of their intrinsic levels of motivation in taking on tasks, their problem-solving capabilities and, ultimately in them being able to fully satisfy their need for self-determination of what success looks like.  By marrying their feelings of competency (that you have taught them) to their sense of belonging (to the environment in which they practice) you have created a springboard to this autonomy.  As the athlete develops, their sense of autonomy is fuelled by the knowledge that they can take their own decisions, choose their own direction, set their own bars, solve their own challenges and grow to become creative, independent athletes (young people).

What about creative coaching?

For fun, let’s turn this around, and look at how the coach might also grow to achieve these levels of autonomy.  Assuming you’re already on a road.  Is it the yellow brick road?

Some coaches know of the yellow paved road to Oz, believing they have already been placed on it and blindly follow their course, without question, never actually knowing which road they are on!  They don't know what colour their car is!

Others have tried and failed to find the glistening path; compelled by the success of others in following a prescribed path to ‘glory’, yet leaving them blinkered to possibilities, often not looking up when a road junction appears right in front of them!  They have been convinced they hold a blue car!

Some have found their own yellow brick road - with its golden attraction and have contented themselves with this prize – simply no need to question any further as they are content with their red car, or is it yellow?!

Yet it is those coaches who have trodden many roads to find the yellow brick road, those who have encountered many of its pitfalls – unexpected junctions, poor signing, disrepair and chasms ending in deadly drops – coaches who ask questions, open questions, who take risks, try new approaches even dare to say the ‘yellow car’ is a ‘yellow brick’ who truly know creativity and how to fuel it!



Nigel has been a coach educator, assessor and mentor for 17 years and performance athletics coach for 25 years in the UK and Singapore. Prior to following his passion, Nigel worked for 25 years in research science and scientific instrument development. As a coach he has been Welsh National Sprints Coach, Head Coach and Performance Manager for Scottish Athletics and Head Coach to the National Sports School in Singapore. He now works as a sports education consultant / National Trainer for a large number of organisations. Nigel’s premise is that the environment we create is one of the most powerful determinants of our coaching ‘success’. A lifelong athlete, in 2015, at the age of 58, he ran the Everest Marathon – the toughest and highest marathon in the world – another steep learning curve! 

You can follow Nigel at @Nigel_BH