Instructions Perceptual-Cognitive Skill

How to develop creative decision making by changing athletes motivational states

Creative decision making is an important element to consider in competitive sport. Motivational models from social psychology (e.g., regulatory focus theory) indicate that creativity can directly be influenced by manipulating emotional states. Many sports require athletes to make decisions that are unexpected and therefore less predictable for their opponents, so that optimal team performance can be achieved.

So, how can athletes motivational states be altered to produce more creative solutions in sport specific situations?

‘Promotion vs Prevention’ Focused Motivational Cues

Two methods of altering people’s motivations and emotions include:

  1. Promotion Focused Cues (focus on accomplishments and aspirations), and
  2. Prevention Focused Cues (focus on safety and responsibility).

Promotion focused cues are thought to produce more creative thoughts, and encourage more creative insights to facilitate decision making compared to prevention focused cues.  In complex sport-specific situations, athletes with a promotion focus have been suggested to generate more original, flexible, and adequate solutions compared to athletes with a more prevention focus.

The study

Thirty male soccer players performed a soccer decision making task. However, before performing the task, all players were asked to complete a task that aimed to prime their thinking either towards promotion or prevention.

Half of the players were assigned to a promotion focused condition and the remaining half were assigned to a prevention focused condition.

How were participants primed?

The priming task involved guiding a mouse out of a maze. In the promotion focused condition, a piece of cheese was displayed lying outside the maze and participants were instructed to  “Show the mouse the way to the cheese!”. In the prevention focused condition, an owl was shown hovering above the maze and participants were asked, “How can the mouse escape from the owl?”.

Soccer decision making task

Participants then completed a soccer decision making task consisting of video clips displaying offensive situations that allowed for a number of solutions when stopped at specific times. Participants were instructed to generate as many solutions as possible for each scene (solutions were given in detail so that researchers could establish the level of effectiveness of those solutions).


Findings showed that athletes in the promotion focused condition produced more adequate solutions, and more original and flexible solutions than athletes in the prevention focused condition.

Practical Implications

Coaches can increase athletes creative decision making potential by using a promotion focused instructional method. For example in a soccer penalty training situation, coaches may say to athletes: “Your aspiration is to score at least three out of five times”(promotion focus), and avoid saying phrases such as: “Your obligation is not to miss more than two times” (prevention focus). [This was an example provided by Plessner and colleagues in 2009].


Memmert, D., Hüttermann, S., & Orliczek, J. (2013). Decide like Lionel Messi! The impact of regulatory focus on divergent thinking in sports. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43(10), 2163-2167.

Plessner, H., Unkelbach, C., Memmert, D., Baltes, A., & Kolb, A. (2009). Regulatory fit as a determinant of sport performance: How to succeed in a soccer penalty-shooting. Psychology of Sport and Exercise10(1), 108-115.


1 comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: