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How to ‘creatively interpret’ research

Research

If you’ve ever read a research paper you’ll know that the content can often be dry and sometimes impenetrable. Here at Creative Huddle we read as much relevant research as possible to make sure we’re doing our job properly. But sometimes it does give us a headache. So – when we heard that a small group of people were attempting to engage a broader audience by ‘creatively interpreting’ psychology research, and presenting it with eye-catching illustrations, we decided to find out more. We spoke to the people behind Psyched4Sport, Nathan Smith and Laura Healy.

What is Psyched4Sport?
There are thousands of research articles and books that discuss sport psychology, but in reality only a small number of people really engage with the subject. At Psyched4Sport, we are trying to capture peoples’ imagination by adopting an alternative approach, to share what we know in a different way.

How did you come up with the idea?
Psyched4Sport started around 3 years ago. I had graduated from the University of Birmingham and begun work at the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA). My role at the PGA involved creating online learning material, which explained different aspects of sports science to students studying for a foundation degree in golf coaching. Having studied aspects of sport psychology for the previous three years, on top of the time I spent searching the internet at the PGA, I realized there was an opportunity to try and do something slightly different and approach sport psychology in a way that academia typically didn’t do.

Originally, the term PsychEd4Sport was an abbreviated reference to the tag line of my first blog, Psychological Education for Sport. The blog included different kinds of news articles and magazine clippings discussed in relation to popular theories of motivation. After taking up a position as a PhD researcher back at the University of Birmingham, I found it more difficult to keep the blog updated and the posts gradually became shorter and less focused. It was only in December 2012, that I begun working on a more design-focused website. I read a lot of niche magazines and high quality publications, such as The Ride Journal and the Green Soccer Journal, which approach their subjects in a more creative way (by using photography and illustrations alongside shorter articles). I was captured by this approach and thought it could work from a sport psychology perspective. Initially I mentioned my idea to a few people and explained my intentions and thankfully they thought it was good!

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Can you tell us about a piece of research that you’ve creatively interpreted?
We have done a few pieces so far. One of my favorite pieces is based upon the first published research in sport psychology. The experiment was conducted by Dr Norman Triplett and examined the role of social facilitation on performance. The research was actually published in 1898, and so sport psychology has a longer history than people initially realize. Triplett observed that when cycling in a group, cyclists tended to report quicker times. Different aspects of the research are captured in the illustration. The eye signifies the observer, or the person logging the times and noting the cyclists’ behavior. There are several cyclists included to signify the group effects. The rings around the first cyclist’s head suggest some kind of cognitive function may be in play. This is related to the way a person thinks. Depending on what is going on upstairs has been shown to have an impact on performance. Finally, the colours are very symbolic to cycling and demonstrate a link to the sport itself.

We have a number of other designs related to the history of sport psychology as well as different theories of motivation and are constantly exploring new ideas. One of the first series we had produced was related to three terms often used in sport psychology research; cognitions, affect and behavior. These basically mean ‘think, feel and do’. We are including these in the magazine with a discussion based around the importance of these factors. So often, psychology is mistakenly seen just as what goes on in someone’s head. It is much more than that. We are interested in how people think and feel, and ultimately how that impacts upon their behavior.

Is there a link between sport and creativity?
This is an interesting question. I am not too familiar with research that examines the link between sport and creativity, so can’t be quoted on this. However, anecdotally I don’t think you need to dig too far to see the link between sport and creativity. Sport is a scenario where you are constantly faced with problems and have to find a solution. Often, it is the person who deals with the problem most effectively that comes out on top. As a teenager, I used to play a lot of golf. In golf, you find yourself in positions you could not even dream of. Trying to place a ball on a green from in a ditch under a tree might seem impossible, but you find that golfers come up with solution to these problems all the time. A perfect example is the shot Bubba Watson played from the trees at the 2012 Masters. This was not something he would practice; it was a creative solution to a unique problem. There are plenty of examples you could use, snooker would be another good one. I also coach a children’s football team. Here you can see creativity at play almost all of the time, as long as the environment the children are in is right.

What’s your background? What’s your personal approach to creativity?
I am currently studying for a PhD in sport and exercise psychology. I suppose my interest in psychology came from my family. My sister also studied psychology and it seemed like an interesting area. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies I became very interested in motivation. I am really fascinated in how leaders can motivate their athletes but also how this might translate into a work and education scenario. I am lucky that the department I work in has some of the world leaders in the field of motivation research, and so I am able to learn from the best. My creative streak probably comes from my Mum. Ever since I was little she made things; fancy dress outfits, knitwear, toys and so on. I also have a keen interest in minimalism and the modernist movement of the 1960’s. A lot of my inspiration comes from that era. I have been collecting records now for the past few years and my favorites are the Blue Note jazz LP’s. Blue Note records were way ahead of their time in terms of design and the modernist aesthetic. In terms of my approach to creativity, I have never really given it too much thought. Off the top of my head, I guess I am trying to produce something that is interesting to look at as well as to read. One thing that my colleague, Laura, and I agree on is that everyone can be creative, it just takes a little time and attention. In our opinion, creativity isn’t just for stereotypically ‘creative’ people.

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We love your illustrations – can you tell us a bit about those?
The illustrations are fantastic. The designs on the website were actually produced by a professional illustrator, Blair Frame (http://www.blairframe.com) who has been collaborating on the PSYCHED4SPORT project. It is a bit of team effort in terms of getting the designs produced. I usually provide a design brief with my ideas scattered in notes, annotations and thumbnail drawings, and Blair makes sense of them and turns them into something beautiful.

Blair: Sports Psychology was a completely alien subject to me before we started collaborating on this project, but Nathan’s extremely good at getting across his ideas, which makes it a lot simpler for me to turn them into artwork. For me personally, the challenge of illustrating difficult subject matter is the best part of the job. Because the theories of psychology often deal with intangible ideas, it allows me to interpret them in an abstract way. So in this instance both theme and style complement each other.

We are also working with a number of other illustrators on the PSYCHED4SPORT magazine. The majority of the articles will be accompanied by a quality illustration. It promises to be an attractively designed publication printed by the lovely people at Calverts press. We are aiming to have the magazine printed by September 2013, ready to share with the world. Keep an eye out on the website and Facebook page for updates on the content. We have some very special articles to include.

If people are interested in keeping tabs on the magazine they can visit www.psyched4sport.com and sign up to the mailing list. You can also follow the co-editors Nathan Smith (@PsychEd4Sport), Laura Healy (@LauraHealyBob) and Illustrator Blair Frame (@blairframe) on Twitter.

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