Exploring the relationships between motor creativity, lateral preference and sport in children

Mª del Pino Díaz Pereira

Antonio González-Fernández

María A. Fernández-Villarino

Joseba Delgado-Parada

Yannick López-Araujo

*Corresponding author: M. Pino Díaz-Pereira pinod@uvigo.es

Original Language English

Cite this article

Díaz-Pereira, M. P., González-Fernández, A., Fernández-Villarino, M. A., Delgado-Parada, J. & López-Araujo, Y. (2024).  Exploring the relationships between motor creativity, lateral preference and sport in children. Apunts Educación Física y Deportes, 155, 19-28. https://doi.org/10.5672/apunts.2014-0983.es.(2024/1).155.03

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Abstract

Laterality is a relevant construct because of its impact on motor development, learning processes and sport performance. A few studies have identified relationships between specific laterality profiles and more versatile motor actions. Such relationships have not been explored in the school setting or with people in the early stages of sports development. This study aimed to describe the percentage distribution of lateral preference types (eye, direction, turn, hand, foot, crossed) in a sample of school children (sportspeople vs. non-sportspeople) and to explore its possible relationships with motor creativity (fluency and originality). 500 children (220 females and 280 males) participated in the study (9.05 ± 1.86 years old). Dominant eye and rotational direction were identified by standardised tests. Lateral hand and foot preference were assessed by observation during participation in sports games. Two Game Test Situations (GTS) were used to assess motor creativity parameters (fluency and originality). The percentage of left-sidedness and crossed laterality was significantly higher in the group of children who performed sports. T-tests revealed superior creative performance (fluency and originality) in children with left-side rotational direction preference or with crossed laterality. Cohen’s d-values show relationships when creativity is evaluated through game situations with direct player interaction. The results suggest relations between lateral preference and greater movement fluency and originality, which would be interesting in detecting talents and designing programmes.

Keywords: Child, fluency, Laterality, originality, Sport.

Introduction

Creativity is the ability to detach oneself from the conventional way of thinking, create a new concept by combining two or more seemingly incompatible ideas, and abstract oneself from the concrete situation to see beyond mere representation. This way of thinking fosters more diverse and novel forms of behaviour and could favour better performance and the ability to adapt to different realms of human activity. 

Sports scientists empirically examined this construct, and it has been associated with creating novel movement patterns, outstanding decision-making during gameplay, and training and competition adaptations. A widely-used tool for studying creativity is the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (Torrance, 1966), aligned with Guilford’s (1967) approach. Guilford proposed four main components of creativity: fluency, or the number of adequate solutions given by a participant; flexibility, or a participant’s diversely stated action alternatives; originality, or the ability to generate new and unique actions in a given context; and elaboration, or the ability to create pertinent details. This approach has guided the assessment of creativity in different areas of human activity, including the context of physical activity and sports (Hüttermann et al., 2018) or dance (Torrents et al., 2013). 

Creative solutions are crucial to sporting success and talent development and selection, and it is essential to let creativity blossom during a child’s early years (Cañabate et al., 2018; Santos et al., 2018). Therefore, we need to know its underlying factors and processes (Karaca et al., 2020) and how to stimulate or develop them from an early age (Domínguez et al., 2015).

A line of study almost unexplored in sports is the possible relationship between laterality and motor creativity. Castañer et al. (2016) analysed Lionel Messi’s successful goal achievements, finding associations with his body hemidominance (laterality) and his versatility of actions (a characteristic trait of creative behaviours). To our knowledge, there are no other references in sports, although the relationship between laterality and creativity has been studied in other contexts with a broad diversity of methodologies and results (Shobe et al., 2009; Van der Feen et al., 2020).

Laterality is a complex and multidimensional construct that has been investigated in different ways and in various age groups. Its complexity has led to a wide variety of assessment methods, including preference identification tasks, performance tasks, self-report questionnaires (Faurie et al., 2016), or protocols, such as MOTORLAT (Castañer et al., 2018). It comprehensively identifies laterality profiles through 30 tasks providing information on the synergies between support and precision functions while performing complex motor skills. Although there is some controversy as to whether the different measures (preference-performance) are indicators of the same construct or independent dimensions, one of the most widely used measures in the literature on the subject is lateral preference (Utesch et al., 2016). 

