Plain and simple all players go through 4 stages of skill development in tennis. I thank Chuck Kriese for sharing this concept with me. It is applicable to so many things…
4 Stages of Skill Development:
Ultimately we want to get out players to the unconsciously-competent stage but you cannot skip any of the other stages along the way so let me explain exactly how you reach the final stage.
When a player is brand new to tennis they have absolutely no idea how to stroke the ball along with no conscious thought about how to correct their technique and improve. In essence, a true beginner is unconsciously-incompetent with their skill set.
Then a player is shown what to do correctly in a lesson, clinic or by a friend, parent, or coach. All of a sudden they have knowledge about what they are doing correct and incorrect. They now possess the knowledge of what to do but still cannot yet perform the skill effectively. The player is now consciously-incompetent.
Then by deliberately practicing the skill over and over again with conscious effort they continue to improve. The player reaches a point where as long as they are thinking about the specific steps of the skill they can perform it competently. This player has reached the consciously-competent stage.
Finally, with repetition, repetition, repetition eventually the player is able to perform the skill at an unconscious level. In other words they can perform the skill without having to actively think about it. The athlete has reached the unconsciously-competent level. The player truly owns the skill and it is embedded in their subconscious mind. This is the critical level players must reach to compete at higher levels of the game. When a player truly is unconsciously-competent their strokes will not break down in pressure situations and they can focus on strategic aspects of the game, which is exactly where a player’s attention should be in a match.
So the recipe for making a skill unconsciously-competent is simple, excellent instruction, conscious effort of the athlete while practicing the skill, and tons of repetition to cement the skill into the subconscious mind.