Is football just a bunch of brainless people chasing a ball?

A couple of decades ago, as I heard from my parents, playing football was described as an activity that had nothing to do with “intelligent people”. Some people probably still perceive that the game is all about running for 90 minutes, tackling the opponents, kicking the ball as hard as you can, and finally placing it inside the goalposts. Despite the fact that players like Ronaldo “el fenomeno”, Messi and Maradona are probably never going to discover something new in physics, they may still be considered as individuals with outstanding creativity and innovative capacity. Professor Daniel Memmert and Jurgen Perl, from the university of Heidelberg and university of Mainz respectively, came to the same conclusion through their research.

They fused their correspondent knowledge in sport science and computer science in order to identify if football and hockey training may change the creative behavior of young boys and girls. By simulating the neural activity from a computational model, the researchers evaluated the young athletes before they started practicing football and hockey, during some competitive settings, and also when they finished the practice period.

For the purpose of contextualization – what did the researchers consider as creative behavior? According to the authors, “creative behavior in sports is the generation of tactical response patterns for seeking original solutions to ideas, when a player is also able to perceive objects that appear unexpectedly and incorporate them into the initial game plan”.

Then, specifically in the football part of research, for one and a half years, children were trained in various football related skills, such as dribbling, passing, shooting the ball, and also some complex tactical movements. All of these skills were rehearsed at the end of each training session by playing a free football game while alternating between different features/skills, the number of players and game restrictions. By doing so, the authors tried to avoid the probability that children got used to practicing in just one particular setting, which they claimed to be detrimental to the exhibition and/or development of any creative behavior.

Let us imagine one situation that is typical for team sports where the ball is used. Picture yourself as a footballer who is intending to pass the ball to one of your teammates. Try to wait for the appropriate moment, since the opponents are chasing you and also marking your teammates. At that moment, creative behavior must be put into the practice so as to pass accurately and keep possession of the ball for your team.

The whole process of passing seems complex, when it is described fully, but in fact, it is something that skilled players do automatically throughout the entire ninety minutes of a football game. Furthermore, they have a high percentage of accuracy with these passes. Therefore, while carrying out different tasks, the brain is continuously processing   large amounts of information and subsequently generating a handful of solutions for each specific situation..

To give you a better idea of what I am referring to, here is the most remarkable example of intelligence in the present football scene. Meet Xavi, Barcelona’s footballer – His way of playing has claimed the importance of being creative rather than physical in a sport where the spaces are limited and the necessity for finding good football results prevails over the “jogo bonito” as the Brazilians said.

Back to the research, the authors evaluated the outcomes after fifteen months of training. When comparing the levels of game creativity, differences between the control group (kids who did not receive any structured training but participated in the research) and the test group were found. For the evaluation, some experts in football were trained to identify the required criteria, thus, after a reasonable period of training, they were able to accurately assess the children’s performance.

Surprisingly, the kids who were included in the training period showed an improved development of game creativity, suggesting that a well-structured training in football or any other team sport can be beneficial for the respective population in terms of general creativity.

Despite the promising results, the authors still encourage the scientific community, especially from this particular field, to keep exploring new ways of understanding the process of learning that can be applied not just in sports, but also to creative thinking in any sort of social contexts.

In conclusion, the outcomes of this study show that participation in any team sport which involves random and context-depending situations is beneficial for children.

Therefore, if you are considering developing creativity in your children, why not  involve them in a team sport? Not everything about creativity is related to arts and science, at least. Team sport can be a way to succeed  in your studies or even in becoming the next Xavi…You never know!

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1 Response to Is football just a bunch of brainless people chasing a ball?

  1. jumpingpolarbear says:

    When I see what so called “geniuses” are doing as head of various governments around the worlds, these players should be considered way “smarter” :).

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