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Changing the Outcome of the Game

By Ed Long – Creative Oklahoma & Cross Sector Innovations


At an event hosted recently by Creative Oklahoma, I listened to Thunder general manager Sam Presti, a newly appointed Oklahoma Creativity Ambassador, talk about the creativity that takes place on the basketball court. Men and women are given a ball and have to create something. They translate what is on the inside into a visual display of innovation, critical thinking, mental strength and perseverance. The creative process is powerful and not limited to the arts and music. It allows us to find new solutions and opportunities that didn’t exist before. This increases the likelihood of success and changes the outcome of the game.

There are young men and women across the state who understand this as competitors in sports and who use these skills and lessons throughout life to create and build successful careers and live a good life. It is critical to provide opportunities for them to create and learn. For the past twenty years, Steve Goodnight has done just this. He and his team have worked with partners in communities around the state to provide opportunities for Oklahoma youth to compete in a variety of sports, including basketball, soccer, football and softball. He has seen first hand the commitment these young people have to working hard, learning and being their best. Over a twenty year period, several thousand youth have participated in sports programs offered by Mr. Goodnight and his colleagues.

Through effective coaching and mentoring, Mr. Goodnight explains that youth learn how our thoughts affect outcomes. He teaches that negative thoughts lead to negative feelings which can lead to negative behavior. Through sports and mentoring, thousands of young people learn how to control their thoughts, to see that more is possible and believe they can create positive change in their lives in spite of the obstacles they may face. They too can create—whether on the field and court, or in business and community.

Mr. Goodnight is director of recreation at the Central Oklahoma Juvenile Center in Tecumseh. He and his colleagues across the state provide opportunities to thousands of young people for whom these options may not have existed previously. He works hard to ensure that those he serves have the same opportunities he had to participate in and learn from sports. He took what was within him—what he knew produced positive results for him and others—and created opportunities for other young people. He believed in them.

For those who wonder about the evidence base behind creating sports programs to improve the longer-term trajectory of young people, it should be noted that there is clinical research to support the framework within which these programs operate. There is a bank of clinical terminology to illustrate the theory behind the practice. Sports are simply a vehicle.  

But, this outstanding program began with Mr. Goodnight being empowered to create and innovate. It began with his belief in the youth he serves and in their ability to take hold of an opportunity and create something for themselves. While sports aren’t the answer for everyone, this is one example of creating something that for some did not exist before. Creativity and innovation thrive when we allow it to develop from the inside out—from the bottom up. It worked for Mr. Goodnight, and it is working for those he serves.

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