Sara Santos, Sergio Jiménez, Jaime Sampaio, Nuno Leite

The Big Idea

When you sit a spell and think over the major point of session planning in sports, you can’t avoid the big idea of transformation. Hence, such training programs are inherently designed around re-creation and hope. Faith in unknown possibilities is something like the observation of the American inventor, philosopher, and architect Buckminster Fuller (1895-1993) that, “There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.”

If players and coaches are in tune, the hope is that what players learn to do in the hours of practices will be transformative for the hours of competition. Doing the right things in practice is inherently expected to be the right things to do in the course of playing the game. And finding the right things to do in practice in order to be the right things to do in games, is a siren song for researchers—like our friends in this research report on creativity for and in sports.

There were two purposes for this study. First, the researchers wanted to follow the effects, if any, of a specific creative sports-based behavior training program (Skills4Genius): thinking, motor skills, and in-game creative behavior. Second, they wanted to look at the relationship between creative thinking as such and in-game creativity.


  • Creativity in sports seems to be a consistent source of inspiration for players to achieve remarkable problem-solving achievements no matter the age.
  • What luck it is that creativity itself is a human disposition that can be improved by way of optimizing the sporting environments and devising proper training sessions.
  • Unfortunately, the tendency by coaches is to restrict player creativity instead of facilitating it.
  • A better way to successfully move from caterpillar to butterfly is to use the actual sport environment needs, and then work backward to use sport skill needs as a framework for session planning.
  • Skills4Genius is designed to boost player creativity and is tested in this study using 40 children (average age 9) in a five-month research experiment.
  • Results generally supported the hypothesis that there is a possible relationship between creative thinking and sport-specific creativity.
  • The results also suggested that the Skills4Genius program fostered creative thinking, agility, and speed performance.
  • This training program stretched the in-game individual creative behavior mainly through the improvement of the attempts and versatility of the player’s actions.
  • Skills4Genius also nurtured better learning of tactical principles, where the children were more coordinated with their teammates’ and opponents’ positioning.
  • Finally, this study presents a positive correlation linking creative thinking and in-game creative performance.

The Research

What provokes these researchers to study creative behavior in team sports is their belief that traditional session designs stifle players’ creative life potential where the caterpillar simply doesn’t become a butterfly. How they got to this claim was to work backwards from the necessary requirements of the nature of sports themselves—the “butterflyness” of them—to rethink session planning itself. Team sports, they say:

  • Requires the creative player to be able to move “outside the box,” as the environment evolves.
  • Requires the creative player to solve specific game problems in unexpected and original ways.
  • Requires the creative player to find feasible ways to solve game problems either by way of a specific singular act or by flowing in collective actions.

Consequently, they believe that the sport itself dictates what happens in training sessions. And what sport dictates is the unique opportunity for players to act on their own creative disposition—to fly. As a disposition, creativity can be cultivated by optimizing the environment and then devising a spirited training program that is itself creative.

Their approach to boosting creativity in team sports is what is called Sports4Genius. There are six integrated learning opportunities (see insert below for full descriptions of each opportunity):

  • Creative environment (unlimited thinking, unlimited performance)
  • Diversification (diversity to create in any situation)
  • Physical literacy (learning fundamental movement and game skills)
  • Non-linear pedagogy (adapt, explore, and create without limits)
  • Teaching games for understanding (TGfU)
  • Differential learning

Previous research on creative behaviour emphasizes the need to develop enabling environments which are diversified training programs committed to deliberate play. Such environments can invite or request creativity because they:

  • Reward curiosity and exploration
  • Enhance intrinsic motivation
  • Encourage risk taking
  • Give opportunities for choice and discovery
  • Nurture self-management skills

These researchers point out that sports session planning has already moved a good distance toward a powerful lesson: “An important feature is that creativity can only be requested if the environment requests creativity.” This request practically demands a nonlinear approach to session planning. “Still, the key pedagogical principles of nonlinear pedagogy point to higher levels of intrinsic motivation, a crucial assumption to maintain the children committed in sports.” Which leads to the questions: Is it possible to develop creative thinking through team sports? Will nurturing general creative thinking form open minded players lead to exploiting original possibilities in the game? What are the possibilities of the dynamics of team coordination in generating creative ideas together?

The method used in this study

The researchers used an experimental design.  Forty children—average age of nine—in a primary school were randomly distributed into control and experimental groups.  Both groups were screened to verify that none of the participants had previous club structured practice; their physical activity experiences were limited to in-school physical education.  Nor did any of the participants attend any enrichment activity (music, language, or arts) during the five months.

All participants were pre-tested for a baseline using a variety of instruments, including anthropometric measurements, creative thinking tests, motor performance skills, and in-game creative behaviour (both individual and collective behaviour).  These same tests were used for post-testing.

While the control participants continued their daily activities for five months, the experimental group were given the Skills4Genius training program three days a week for the five months.  The previous excerpt insert from this research paper specifically describes the tenets of the Skills4Genius training program design.


After five months, and after the post-tests were administered, the results were encouraging.

First, the Skills4Genius training program effects in thinking, motor skills, and in-game (individual and collective) creative behavior in team sports found a possible relationship between creative thinking and sport-specific creativity.  The second hypothesis was also generally supported that young children immersed in a training program in creative thinking, diversified practice, physical literacy, and non-linear pedagogy, facilitates the development of overall creativity.

According to the authors, this study of the central tenets of the Skills4Genius training program sparks creative thinking and improves fundamental motor skills such as speed and agility.  In addition, fundamental game skills were observed through the exploratory training behavior boosting individual technical actions.  Fundamental tactical principals were also nurtured related to space occupying and promoting an awareness of the environmental changes.  The authors also claim that this is the first report linking creative thinking and in-game creative performance.

Finally, the authors give a range of practical implications from this research study:

  • Enrichment training can profitably be applied to inspire children’s creative disposition to think and to mover outside the box.
  • Sports environments are ideally suited to fostering creative behaviour and to help sustain creativity daily.
  • The training program also develops fundamental motor skills, prepares children to read the game, and assists in exploring unusual technical and tactical behaviours.
  • Creative thinking and sport-specific creativity should be trained as complementary pairs.

Maybe the least practical but most powerful implication of this study is for coaches to heed another of Buckminster Fuller’s suggestions: “The best way to predict the future is to design it.”

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