Developing Creativity in Athletes

In sport, as in life, we tend to take the safe route. We go with the familiar. We continue to do what has worked in the past. Yet the players that stand out and the plays that we remember years later are born of creativity and risk. How, then, do we develop athletes who think creatively on and off the pitch? This article shares some ideas.

First, here’s some good news about youth athletes’ creative problem skills. Research suggests they’re more likely to be:

·      Confident about their ability to solve a problem

·      Take a systematic approach to a problem

·      Evaluate possible solutions and their results more carefully.

“Creativity is the lifeblood of sport.” — Sports Psychologist Wayne Goldsmith

Strategies to Develop Creativity

Don’t copy. In a keynote address on Sports Creativity, renowned sports psychologist Wayne Goldsmith noted, “To be truly creative, one must not copy the lessons and learnings of others but look to the greatness and potential which lies within us all.” Pointing out that knowledge about sport is everywhere, and “there are no secrets in sport any more,” he encouraged his audience to learn from examples within their sport, but open their minds to innovation too.

Look outside of soccer. You can live, eat, and breathe soccer, all day every day, but often a creative breakthrough comes from exploring something new. Look beyond the soccer pitch to learn what new approaches other athletes are taking to gain a winning edge or to develop a new perspective of the soccer field.

It’s a little like professional football players taking dance lessons to stay nimble and flexible. The New York Jets’ defensive tackle Steve McLendon, for instance, is famous for taking ballet classes.

Or, trying Parkour, the martial arts/gymnastics hybrid that has you traverse urban landscapes in new ways. The sport requires imagination and looking at the environment and temporary obstacles in creative ways.

Connect with your mind. There are many ways to regain focus in our increasingly stimulating environment. First, disconnect from the electronics, then:

·      Go for a walk: A 2014 study performed at Stanford University concluded that we’re 60% more creative when we walk

·      Try weightlifting. The repetitive, explosive, powerful movements with weights can improve mind-body connection.

·      Experiment with yoga or meditation. These encourage you to breathe and center yourself, which can free your mind to creativity.

“Without creativity, none of it would be possible and I’d just be another guy who made it to the league.” — Broncos Linebacker Von Miller

Listen to that inner voice. We all have the potential to be creative. But as we grow older we are less likely to let our imagination run free. We may try to quiet the inner voice in our heads that offers new ideas, crazy dreams, and says, “well, what about trying—?“ Conformity becomes expected and easier. Yet by listening to that voice that says anything is possible and encourages you to take a new approach, you could become a more creative player.

Get a good night’s sleep. Sleep is a time-proven way to gain insight and develop flexible reasoning. In a 2004 study comparing participants who slept, who stayed awake during the day, or who stayed awake during the night, the ones that slept eight hours were two times as likely to gain insight into a hidden rule built into the testing task.

Want to see some creativity in action? Enjoy the 90-second “Creativity is the answer” ad Adidas put together for the last World Cup. We look forward to seeing what you’ll do next with your creativity on the pitch.

chris williams