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Creativity involves putting ideas together in new and useful ways. Lara Mossman, Positive Psychology Researcher, football player, and mother of three, offers a refreshing and practical view on creativity. What is it, and how can we prime our young players to become more creative?
Dutch legend Johan Cruyff, inventor of the ‘Cruyff Turn’ and the man behind the ‘phantom goal’, epitomised the creative footballer in the 1970s, as does today’s global superstar Lionel Messi. Cruyff was a king of improvisation, throwing out the rulebook on positioning and producing a rapid, one-touch passing game. While inventing a signature move or creating our own football philosophy may seem beyond the scope of our current imagination, injecting more creativity into our playing style is realistic. Creativity is part of the high-level problem-solving within our brain. It appears that the better our problem solving, the more likely we are to make it to the top leagues.
A Swedish study of both male and female football players found that higher division players outperformed lower division players on problem solving tests. If we want to be the best player we can be we must be able to assess situations at a lightning pace, compare them quickly to past experiences and create new possibilities. We develop these abilities progressively throughout our player development years.
It’s all very well being told creativity is an important component of our game, but can we develop it? More importantly, can we develop it even if we don’t think of ourselves as creative? Research in the field of positive psychology suggests we can. The Broaden and Build Theory says that positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, pride and love can widen the array of thoughts that come to mind. These same positive emotions can give rise to solutions to problems. And the more we experience them, the more open we will be to creativity.
To see how positive emotions prime us for creativity we would need to take a peek inside our brains. When we experience positive emotions our brains flood with chemicals that make us feel good, they also help us to learn and think more quickly. They can literally expand our peripheral vision, allowing us to take in more visual information. Imagine if we cultivated our positive emotions, how much sharper and more creative would our playing style be?
The following five brain hacks are designed to kick us into a positive gear:
1. Unstructured play
Joy is a positive emotion that induces the urge to push the limits and be creative – see Messi’s quote above. One way to experience joy in football is through unstructured play. It is fun, free of performance pressure and primes our brains for creativity.
Keeping a journal of our practice can be a useful tool to prime for positivity, especially if we jot down experiences we are grateful for. We can jot down when we performed well, when a teammate encouraged us or a coach gave us important advice.
A simple positive primer is to relive our peak experiences from training or matches by thinking about them. This activity can evoke pride, which helps us to envisage greater achievement in the future. Watching a mental highlights reel will help develop our visualisation skills and allow us to enjoy our achievements.
Investing in social connections is one of the most potent ways to boost our positive emotions. We should take time to get to know our teammates and discover their strengths, role models and dream style of play, too.
5. Pay attention
AC Milan has a hi-tech mind lab aimed at finely tuning players into internal and external stimuli, but it doesn’t have to take big bucks to get started. Eleven-time NBA winner, coach Phil Jackson, used mindfulness to help his players tune into the game and each other. He observed that when the mind is allowed to relax, inspiration follows.
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