Lateral preference identifies the predominant use of one side of symmetric body parts to perform specific actions (Loffing et al., 2014). Handedness is the individual’s preference to use one hand predominately for unimanual tasks and/or the ability to perform these tasks more efficiently with one hand (Porac, 2016). This human characteristic can be observed in the preferred use of one hand, foot, eye, ear, or even a preference for their rotation. If preference is not strongly unilateral or performance on both sides is qualitatively comparable, the term “mixed laterality” or “inconsistency” has often been used (Touwen, 2008). The degree of consistency seems to vary according to the directional preference. A recent study reported that left-handed children showed less lateralised behaviour for sport-specific tasks than right-handed children (Díaz-Pereira et al., 2022). Crossed laterality means that the preference is not ipsilateral across different body components. Right-sided dominance (both hand and foot) combined with left-eye dominance (Touwen, 2008) is the most frequent occurrence in the general population. A recent meta-analysis estimated that left-handed prevalence in the adult population is around 10% (Papadatou-Pastou et al., 2020), with equivalent findings for children (Prete et al., 2020).

In the context of physical activity and sports, the study of laterality is a relevant issue because of its impact on the processes of development and learning of motor skills and sports performance. In athletic populations, the right-side bias is notably reduced (Loffing & Hagemann, 2012). Loffing and Hagemann (2016) concluded that, compared with left-sided prevalence in the general population, left-sided (predominantly left-handed) athletes are found more frequently at the elite level of duel-like interactive individual sports or team sports. This greater prevalence seems especially significant in interactive sports, characterised by a high demand for perceptive and dynamic cognition, the anticipation of the opponent’s intentions, and the need to adapt actions quickly in time-pressured situations. 

Left-handers should have an advantage in duel-like contexts due to their relative infrequency, with their opponents being less familiar with the left-handers’ fighting behaviour (Groothuis et al., 2013). Alternative explanations propose that other possible mechanisms associated with left-handedness per se constitute a left-hander’s advantage, such as less lateralised motor skills (Gorynia & Egenter, 2000) or more efficient neural processing (Holtzen, 2000).

A recent literature review (Moreno et al., 2022) analysed the prevalence of hand-eye laterality profiles in different sports modalities and their relationship with performance. Only two studies were conducted with children and adolescents (9-17 years). The authors conclude that in some sports (e.g., football, tennis, team sports), the percentage of individuals with crossed laterality (hand-eye) is higher in regular and high-level athletes than in the average population, suggesting some advantage associated with these laterality profiles. Castañer et al. (2016) concluded the relevant role played by laterality in Lionel Messi’s scoring achievements, highlighting its possible association with exceptional versatility of movement (motor creativity) and ways of adapting in space.

Investigators from other domains of human performance have explored the possibility of a relationship between laterality, cognitive flexibility and creative performance (Sontam & Christman, 2012). The data indicate some relationship between lateral preference and creativity that may be presented as higher creativity scores among left-handers (Abbasi, 2011), those with mixed laterality or lower lateral specialisation (Badzakova-Trajkov et al., 2011; Shobe et al., 2009) or those with reduced right-sided orientation preferences (Mohr et al., 2003). 

Given the importance of motor creativity in sports training and performance, this study aimed to explore the possible relationships between lateral preference and motor creativity in a sample of primary school children. A deeper understanding of laterality profiles and their relationship with tactical-sporting patterns can contribute to more effective development plans and complement talent detection (Laborde et al., 2009; Moreno et al., 2022). Specifically, we aimed to analyse:

  • The percentage distribution of different types of lateral preference (eye, direction, turn, hand, foot, crossed) in a sample of schoolchildren according to sports practice (Objective 1).
  • The relationship between motor creativity and sports activity (Objective 2).
  • The relationship between motor creativity and lateral preference (Objective 3).
  • The relationship between motor creativity and the interaction between lateral preference and sports activity (Objective 4).

