Where does creativity come from? In this blog PDP Lead Researcher, James Vaughan discusses Yannick Bolasie’s infamous ‘360 flick’ and explores it’s story. Bolasie himself highlights the playful environment from which this creativity emerged and Vaughan discusses this in relation to the latest research.

Four years ago I was asked a question that has stuck in the back of my mind. I was in Melbourne studying a Masters in Sports Coaching. The thesis was called ‘Developing Creative Football Players: A Psychological Needs Perspective’ and a colleague, friend, mentor and excellent football coach asked me the following questions:

“What is the best example of creativity in football? And are footballers themselves creative or are there just moments of creativity?” 

Four years later I have the beginnings of an answer. Thanks to Everton’s winger Yannick Bolasie and the explanation in the video below.

Follow Yannick Bolasie on YouTube

The ‘Bolasie flick’ is a great example* of creativity in football. For most of us it was a jaw-dropping moment of originality. But for Bolasie it was the flowering of a seed planted years before, cultivated in a playful environment and re-imagined on the pitch at White Hart Lane.

The backstory provides an amazing insight into the emergent nature of creative moments. It’s worth taking a good look at what Bolasie says in the video, especially in relation to the environment that nurtured this creative moment (my interpretations in brackets):

“We are here in the park where all my magic has come from” (self-directed play).

“Welcome to Pound Lane Willesden, Unity Close (a community space)” Bolasie continues, “This estate replicates myself and the way I play today (who he is and how he plays), which many say is unorthodox (creative)”

“It doesn’t look overcrowded (limited time and space) now but there was roughly 50-60 people in here trying to shoot at that one goal… and so now you see I’m used to playing against obstacles and 40 other people (unusual affordances) in the same park”

So you do crazy things (unexpected) like you manoeuvre the ball here and jump over that way and people would be coming to chase you so you can imagine if loads of people are trying to chase you (task constraint), you just do it like that, jump you know, there’s loads of flicks (exploratory behaviour: trial and error), you know little things like this, run round it… it made it easier.”

“Right I’m going to tell you about the Bolasie flick, sometimes I call it the 360 flick. As we got older (& constraints changed) we started manipulating these kind of tools (affordances like the slide and swings) to our advantage, so as you can see here this is probably where I learnt the 360 flick (self-directed, no coaching) to be honest, you know over the swing. If someone’s chasing me there and I do this round the swing they are going to have to try and run all the way round while I’ve taken the short cut this way to get the ball (creative problem solving)”

So to recap, Bolasie’s story is one of:

  • Self-directed play in a
  • Community space which shaped
  • Who he is (identity) and how he plays which people say is
  • Unorthodox & creative.

He continues to describe an environment thats:

  • Overcrowded (limited time and space) in which he had to
  • Play against obstacles and 40 other people (unusual affordance’s) so you do
  • Crazy things (unexpected) like you manoeuvre the ball here and jump over with
  • Loads of people chasing you (chaotic with no space) so you try
  • Loads of flicks (exploratory behaviour: trial and error)

Then he narrows in on the Bolasie flick itself:

  • As we got older (& constraints changed) we started
  • Manipulating these kind of tools (affordances like the slide and swings) to our advantage, this is where
  • I learnt the 360 flick (self-directed, no coach)
  • If someone’s chasing me there and I do this round the slide they are going to have to try and run all the way round while I’ve taken the short cut this way to get the ball (creative problem solving).

The creative moment against Spurs wasn’t a flash of genius or a one off, it was a re-mix of prior experiences and movement pattens that first emerged when Yannick was chased around Willesden Unity Close, saw a slide and intuitively attempted a new movement (perception coupled with action). What he uncovered in that moment was a new movement afforded by the environment, a new affordance.

The unique combination of constraints (the speed he was dribbling, the angle of defenders, his ability, the obstacles) in that moment helped Bolasie uncover a new affordance which allowed him to keep the ball away from his mates. An early version of the Bolasie flick emerged.

Years later chased by Christian Eriksen and Roberto Soldado at White Hart Lane, Bolasie perceived a similar affordance (albeit in an very different context) and flicked the ball up and over Eriksen’s knees and burst into the 18 yard box.

Bolasie’s explanation demonstrates that many creative moments may be a re-mix of prior experiences from varied, informal and playful environments.

This is one of the points made in a recent research article titled: The Spawns of Creative Behaviour in Team Sports: A Creativity Developmental Framework (Santos, Memmert, Sampaio, & Leite, 2016 ) (reviewed by PDP’s Professor William Harper here). In this paper they say:

The environment is unpredictable and its influence is always dependent on the player’s perception and past experiences… therefore it is extremely important for the players to develop their ability to attune the optimal affordances under representative learning environments.

Early exploratory behaviour will nurture; different forms of dribbling, adaptive dribbling abilities and unique dribbling actions* (Santos, Memmert, Sampaio, & Leite, 2016 ).

As coaches we must remember that:

“Creativity is facilitated by play activities, which provide freedom to experiment with different movements and tactic variations and gives children the opportunity to discover, create and innovate their actions” (Greco et al., 2010; Bowers et al., 2014; Pesce et al., 2016, cited in Santos et al. 2016).

It’s not surprising that many formal academy environments are promoting street football, 5-a-side and Futsal in an attempt to facilitate ‘play like’ environments. PDP academy coach Dave Wright explains, “In the academies I’ve been fortunate enough to work in, the programs have included street football, 5-a-side and Futsal. By including this in conjunction with a football curriculum, we develop environments that foster creativity. These formats provide variety of challenges and give the players problems to solve in tight spaces with realistic pressure whilst presenting the opportunity to express themselves.”

The research suggests thats a learning process conducive to creativity invites players to explore movement opportunities and avoids the inclination towards passive copying.

However, the research recommendations above and the use of street football, 5-a-side and Futsal to promote playful environments is not always enough. As Keith Davids (Professor of Motor Learning) once said to me:

“These approaches assume that simply exposing athletes to diverse situations will help develop creativity by allowing them to adapt their movements and problem solve. It’s true, that will help a lot. But the important thing is that coaches need to design affordances for creative behaviours to emerge in practice. That needs to be part of an overarching ‘form of life’ for players within a particular development environment. Without that emphasis, you may just get adaptive performers, but not necessarily performers with imagination, flair and the confidence to express themselves in innovative and creative ways.”


I am not suggesting that tricks, flicks and dribbling are the only examples of creativity, far from it. However, these more obvious examples can be easier to observe and in this case discuss, compared to the creative subtleties of say Iniesta’s passing or Maldini’s defending.


Dos Santos, S. D. L., Memmert, D., Sampaio, J., & Leite, N. (2016). The Spawns of Creative Behavior in Team Sports : A Creativity Developmental Framework. Frontiers in Psychology, (August), 1–14. http://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01282

Image Credit: DepositPhotos / yorgy67

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