Allowing Space

Create and support regular opportunities for athletes to engage in exploration, display creativity and practice problem solving

WHY: Athletic performance necessitates self-awareness and problem solving. Planning practices to incorporate an athlete-centered approach to learning promotes development of the independent thinking and resourcefulness required in competitive situations. A good balance between prescriptive coaching and opportunities for modified play and exploration  is necessary for athletes’ motivation, enjoyment of the sport, and self-efficacy.

HOW: While much of coaching is about creating structures for learning, sometimes the coach needs to either remove constraints or facilitate “guided discovery” to allow for athletes’ exploration, problem-solving, and creativity. The specifics for this exploration must be safe, sport-specific, age appropriate and allow for transfer of knowledge. The coach might identify moments during training when athletes can enjoy pick-up style play, design their own training sessions, participate in modified play, or simply train without external feedback. The coach facilitates learning by shaping the games, identifying “teachable moments,” promoting athlete cooperation, asking questions that help athletes explore solutions and become more self-aware, and allowing time for reflection.

Video Examples 

In this video, a soccer coach allows players to reflect on tactics and problem-solving after playing a small-sided/modified game. Guided discovery is facilitated through the use of questions. Watch below: 


Perspectives On Athlete-Centered Coaching (edited by Shane Pill, 2017) shares insights from the “Game Sense” coaching approach as a way of developing thinking players and reflections on implementation of this approach into practice.

This book is a great resource for coaches, educators, students and parents, as it gathers theoretical and practical insights from the leading experts in the field of athlete-centered coaching, thus dissecting the essence of the core practice at hand. For example, one of the articles in the book provides theoretical framework on why and how coaches can use games/play activities to promote fun and problem-solving among athletes: (Griffin, L., Butler, J., & Sheppard, J. (2017.) Extending the possibilities of a holistic and process-oriented model to athlete development). While another article focuses on the “Game Sense” coaching approach as a way of developing thinking players and shares reflections on implementation of this approach into practice (Pill, S. (2017). A coach’s experience with Game Sense coaching.)

Player Development Project is a collection of resources for self-directed and on-demand learning for coaches. On the site, "Creativity: Playground to Premier League" explores the origins of creativity and ways contemporary coaches can incorporate creativity development into coaching.

"When will Youth Sports Actually Serve the Needs of Youth?" - via the Player Development Project