Methodology

Participants

Research procedures followed ethical standards in sports and exercise science (Harris & Atkinson, 2015). They were approved by the Ethics Committee of the PhD Program in Education and Behavioral Sciences (CE-DCEC-UVIGO 2020-10-31-8449).

Five-hundred children (280 males and 220 females) participated in this study. The mean age was 9.05 years (SD = 1.86), ranging between 6 and 12 years. All participants attended state-run primary schools in Galicia (NW Spain), and 37% (n = 189) systematically participated in sports activities in affiliated sports clubs. The physical activities most commonly reported among the children were basketball (43.9%) and soccer (20.1%).

Materials and instruments

Two Game Test Situations (GTS) were used to measure motor creative performances: GTS1 and GTS2 (Memmert, 2006). The validity of these situations has been established in preliminary studies (Memmert et al., 2010).

In both games, two teams of players (forwards and defenders) were matched against each other to prevent the team in possession of the ball from reaching their objective, that is, to pass the ball to their teammates. The game’s instructions encouraged the individuals to vary and innovate their ways of passing the ball and their spatial movements. 

Each game was played first with the hands (H) and then with the feet (F), resulting in four game situations: GTS1-H; GTS1-F; GTS2-H; GTS2-F. Each game lasted for 3 minutes.

In GTS1 (see Figure 1), a team of 4 players had to pass the ball from Zone 1 to Zone 3 and vice versa. The defending team (3 players), situated in the intermediate zone (Zone 2), tried to prevent this from happening. Players could not leave their designated zone. 

Figure 1
See Full Size
Game Test Situation 1.
Note. Adapted from  D. Memmert (2006). Developing creative thinking in a gifted sport enrichment program and the crucial role of attention processes. High Ability Studies, 17(1), 101-115. https://doi.org/10.1080/13598130600947176

The players in each zone could cooperate to open up gaps (free space) between the three defenders. After three minutes, the positions changed according to a specific sequence so that each child held an offensive position twice in the course of the GTS.

In GTS2 (see Figure 2), two teams of three players contested ball possession. The game was played in a 9 x 9 square metre space with a central 1 x 1 square metre zone from which the game was restarted every time an opponent intercepted the ball, or it went out of play. The players could move around to find free spaces or more favourable zones in which to receive the ball from their teammates. 

Figure 2
See Full Size
Game Test Situation 2.
Note. Adapted from  D. Memmert (2006). Developing creative thinking in a gifted sport enrichment program and the crucial role of attention processes. High Ability Studies, 17(1), 101-115. https://doi.org/10.1080/13598130600947176 

The primary difference between the two games was the level of interaction (direct vs. indirect) between forwards and defenders. 

The participants’ behaviour was recorded on videotape. Two independent observers (Physical Activity and Sports Science graduates and national basketball and soccer coaches) then coded and evaluated it. The recorded actions and their subsequent evaluation were agreed upon by the consensus of the two experts. 

The observers recorded the actions carried out for each game situation (GTS1-H, GTS1-F, GTS2-H, GTS2-F) and each individual (n = 500). The data were collected when the individual was acting in an offensive position. Given that each individual took on the role of attacker twice (3 minutes each time), the data were recorded in the second of the two trials, as the first trial aimed to ensure that the participants understood the task and its objectives.

The actions recorded were ball passes and players’ spatial movements, either to open up spaces between defenders (GTS1) or to find favourable positions in which to receive the ball (GTS2). Repeated actions were excluded. 

The criteria used to consider that a ball pass was different were the presence of changes in: the segment with which it was executed (right vs. left), the spatial level (upper, middle, lower), body orientation (front, side, back) and the ball’s trajectory (parabolic, straight, chipped). 

The criteria used to consider that players’ spatial movements were different were the presence of variations in: the aim of the movement (closer to/farther away from) concerning the player with the ball, the side towards which the movement begins (left/right) and the player’s trajectory during the movement.

The measures in motor creativity were calculated following indicators and procedures traditionally used and accepted in the literature: fluency and originality (Runco, 2007).

