Applying The Creative Process to Athlete Intake

I do not consider myself a creative person, in the least. Unique and innovative ideas have never flowed easily through me. Working alongside individuals such as Dan Pfaff and Stuart McMillan has really brought this fact to the forefront. Therefore, I enjoy reading articles and pieces on creativity and some of history’s greatest minds.

In 1926, an English social psychologist names Graham Wallas proposed a theory that outlined the “creative process” in four stages. Based on accounts of famous innovators and his own observations, Wallas termed the four stages as preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. While reading an article on the matter written by Maria Popova it dawned on me that these stages have many applications, one in particular being when bringing on new athletes.


There are two parts to this stage when dealing with athlete intake. First off, you must prepare yourself for the incoming athlete. Gather as much information as possible — training age, training history, injury history, etc. The accumulation of knowledge based around the athlete will spark creative ideas on how to approach working with that individual. Likewise, you must prepare the athlete by giving them as much information about your coaching philosophy and plan of action to be sure you are heading down a mutually beneficial road.


The incubation stage is all about getting started. Wallas describes this stage as “unconscious processing”. In the context of coaching it pertains to writing the first program and beginning the journey. Undoubtedly, you will not begin from the onset down the perfect path towards success. Regardless, you must begin somewhere. Dive in and see where the process takes you through a combination of organic and mindful progression.


This is where great leaps and bounds are made within the relationship. It may come after a training cycle or two or it may come after a year or two. You must control what you can control, remain open-minded and attentative, and accept the journey for what it is — a free-flowing process of ups and downs. When the moment or moments of illumination present themselves you must be able to 1.) Identify it as such and 2.) Be prepared to take full advantage of this new knowledge. The illumination may take one of two forms: It may affirm with a new found certainty that you are on the most optimal path or, to the contrary, it may expose a faulty path towards success. An understanding of the individual nature of athletic performance, along with an open-mind, will allow you to best handle these moments of illumination.


This stage is the culmination of the training process. It is actualization of a successful sporting performance. You have traversed through phases of stimulation, adaptation, and stabilization. You have found a sense of smoothness through the turbulence. It feels as if every piece of the puzzle has joined together to make a masterpiece.

But the journey does not end there. The pursuit for perfection has no final destination. You do not flow through these stages in a neat and orderly fashion, jumping from one stage to the next. It is a beautiful maze that has you trapped inside, moving in all directions. For every peak you reach, your eyes are now privy to many more which currently lie just out of reach.

Writing this article has felt much like the training process. I have organically discovered a take-home message that I did not expect to uncover some 550 words ago when I typed the title. I did not foresee the underlying message involved in “Applying the Creative Process to Athlete Intake”. I did not intend to preach about respecting the process rather than focusing on the outcome, but that is in fact the path I have taken.