Sara D. L. Dos Santos, Daniel Memmert, Jaime Sampaio, and Nuno Leite

The Big Idea

In the team sports it is traditional that when coaches are asked what they are coaching, the usual response is, for example, “I coach soccer.”  But if soccer coaches were collectively to adopt the general idea of what these researchers call the Creativity Development Framework, they might be more inclined to say “I coach creativity.”  However odd this latter response may seem, the authors of this paper imply that this is exactly what coaches should be coaching.  They propose a science-based non-system of five incremental development stages from youth beginner levels through post-16 ages guided entirely by the unfolding characteristics of player creativity.


  • The five age-defined stages are beginner, explorer, illuminati, creator, and rise.
  • In the early stages practice and training environments promote intrinsic motivation, diversification, deliberate play, and non-linear pedagogies where discovery and exploration are encouraged.
  • In the later stages there is progressive specialization where game-emphasis training enhances player abilities and talents to make creative connections between differing contexts.
  • Manipulating task constraints becomes the method of choice to help prepare the more advanced player to discover new action possibilities grounded in creativity training components.
  • The goal is to help players be comfortable with surprises and the unexpected, to meet these sudden game changes with novel alternatives, and to creatively respond to the unpredictable by thinking differently and taking risks without fear of failure.

The Research

With an implied call of “expect the unexpected,” in this research paper the investigators explore both the limits and liberations of choice and chance.  Right from the get-go we are immersed in what is called developmental creativity.  We are introduced to the many ways innate creativity is hampered in sports: the lack of street sport and pick-up games; training methods that unnecessarily constrain; and the mechanisation of human play.  What results is a proposition that given the actual unpredictability of environmental influences, a more realistic training environment in fact should be based on unpredictability.  The way we do this is to cultivate creative development in players and teams.

The key word is development.  Creativity does not come upon us helter-skelter.  Creativity in players is a becoming, not an arrival.  In other words, becoming creative on the pitch is more guided evolution than innate instinct.  Hence, this paper is proposing an entire developmental framework across early childhood and junior age spans.  Their model is called Creativity Developmental Framework (CDF).

The authors propose five general and incremental stages of creative development:

  • Beginner stage (2-6 years)
  • Explorer stage (7-9 years)
  • Illuminati stage (10-12 years)
  • Creator stage (13-15 years)
  • Rise stage (over 16 years)

Their training approaches include practice pathways (from diversification to specialisation); physical literacy (learning fundamentals of movement and game skills); nonlinear pedagogy; and creative thinking (blending of divergent and convergent).

Components of creative thinking

This CDF proposal is based on the longstanding belief that there are two essential components of creativity.  They are novelty and the appropriateness of the action.  In their framework this means there are two kinds of thinking processes.  One kind generates novelty by way of divergent thinking; the other kind selects novelty via convergent thinking.

They argue that the actual components of creative thinking in the context of sport can be operationalised as a creative game index.  In other words, we look for efficacy of movement (such as different forms of dribbling), versatility (or non-standard actions in passing and shooting, for example), originality with new and unique actions, and effort to perform different actions even if ineffective ones.

According to the model, there are two types of creativity: 1) P-creativity refers to the inner personal/psychological type; and 2) H-creativity means historical creativity.  Appropriate to the beginner to rise framework stages is P-creativity.  This just means that the player is discovering new techniques and problem solving as the players explore their own personal limitations in the continuous environmental changes.  The player’s actions and decisions are not novel in general.  But the actions and decisions are novel to them.

Beyond the rise stage, we find the H-creativity.  This kind of creative expression refers to the never-before kind of actions or behaviours or tactics.  Much higher levels of expertise appear to be a condition of this kind of creativity.  Much like the art of improvisation on a musical instrument, the musician will have acquired a more thorough mastery of the instrument before improvisation is successful.  So too will the player bring along his or her P-creativity history in the H-creativity responses to the consistently unpredictable playing environment.  Both types of creativity are in-play in the more advanced stages of the CDF.

The development of world class skills

The controversy with regard to the best way to nurture or cultivate world class soccer players has produced two typical pathways.  One is referred to as specialisation; the other, diversification.  Translated, this just means that in the early years of sport learning and practice one option is to specialise in a single sport (specialisation) or to play several sports before later narrowing down to a single sport (diversification).  The first is a more specifically structured experience; the second more playful, less structured.

But the CDF model recognises that these two approaches can actually co-exist. This is so because it is entirely possible to see these pathways as more sequential than distinct.  Even if in the early years there is no specialisation, there is still practice; it’s just that the practice is in different sports and wide-ranging environments.  Likewise, deliberate play activities will likely be components of the early skill acquisition in single-sport experiences—so long as the learning environment is positive, challenging, and relatively pleasant.  Whichever pathway is taken, the common ground to both of them is to perpetuate a player’s long-term intrinsic motivation to continue playing sports; which is to say to provide optimal environments for improving a player’s physical literacy.

Physical literacy

The idea of physical literacy is a holistic and lifelong approach to movement and sport education.  This means that children will experience physical activity as expressions of social, emotional, cognitive, and overall developmental growth.  The CDF model is based on the idea that physical literacy training is the building block of sport performance.  To reach levels of effective performance, decision-making abilities and focused perception are combined with inter-limb coordination and tactical principles—together over time.  These are the fundaments of creative thinking in sport.

Dynamic environments and differential learning

As in so many recent papers on creativity and sport, dynamical systems theory enters the picture.  There isn’t much surprise though since DST learning theory is essentially the framework for the Creativity Developmental Framework itself.  The most common words/phrases used to describe DST are that it is: non-linear, constraint-led, evolving, multi-stable (more than one solution to a goal), variable, and in flux.

What these investigators call differential learning is derived from non-linear teaching.  Basically it is attempting to create as many variations on a theme as possible to prepare the creative player to successfully manage the infinite kinds of surprises and disturbances in the playing environment.

For the interested reader, these last two sections of the paper are helpful examples of the ways in which dynamic learning and teaching can be applied to coaching soccer.  It also might be helpful to read the summary.  In it there is a two paragraph narration in words of the entire CDF for team sports from beginner through rise age levels.  Table 2 is also helpful as an organisational summary of the creative stages of the CDF for team sports.

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