Fluency is defined as the number of different solutions to one given situation produced by an individual (Runco, 2007). The fluency score was calculated as the number of different actions (ball passes and spatial movements) produced by each participant in the four game situations (GTS1-H; GTS1-F; GTS2-H; GTS2-F). Total fluency GTS1 and total fluency GTS2 were calculated as the sum of the participants’ fluency scores in the two situation tasks (hand and foot).

Originality has been defined as the statistical rareness or uniqueness of a motor response in comparison to the population sample (Johansson et al., 2015; Runco, 2007). It was calculated as follows: in each of the four game situations, each movement was given an originality coefficient (see Table 1) according to the number of times it appeared in relation to the total sample (percentage of the sample that executes the action).

Table 1

Originality coefficient of each response based on the percentage of the sample that executes the action.

See Table

Once the originality coefficient for each response was determined, the score for originality (∑ of the originality values linked to each action) was calculated for each individual in each of the four game situations (GTS1-H; GTS1-F; GTS2-H; GTS2-F). Total originality GTS1 and total originality GTS2 were calculated as the sum of the participant’s originality scores in the two situation tasks (hand and foot).

Preference laterality measures

Different procedures identified the dominant eye, the preference in the direction of the turn, and the preferred hand and foot to pass the ball while participating in sports games (GTS1 and GTS2). 

For the identification of eye dominance, we used the hole-in-the-card test (Johansson et al., 2015). To determine the preference in the rotational direction, we used test Number 4 of the Zazzo battery (Zazzo, 1984). With the child’s back to the examiner (approximately 4 metres), in a static position, standing on both feet, they are instructed to turn their head as quickly as possible to look at the examiner on a signal. Three attempts were made for each of the tests. Children with mixed lateral preference (i.e., those who did not show a systematic preference for one of the sides) were eliminated from this study.

Lateral preference measurements of hand and foot were taken by observing the precision actions (passes) during the game situations (GTS1 and GTS2). In each game situation and for each action (hand passes, foot passes), the side used was recorded. The percentage of times that the right or left side was used in relation to the different extremities (hand, foot) was calculated. 

To determine the direction of lateral preference (right vs. left) for each extremity, when the percentage use of each side (right-left) was equal to or higher than 80%, the individual was attributed that lateral preference. The children who showed a mixed (inconsistent) lateral preference were eliminated from this study. Specifically, for each extremity or action, when the percentage use of one side was lower than 80%, the individual was considered to show an inconsistent or mixed lateral preference and was excluded from the sample. 

The following lateral preference measurements were established: dominant eye, rotational direction, handedness (the hand most frequently used during ball passes), and footedness (the foot most frequently used during ball passes).  

When preferences of hand/foot/rotation or eye were not uniformly right- or left-sided, the individuals were attributed crossed laterality (the lack of concordance between two of the measurements considered, taking into account any combination of hand, eye, foot or rotational direction being sufficient). 

Registration of sports activities

In the informed consent form given to parents or tutors, they were asked about their children’s participation in extra-curricular sports activities to determine how regularly and in what type of activity their children participated. 

The children who regularly participated in some planned sports activity (at least twice a week) were assigned to the group of “sportspeople”. 

Procedure

The researchers contacted the head teachers of the schools in the area, requesting their collaboration. Physical Education teachers received information on the study’s aims and were in charge of collecting the written consent forms signed by parents/tutors enabling the children to participate and be filmed. The tasks were performed in a multiple-purpose hall and administered and scored by the same specifically trained evaluators. 

The tasks were presented to the children in a way that motivated their performance. The children were repeatedly encouraged to change and innovate their way of passing the ball and moving as much as possible.

Data analysis

Chi-square tests were conducted to compare the percentage distribution of different types of lateral preference as a function of sports activity (Objective 1). 

To analyse the relationship between motor creativity and sports activity (Objective 2), for all the analyses, the participants were placed in two subgroups (sportspeople vs. non-sportspeople). Tests of difference were computed using t-tests for all motor creativity measurements (total fluency and total originality). An alpha level of .05 was used for all statistical comparisons, and effect sizes were calculated using Cohen’s d for t-tests.

