8 tools that can help coaches think outside the box

By Sarah McQuade

Thinking outside the box is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally or from a new perspective.

Thinking outside of the box first requires that a coach recognizes the need to do so. Inevitably, coaches will think outside of the box because they have reached an impasse or have a problem to solve.

As a coach, you likely have had many problems in your coaching career, spanning a variety of topics: issues with the administration, a lack of resources or equipment, traveling or scheduling issues, demanding parents or any number of issues with the athletes on your team.

Thinking outside of the box means approaching problems in new, innovative ways, conceptualizing them differently and understanding your position in relation to any particular situation in a way you’d never thought of before.

It requires novel or creative thinking—but there are strategies you can follow to do it.

Here are 8 ways to strive to think outside the box. The first several may be concepts you’re familiar with; the others might challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone in order to think outside the box:

Talk it through. Chat with somebody. They don’t necessarily need to be football coaches. Share the issue and ask them what they would do in your shoes. You might find that they have faced similar issues and have developed really successful ways of managing those. You might be surprised to discover a link between your problem and their outside experience—a link that perhaps leads to innovative thinking for other football-related problems.

Ask a player for advice. In most cases, the players you work with are children. Children think and speak with an ignorance of convention that can be helpful. Ask a child how they might tackle a problem. Ask them what they would do if they were you. A child’s perspective and advice may not be directly applicable or employable but it will jog your own thinking into a more unconventional path. Inviting a player to help solve a problem can also help deepen the coach-player relationship you share.

View the situation from a different perspective. Step into someone else’s shoes to fully embrace the situation from their vantage point. Take on that individual’s persona, their mannerisms and if it helps, their language and voice. Now consider the problem from their perspective. Understand what it is they want and need. Write this somewhere so that when you step back into your shoes you can be empathetic and have some solutions to hand.

Write a poem. Sure, it sounds silly and foolish, but sometimes getting comfortable with “silly and foolish” can give you the perspective you need. Plus, the science backs it up. While most problem solving leans heavily on the brain’s logical centers, poetry neatly bridges our more rational left-brain thought processes and our more creative right-brain processes. Write a poem about the problem you’re working on. It doesn’t necessarily have to propose a solution – the idea is to shift your thinking away from your brain’s logic centers and into a more creative part of the brain, where you can mull it over in a non-rational way. Remember, nobody ever has to see your poem…

Draw a picture. Drawing a picture is even more right-brained and can help break your logical left-brain’s hold on a problem the same way a poem can. Also, visualizing a problem engages other modes of thinking that we don’t normally use, bringing you different creative insights.

Turn it upside down. Turning something upside-down, whether physically by flipping a piece of paper around or metaphorically by re-imagining it, can help you see patterns that are not obvious. Changing the orientation of things can hide the more obvious patterns and make other patterns emerge. For example, you might ask what a problem would look like if the least important outcome were the most important, and how you’d then try to solve it.

Work backward. Just like turning a thing upside down, working backward breaks the brain’s normal understanding of how things are related. This is the key to reverse chaining. Start by identifying the outcome required and think back through the steps needed to reach it until you get to where you are right now.

Do something completely different. Take your conscious mind away from the problem. Exercise is a great get-away to let your unconscious mind process the problem.


Sarah McQuade is an independent coach education consultant, owner and director of e.t.c coaching consultants and co-director with The Coach Learning Group. To learn more about accessing how-to coach skills workshops click the Coaching Skills button at www.etcoachingconsultants.com.

Read the original story in USA Football