Four Stages of Learning

If you want to learn a new tennis stroke (or any new skill), there are four stages of learning that you need to go through. This concept is not new; but it is wonderfully insightful to the learning process.

According to Wikipedia, the “Four Stages for Learning Any New Skill” was developed at the Gordon Training International by its employee Noel Burch in the 1970s. It has since been frequently attributed to Abraham Maslow, although the model does not appear in his major works.

The Four Stages

1. Unconscious Incompetence – Here is where the process starts out. You can’t really hit a good backhand down the line – and you are not even aware of your shortcoming… you just keep on missing, almost every time you try to do it under any pressure at all.

2. Conscious Incompetence – In this stage, you RECOGNIZE the problem and want to do something about it. You either take a lesson, get some pointers from others, or start practicing a better stroke. Although you still cannot hit a good backhand down the line, you are aware of it … and trying to do something about it.

3. Conscious Competence – Here is where you start making real progress… you now UNDERSTAND what you have to do to change the stroke, you have made the changes, and can start hitting the backhand down the line – except you really have to think about what you are doing to execute the stroke properly.

4. Unconscious Competence – This is what you worked for! The stroke is now one that “you own” and can hit it whenever the occasion arises – without even thinking about it!
You must have patience for this process to really work for you. First you have to be committed enough to want to change and work at it regularly; but also recognize the process of change takes time. According to tennis teaching expert, Vic Braden, it takes TEN THOUSAND (correct) repetitions of a stroke before you can actually “own it” and put it in your Unconscious Competence category.

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