To analyse the relationship between motor creativity and lateral preference (Objective 3), for all the analyses and in all the laterality measurements, participants were placed in two subgroups (left vs. right preference or no crossed vs. crossed). 

The results obtained in relation to Objective 3 revealed that the relationships between motor creativity and lateral preference showed more cases of significant and more intense differences in GTS2 (with direct interaction between opponents) than in GTS1 (with no direct interaction between opponents). Likewise, Cohen’s d-values revealed that the rotational direction and crossed laterality are the lateral preference measurements with a higher explanatory value. For this reason, the analyses made concerning Objective 4 were carried out exclusively with the data obtained in GTS2, related to rotational direction and crossed laterality. In order to analyse the relationship between motor creativity and the interaction between lateral preference per sports activity (Objective 4), two 2 x 2 ANOVAs were carried out: the 2 (rotational direction, left vs. right) x 2 (sportspeople vs. non-sportspeople), and the 2 (crossed laterality, crossed vs. non-crossed) x 2 (sportspeople vs. non-sportspeople).

Results

Percentage distribution of types of lateral preference according to sports practice (Objective 1)

The results concerning the prevalence of left-sided individuals and those with crossed laterality of the group of sportspeople compared with non-sportspeople showed that for all the body segments evaluated, the percentage of left-sided individuals was higher in the group of sportspeople than in the group of non-sportspeople (hand: 9.5% – 8.4%; foot: 12.2% – 9.6%; eye: 20.1% – 11.3%; rotation: 14.8% – 5.1%). 

The χ²-value obtained significant values in the eye preference side (χ² [1, 449] = 7.38. p < .007. w = 0.12, Odds ratio = 1.98) and the rotational direction side (χ² [1, 449] = 13.69. p < .000. w = 0.16, Odds ratio = 3.21). The group of individuals with crossed laterality also seems to be overrepresented in the group of sportspeople (30.7%) compared to its presence in the group of non-sportspeople (17%). Also, in this case, the χ²-value obtained significant values (χ² [3, 449] = 12.67. p < .000. w = 0.16, Odds ratio = 2.15).

Relationship between motor creativity and sport activity (Objective 2) 

Systematically and in all cases, the results (see Table 2 and Table 3) revealed the existence of significant differences in the two motor creativity measurements (total fluency and total originality) and in the two GTSs (GTS1 and GTS2) in terms of sports activity. In all cases, the sportspeople surpassed the non-sportspeople, obtaining effect sizes (Cohen’s d) considered of a medium-high level, which range from d = -0.78 (Originality GTS2) to d = -1.03 (Fluency GTS1).

Table 2

Means (standard deviations) and t-tests for total fluency per sports activity.

See Table

Table 3

Means (standard deviations) and t-test for total originality per sports activity.

See Table

Relationship between motor creativity and lateral preference (Objective 3)

In general, the relationships between lateral preference and motor creativity showed more cases of significant and, moreover, more intense differences in GTS2 than in GTS1 (see Table 4).  

Table 4

Means (standard deviations) and t-test for total fluency and total originality per GTS1 and GTS2.

See Table

Therefore, the subsequent analyses aimed to study exclusively the motor creativity measurements obtained in GTS2.

Likewise, Cohen’s d-values revealed that rotational direction and crossed laterality are the lateral preference measurements that obtained a higher explanatory value concerning motor creativity levels, both in the fluency and the originality of the actions performed by the players. For this reason, we used these lateral preference measurements exclusively in the subsequent analyses, whose results are shown below. 

Relationship between motor creativity and the interaction between sports activity and lateral preference (Objective 4)  

The results of the ANOVAs revealed that motor creativity (total fluency and total originality) is not significantly linked to the interaction between sports activity per lateral preference. No significant values were obtained either in crossed laterality or rotational direction (see Table 5).

Table 5

Means (standard deviations) and ANOVA for total fluency and total originality per Lateral Preference x Sport Activity..

