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The Gift of a Space to Be Creative

Updated: May 10

When you read the title of this piece—The Gift of a Space to Be Creative—what images spring to mind? What activities? Typically, creativity is associated with The Arts—music, fine arts, writing, and performing arts—or business and innovation. But who hasn’t been awestruck by sporting performances? The quickness, perfect timing, strength and skill of an athlete or team. With NBA and NHL playoffs underway and anytime Caitlin Clark has a basketball, the daily sports highlight reels are a display of creative minds at work. So, what does the practice environment of sport look like when there is “space to be creative?” What materials and supplies are in this space? What is the atmosphere? What is the optimal leadership structure? These are the questions I will write about in this blog over the next couple of months. But to start, this is a gratitude post to the many coaches who gave me the gift of 'space to be creative.' This wonderful gift fueled my vocation as a sports coach. 

In April, I completed my Master of Coaching degree from the University of Alberta. This degree was a transformative experience for me, deepening my understanding of issues I was seeing in sport, like poor training behaviours, lack of engagement, injury and dropout. My supervisor, Dr. Jim Denison, was a world leader in sociocultural sports research and how coaching practice could be more ethical and effective. In a 2019 interview, he summarized the importance of the social and relational aspects of coaching this way: “Athletes have traditionally been treated as if they are machines-where you give them an order, and they go out and execute it properly. But much of sociocultural research is showing that a long-term, dynamic, multifaceted approach to coaching can empower athletes to think and be fully engaged, which can lead to smarter and more skillful athletes.” He continued, [We] “need to help coaches create practice and training environments that are challenging and empower athletes to take more responsibility for their improvement and hopefully enjoy their sport more.” For me, this evokes an environment of learning, fun and joy of sport. 

As a young athlete, I was fortunate to have a sporting environment with abundant space for creativity. I played many sports through school and club, and I had many kind and caring coaches who didn’t attempt to rush our development. My parents didn’t add pressure to perform. Rather, they encouraged nearly unlimited unstructured play. This type of play, where there were no set rules or goals, allowed me to explore different movements, strategies, and techniques. In this atmosphere that supported exploration, encouraged social connection, and allowed me repeated opportunities to challenge myself, sports became a wonderful space for creativity and personal development—a lifelong space for creating. Thank you to my parents, my siblings and my coaches.

Here is my list of the dozen coaches who made a positive impact on me:

  • Pete Laronde (Hockey, Muskrat Hockey Ass.)

  • Peter Cox (multiple school sports & running, St. Michael’s, Douglas, ON)

  • Jack McLaren (Hockey, Muskrat Hockey Ass.)

  • Jim Ferguson (PE & intramural sports, Opeongo High School)

  • Dan Quinn (Running, Opeongo High School)

  • Tom May (Running, Opeongo High School)

  • Bill Arnold (Running, Ottawa Kinsmen Harriers)

  • John Fitzgerald (Running, Ottawa Lions)

  • Don Mills (Running, University of Waterloo)

  • Andy Heal (Running, University of Waterloo)

  • Chris Lane (Running, University of Waterloo)

  • “Big” Pete Pete Grinbergs (Running, Tri-City Track, Waterloo, ON)

Who are the coaches who developed your love of sport? What was your sporting experience where you had the space to explore and be creative? I would love to hear your stories and these coaches' impact on you. Please share in the comments.

Please take a moment to reflect on the impact a coach has had on your life and share your appreciation.

Use the comment box below to share your gratitude for a former or current coach.

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I too owe a lot to some of Kevin’s coaches, Don Mills, Andy Heal, and Chris Lane. Through my developmental years, Patrick Brown from St. Patrick’s high school was an encouraging and knowledgable coach who gave back more with every ounce of effort I put in

From there came the journey Track and Field club and Vito Delben. He was the master at managing my somewhat oscillating, emotional states and his patience, passion, and personality gave me all the creative space I needed to th in a collaborative coach/athlete relationship. Finally, a man that most every Canadian distance runner in knows, Mr. Paul Poce guided me through the late stages of my career. A finer gentleman could not be fou…


I owe it all to Brian Gibbons, Salmon Arm Sr. Secondary PhysEd teacher and my running coach. I was a seasonal athlete (x-c skiing when there was snow, running when there wasn't (in those days, running warm-ups for ski races wasn't a thing; it snowed in the winter). I was having trouble finding a ski sponsor, and could not afford to ski without one. Mr. Gibbons wondered how my running might change if I ran through the winter months, and he said he would run with me every day. I accepted, and never looked back.

And from there to Doug Clement. An amazing person and coach.

One more thought: coaches don't create athletes, but they can certainly destroy them.

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