Creativity: requisite for reaching excellence

Creativity has long been associated with sport success. You only have to watch any sport channel on your television to admire the spectacular feats of the best athletes. With sports constantly pushing the boundaries of human performance, creativity is currently becoming an essential asset for sport success. According to many sport scientists, future success in team sport will largely depend on a players’ capacity to find innovative solutions during a match or game that make it difficult for an opponent to anticipate what comes next. Moreover, creativity allows athletes to develop new strategies and skills for training and competition, enabling them to keep an edge on their competitors.

Although creativity is often associated with the attainment of excellence, it can also be useful in everyday life. Indeed, by operating in an environment that supports creativity in sport and exercise settings, individuals are able to develop more flexible thought patterns. This way, when facing challenges, they can generate various solutions helping them to solve the problem more efficiently. In short, creativity is associated with adaptation and coping both of which are valuable tools for dealing with life stressors. But what is creativity exactly and how can it be enhance?

Creativity can be defined as the generation of ideas, insights, or solutions that are unique and useful. It is not enough to generate original ideas; these ideas need to serve a specific goal or purpose. One of the main components of creativity is divergent thinking. Unlike convergent thinking where an individual provides one correct or conventional response, divergent thinking leads an individual to numerous and varied responses. Although both convergent and divergent thinking are involved in creativity, individuals who achieve advanced divergent thinking skills usually perform better when faced with an open-ended task.

Many different approaches have been explored to help people unfold their creative potential. Initial experiences within diverse activities appear to broaden an individual’s repertoire of knowledge. By combining knowledge from different environments, it is easier to produce original ideas, which contribute to enhanced creativity. For instance, it has been shown that athletes having practiced various sports throughout their career are more creative than athletes who have specialized in a single sport at a young age.

Secondly, implementing environmental or task constraints in a sport setting pushes the individual to explore new ways of moving or behaving which foster their motor creativity. For example: performing the overhand throw over and over within the same context does little to promote motor creativity while promoting the overhand throw in a variety of contexts challenges the motor system to continuously adapt and change its organizational states increasing the athlete’s motor creativity.

Broadening a young athletes’ attention by providing them with “promotion” (what to do) instructions rather than “prevention” instructions (what not to do) has also been shown to benefit creativity. For example: challenging a team to discover the most efficient way to bring a ball up-court is a more effective method for promoting motor creativity than telling them exactly where to move and who to pass to. By adopting a broader focus of attention in a match or game an athlete is able to perceive more cues from the environment making creative decision making more likely.

In summary, developing creativity in sport has become a requisite for reaching excellence in sport and achieving well-being as a whole. Sport and exercise programs should thus adapt their content and delivery by increasing diversity, playing with constraints and developing efficient attentional strategies. Encouraging creativity in sport appears to be a promising avenue to ensure constant growth and development because “unless enough people are motivated by the enjoyment that comes from confronting challenges, by discovering new ways of being and doing, there is no evolution of culture, no progress in thought or feeling” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996).

Veronique Richard, Ph.D
Florida State University post doctoral
Mental performance consultant