Creativity in Sport

Creativity in sport separates the good from the great. Other factors like work ethic and somatotype come into play too. However what seems to make good players great, especially in team sports, is creativity. We can see this in any sports where athletes stand out for example Nino Schurter is thought to be the best mountain biker in the world and being the current world champion certainly backs up that point but why is he so successful. Well one of his major strengths is his technical ability where he can gain seconds on his opponent in a decent and on some courses it can be minutes. This means his opponents have to make up extra time on him every lap that he gained with minimal physical effort. But here does creativity come in? Well, if we look at the Houffalize UCI Mountain bike World Cup back in 2012 we can see this.   (skip to 5:14)


As you can see, Nino in the black and white at the front and Julien Absalon in the red white and blue both take a tight line (green) down the turn which was faster than the normal line (orange). Earlier in the race none had taken that line until Nino did where he over tuck Julien and in subsequent laps Julien copied.  This would be an example of creativity because it wasn’t an obvious way to ride that section and none had thought of it until Nino did.

But where did he get this ability from and can it be taught to other players and athletes? First of all we have to look at what creativity is and I believe it is a lot simpler than people think. The dictionary definition of the word creative is “relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something” Oxford.

So creating something is making a compound out of original ideas and as humans we can’t come up with something purely original by creating it in our head. For example try to imagine a colour you have never seen before or try to imagen anything that you’ve never seen before? You can’t; as humans we don’t poses that ability. We can only program original things into our mind as we discover them. An example would be when a baby first sees the colour green; they would never have been able to imagine this colour before but now that they have seen it then can imagine it. A continuation would be that they saw something spherical for the first time, let’s say a grey ball. Now they have three original things in their mind, the colours green and grey and a ball. What can now happen is the baby can create a compound idea using the ball and the red originality to create a compound of a red ball. The baby may never have seen a red ball but it has used its creativity to create on in its mind. The baby can then take it a step further and use this new compound to create something else for example imagining the ball dropping into a bucket. This is using the compound of a red ball and a bucket, at this point being either green or grey, to create another more complicated compound.

This is a very simple explanation but the hypothesis applies to all areas. Back to the mountain biking example, Nino used a technique of weight shift and added it to the section in front of him and created a line that none else had thought of. Another rider further down the field could have done the same thing without knowing someone else had already done it and it would still be creative because it is still an original idea for that rider.

This hypothesis is supported in the work of Boden (1996) who states that creativity comes in two parts. Specially, my theory would apply to the P Creativity or Psychological Creativity.

This means that creativity has, perhaps not measureable, but definite components and quantities which I believe you can train and improve to make people more creative. Splitting it down into three steps makes this achievable. These steps are, Programing Stage, Practise Stage and Specific Stage.

Programing Stage – this is where an athlete must get as many different ordinal ideas and compounds in their heads as possible. They would do this by participating in many different sports from football to badminton, rock climbing to American football and is best done when the athlete is young.

Practise Stage – athletes must then practise creating new compound ideas to help them in their specific sport and a coach can do this by setting up drills that encourage creativity, for example in rugby put rules in that don’t allow any type of throw to be performed more than 5 times whilst passing in a certain area or games that relate to the sport but are aimed at creative thinking for example a game that simply is to get the ball from one point to another with no rules; within reason of course. Some ideas may be useless like passing the ball using your nose but others may appear that would come in useful like faking one way but passing another.

Specific stage – this is where the practise gets very specific to the chosen sport and would take part in game scenarios or in actual games if were looking at the rugby example. As a coach you would remind players of what you have been working on and look for players showing signs of creativity in the game.

If I were training at say a premier league football clubs academy then I would firstly spend time getting them involved in a variety of different sports like rugby, athletics, hockey and water polo to name a few. The more varied the sports the better because, as I said earlier, it will give the player a wide range of ideas they can use later on.

These sports can also be beneficial to the athlete in other ways for example you could keep players motivated for training during their off season by putting these other sports in. the new games and greater fun atmosphere of doing a sport that they won’t be taking that seriously will give them a mental brake whilst still getting their training done. this training doesn’t have to differ to much either as you can Taylor it to suit their needs for example, more athletics at the start of the season to create a strong aerobic base and hand ball and hockey games and drills can be adapted to help train more specifically for football later on in the season because of their similar team style to football.

Then as you approach the preseason training I would get them doing small scenarios like I mentioned earlier to get them practising their quick thinking.

Finally as the season starts I would use less important games of friendly’s to encourage players to be creative on the pitch and put what they have learnt into practise.  So that as the season goes on and the games get more important the players will already be creative.

Reference List

Ucichannel (2012). 2012 UCI Mountain bike World Cup XCO – Houffalize. [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 25th November 2015].

Dictionary, Oxford (Not Available). BRITISH & WORLD ENGLISH. [online] Oxford Dictionary’s Language Matters. Available at: [Accessed 25th November 2015].

Hristovski, R. Davids, K. Araujo, D. Passos, P. (2011). Constraints-induced Emergence of Functional Novelty in Complex Neurobiological Systems: A Basis for Creativity in Sport. Nonlinear Dynamics, Psychology, and Life Sciences, [online] Volume. 15, 179. Available at: [Accessed 9th December 2015].



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