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How sport influences our creativity


Sport is undoubtedly one of the more fundamental aspects of human life.  Throughout human history we have played sports in one shape or form, whether it was the gladiatorial battles in Roman times, the Olympic races for the Greeks all the way through to modern times.

Indeed, in most industrial nations, sports are an almost sacred activity, with its star performers placed on a lofty pedestal.

As an avid follower (and participant) in sports myself, I’m well aware of the numerous benefits of sport, providing superb lessons in success (and failure), team work, conscientious preparation, making sacrifices and underlining the importance of practice.

It isn’t all positive news however.  A study, published in the Creativity Research Journal, suggests that organized sport is harming the creativity of our young people.

You’ll note that I mentioned organized sport, for the authors were directly comparing informal kickabouts with more structured competition.

Participants were asked to recollect how they usually spent their leisure time during their school years.  This could include creating art, playing video games, playing sports or any number of other activities.

The participants were then asked to complete the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults, which is a widely used creativity test.

The aim was to try and see if there was any link between the way we spend our leisure time as children and how creative we are as adults.

Now, I should say that I’m a wee bit skeptical about the findings, but they did nevertheless suggest that time spent playing informal sports was great for subsequent creativity.  The reverse was the case for organized sport however.

Was this due to the sport however, or were creative children more drawn to impromptu sport than their less creative peers?

That much isn’t clear.  The authors suggest that the unsupervised and unstructured nature of informal sports is a better breeding ground for creativity by providing children with the space to create their own rules, solve their own problems and resolve their own conflicts.

They contend that organized sports are more akin to the kind of hierarchy we create in our workplaces, and skills such as replication, obedience and respect for authority are more treasured.

Is that enough to suggest formal sport is bad news?  I would be careful about throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  Just as impromptu sport can provide many benefits, so too can organized sports.  The key therefore would appear to be striking a balance between the two.

Indeed, the study found that the most creative adults were those who spent equal time engaged in both formal and informal sports.

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