I have quit jobs, moved countries and become – to use my friend’s words – an ‘intellectual hobo’ in search of these seven words. Those seven words have consumed my life for 18 months. They are seven words that I believe hold the key to understanding creativity in football players.

‘Who we are is how we play’

These seven words are the conclusion to my thesis; 35,661 words deftly reinterpreted by my ‘old man’ as:

‘You can take the boy out of Liverpool, but you can’t take Liverpool out of the boy.’

I see him smiling at his own particular brand of Scouse humour, and I agree, he’s right; it all starts with this basic assumption about our ‘cultural conditioning’. However, how much ‘Liverpool’ is ‘in’ the boy depends on our individual experiences. The environments we grow up in and our early experiences determine the cultural norms, social rules and wider values that shape our behaviour and influence, among other things, how we play.

The late, great, leadership expert Stephen Covey suggests that we often feel defined by the dominant culture. He explains that our cultural conditioning creates the internal compass we use to direct our lives. However, Covey suggests this conditioning isn’t always beneficial, as the way we see the world and direct our lives may actually limit our development as people and players. Our compass may be set to society’s definition of north, but not our own, innate, true north.

Montevideo, Uruguay. Luis Suarez learned to play in the streets Photo: Marcelo Druck

Montevideo, Uruguay. Luis Suarez learned to play in the streets Photo: Marcelo Druck

Consider the cultural conditioning and early experiences of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez. Is the ‘Liverpool’ in Steven Gerrard different to the ‘Montevideo’ in Luis Suarez? Do these players see the world in a similar way? Do they play football in a similar way? Do they define success in the same way? Can we coach them in the same way?

As coaches we’re never working with a blank canvas. Each player is like an organic, evolving game of join the dots – the picture is always changing. The original picture may be the result of each player’s cultural conditioning and early experiences, but even this picture may be interpreted differently: where the coach may see a potential Phillip Lahm, the player may see a Lionel Messi.

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James Vaughan
James Vaughan
James Vaughan is a Co-founder of Player Development Project and currently based in Stockholm where he is coaching at AIK and working towards his PhD in Creativity & Motivation in Football.
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