How would Leonardo Da Vinci have approached sports innovation

1 great method how Leo Da Vinci would have revolutionized sports

Sports innovation and Da Vinci? What do they have in common? Leonardo Da Vinci has probably been the biggest innovator in history. Using different techniques, the number of innovations that he realised is astonishing. I used one of his techniques to find out how he would have innovated sports and how you can come up with new innovations.

Dick Fosbury one of world’s most wellknown sports innovators

“How would Dick Fosbury have approached this?”, is a question innovators often ask to emphasize the importance of out-of-the-box thinking. Fosbury changed the sport of high jumping by meticulously dissecting the different elements of the high jump. By doing this, he came up with a very successful new innovation in this sport. Instead of crossing the bar face down, he introduced a jump where he turned his back to the bar with his face up. As a result, Fosbury not only won the Olympic Games in 1968, he also became one of the most influential athletes in history. Obviously, this new way of jumping was named after him. This is how the Fosbury flop emerged and now is commonplace.

But there were many more…..

He has not been the only one who created a revolution in a sport. What to think of Jan Boklov, a Swedish skijumper, who introduced the V-style in the early nineties, a style of jumping where the ski tips are spread outwards in a highly aerodynamic “V” shape. In cross-country skiing it was Bill Koch who introduced skate skiing in competition in 1982. Or what about the Fastfin swimsuits, which resulted in a revolution in competitive swimming ? If you are interested in skating, you may recall the introduction of the clap skate, which resulted in faster skating. These are just a few examples, but there are many, many more! Innovation is one of the pillars behind extraordinary performance.  

By being the first, you can often disrupt something big time! In sports this is even more the case as you can create a temporary head start, that may be the difference between gold and silver! Hence, many resources are being used nowadays to innovate sports in order to create this temporary advantage. Think of technique, materials, technology, nutrition, training etc.

Leonardo da Vinci and sports

Without a doubt the biggest innovator in history has been Leonardo da Vinci. Sport in his days was not a common activity but if this genius would have lived in the present time, it would certainly have drawn his attention and interest. Let’s dig into his mind and see how he would have looked at sports.

Da Vinci’s idea box: Artificial Intelligence avant la lettre

Michal Gelb and Walter Isaakason wrote great books on this genius. They provided us with not only a view into his life but also an insight in his creative thinking techniques and habits. One of these techniques was Da Vinci’s idea box, which in fact was a kind of Artificial Intelligence (see blogpost about Sports and Artificial Intelligence) avant la lettre. With this box, Da Vinci must have created many of his ideas and inventions.

The idea box in action….

Leonardo dissected a certain object into different elements, next he mixed up these elements and invented something new. His famous paintings of the human head were created this way. He started by dividing the human head in for example mouth, eyes, the shape of the head, nose and chin. He then thought of the different types of each category. Hence for a nose he came up  with a hooked nose, upturned nose etc. Eyes could be swollen, bloodshot etc. The final step was to take one type out of each category and combine it into one new human head. This way he created a painting of a person with a hooked nose, swollen eyes, egg formed head and square chin.

I think you get the picture. Dick Fosbury, who was just an average athlete in his time, must have followed a similar pattern of thinking, when he invented his Fosbury Flop, considering different postures on how to jump over a bar.

Da Vinci’s sport idea box could have looked like this

Anyway,  I thought it would be interesting to see if you can come up with an idea box where most of the currently existing sports can be derived. Using the Da Vinci brain I came up with the following box using the following categories: 1. who is playing sport; 2. What is the surface being played on; 3. Which movements are used when playing the sport; 4. Which objects are being used; 5. What is the target?; 6. What is the objective?

Leonardo da Vinci's sport idea box
Source: Idea box Jan Kees Mons

For each of the categories, I have filled in different possibilities which are applicable for sports. The next step in mixing them up. Can you guess which sports the orange and grey squares represent? Not difficult, is it? Yes, soccer and hurdling! Let’s see now if you can create a new sport yourself with this technique using the box above. I bet in most cases you can! 

I came up with the following one: 2 teams (who) throwing and kicking (movement) a ball (object) on a sand or a grass surface (surface) in a square field with 6 pockets/goals (target) where you can score points (objective) by throwing/kicking the ball into. The pockets/goals have different points and throwing a ball into a pocket or goal gives double points. You can also put obstacles in the field. Anyway, of course this is just an idea. Maybe you can come up with a much better one. If so, share it please!

Artificial Intelligence created a new sport

By the way, if you add Virtual Reality to the category “Objects” an entire range of new sports will come forward. This way your average E-game can be transformed into an active sport! Imagine yourself with VR goggles playing a game (for example Fortnite) in a factory hall with a virtual weapon. It will be like the real thing, only instead of the e-game yoy will now actively participate as if you are the real character in the game.

As said Leonardo’s Idea box was kind of Artificial Intelligence avant la lettre. Not surprisingly AI has been used in creating a new sport. Nvidia and a design agency called AKQA fed neural network data about sports that already exist into a computer to find out if the computer could come up with a new sport. And yes, they were successful. The sport is called Speedgate, and is a mix of rugby, field hockey, soccer, and more. Below I have included a short impression. In fact it is not that different from an idea generated by the idea box of Leonardo, isn’t it?


I believe the idea box is an excellent way to come up with new ideas. The Americas Cup is the premier sailing regatta in the world and always has been the pinnacle of innovation within the sport. Look at the racing monsters that were used in the last edition and will be used in the next one! These boats fly and use knowledge of the aerospace industry. Speed can go up to as much as 60 miles (or 100km) an hour! It is just breathtaking and will give the sport a new incentive.

That is what innovation is all about! Of course there are many elements that are important to the performance of a yacht, but in essence it is not that different from the implementation of a Da Vinci idea box. Look at this great, great impression of Emirates Team New Zealand on youtube of the new AC 75 yacht that was used in the last edition. You can actually see the different categories of the idea box spelled out. Of course it is a simplification, but in the end it is not that different.

This is just one example of how sports can be developed to the next level. Obviously there are many more, whether it is related to training, nutrition, technique, materials or anything else you can think of. There are always creative ways to improve yourself. So next time you may ask yourself “How would Dick Fosbury have approached this?”, add Leonardo to the equation and maybe you can come up with potential new innovations in sports using their techniques. And if not, it might come in handy in creating new ideas in other areas. I would love to hear your ideas!

Also interesting to read: exciting sports innovations that will spark your mind

Published by Jan Kees Mons

I am Jan Kees Mons. Just call me JK, that’s easier I guess. I am a Dutchman living in the heart of the city of Amsterdam. Right now I am living on my own. However, not for much longer, as I plan to live together with my lovely girlfriend.