See Table

Discussion

The results show that for all the preference laterality measures, the percentage of left-sided individuals is higher in the group of sportspeople than in the group of non-sportspeople, with significant differences recorded in eye dominance and rotational direction (Objective 1). Furthermore, the group of individuals with crossed laterality also seem to be significantly overrepresented in the group of sportspeople. These results confirm that the overrepresentation of left-sided players at the top levels of certain sports, especially interactive sports (Loffing & Hagemann, 2012), is already present in the early stages of sports development. Regarding the higher percentage of children with crossed laterality, the results are in line with the results provided by Moreno et al. (2022), as they concluded a higher prevalence of athletes with hand-eye crossed laterality profiles in sports such as football (53%) or team sports (50.7%).

Concerning the relationships between motor creativity and sports activity (Objective 2), the results show that the group of children who regularly participate in some sports activity display a greater variety of creative solutions (fluency), as well as more novel and less stereotyped patterns of movement (originality). 

The results confirm the potential value of early sports experiences as a scenario of interest to contribute to the development of child creativity. In keeping with other studies (Bowers et al., 2014), sports activity at an early age foments the exploration, discovery and creation of actions that will stimulate the development of motor creativity.

In line with the results of other studies (Badzakova-Trajkov et al., 2011; Shobe et al., 2009), the data reveal a tendency towards higher levels of fluency and originality in children with a left-sided preference or some type of crossed laterality (Objective 3). The data provide evidence of some connection between motor creativity and lateral preference. However, this relationship might involve differentiated distinctions as a function of the type of lateral preference measurement and the GTSs used to evaluate motor creativity. 

The results allow us to conclude that lateral preference for rotating the body is the measurement with the highest predictive impact (Cohen’s d = -0.747). The children who use the left side more frequently to begin rotations during movements perform better when varying and innovating ways of passing the ball or moving around the given space. 

The results also revealed higher creative skills in individuals with some crossed laterality (Cohen’s d = -0.503). We could not find any study analysing this type of relationship. Only Moreno et al. (2022) conclude that cross-laterality patterns could positively affect performance in certain sports (basketball, cricket or golf) due to biomechanical particularities in technical execution.

The type of game situation used to evaluate motor creativity also provides interesting data. Specifically, GTS2, characterised by one-on-one confrontations between participants, was shown to have greater sensitivity than GTS1. These results align with other studies (Loffing & Hagemann, 2012, 2016) showing that the competitive advantages of left-sided individuals appear more significantly in sports involving direct interaction among participants. 

Finally, the relationship between motor creativity and lateral preference did not show differentiated distinctions in terms of sports activity (Objective 4). Regardless of whether or not the children performed sports, in all cases, the children with a left-sided rotational direction or crossed laterality obtained higher average scores in fluidity and originality of movements.

Conclusions

This exploratory study is a first approach to the new factors associated with motor creativity in a large sample of primary school children. The results reveal the relationships of lateral preference with motor performance indicators that have not been studied to date, such as fluency of movements and motor innovation ability. 

The results also show that children with a left-sided preference in the direction of the turn and those with some kind of crossed laterality present higher movement versatility and originality. These relationships seem to be mediated by the type of sports games, with more intense relationships observed in activities in which the participants share the action space and their actions are interactive.

Nevertheless, the interpretation of the current findings should consider the limits of the data collection undertaken. Laterality is a complex construct that goes beyond left-right preference, so we need alternative tools to obtain more accurate data on this variable. MOTORLAT (Castañer et al., 2018) could be an interesting instrument to achieve a more precise measure of laterality in the context of children and youth sports. This inventory detects accurate laterality profiles considering the contralateral distribution of postural support and the precision of the gesture for a wide range of motor skills. In addition, we should identify which specific cross-lateral profiles are related to movement creativity.

Furthermore, the results are also interesting for intervention programmes to promote motor creativity. Following the research carried out by Rasmussen et al. (2017), who propose the design of interventions in which creativity is fostered from varied situations, the results of this study suggest that rotational direction and the hemidominance profile in the use of body segments may constitute criteria to stimulate behavioural variability.

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ISSN: 2014-0983

Received: February 22, 2023

Accepted: June 30, 2023

Published: January 1, 2024