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Thursday, 09 November 2017 09:28

Is Organised Sports Killing Creativity?

In studies published in many Journals which investigated the relationship between childhood leisure activities and creativity in young adults, some alarming results have been unearthed.


Youth sports have become big business  and have taken on a much more professionalized form over the past decade. In previous generations, children spent a large portion of their leisure time roving and playing throughout their neighbourhoods. Today’s children, on average, are spending much less time in unstructured settings and much more time in environments – sport or otherwise – organized by adults.

 In studies the sports investigators wanted to take a first step toward understanding whether participation in informal sports played in unstructured settings (for example, neighbourhood or “pickup” sports) had a different impact on creativity than participation in traditional, organized youth sports.

In a study, they asked 100 undergraduate and graduate students to complete a very detailed “childhood leisure activities questionnaire,” which asked them to reflect on hours spent in various leisure activities during their school-age years. These ranged from creating art, to reading, to playing video games, along with participating in organized and informal sports. 

Particularly interesting is that, in spite of an overtly conservative analysis, the results were stark: time spent playing informal sports was significantly and positively related to overall creativity, while time spent playing organized sports was significantly and negatively related to overall creativity.

Organized sports, on the other hand, tend to replicate hierarchical and militaristic models aimed at obedience, replication, adherence to authority, and a number of other qualities that, on a theoretical level, would be unlikely to be conducive to creative development.

What the results of these studies indicate is that these unstructured settings that permit informal sports are not without merit. Rather, they may contribute to fostering positive outcomes like creativity. Under the right conditions, organized sports can do many beneficial things for a child’s development, but they cannot do everything (and, under the wrong conditions, they can be equally damaging). The long-term benefits of a less-structured environment may be harder for an adult to see, but they are well-established and validated over decades of results about children’s play.

What could account for these results? Unsupervised environments offer children the freedom to self-govern, create rules, problem-solve and resolve social conflicts on their own terms.

In fact, those scoring in the “above-average” creativity bracket reported spending 15% of their total childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 13% playing organized sports. The participants with “below-average” creativity, on the other hand, spent only 10% of their childhood leisure time playing informal sports versus 22% in organized sports.

This type of research is encouraging because it suggests, that parents, teachers and coaches interested in fostering more creative development for their children don’t have to necessarily forgo traditional organized sports. They simply need to be aware of the importance of a balanced distribution of their children’s time between organized and unstructured settings.