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  • Writer's pictureJosh Stevenson

Can’t Grasp A New Skill? This Is Probably Why…

The Four Stages of Skill Acquisition

Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

Unconscious incompetence is the first stage of skill acquisition. At this point, the athlete doesn’t know that they aren’t capable of the skill, and also does not value the performance of the skill. For example, the athlete is unable to perform a muscle up, and does not see how it could be beneficial to their development as an athlete.

One of the most important steps necessary to allow the athlete to move to stage 2 is to teach them the importance, relevance, or benefits of the skill. Until the athlete understands these, they will not dedicate the time and energy to improving their abilities in order to attain said skill.

Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

During this stage, the athlete begins their skill acquisition journey. The athlete is a true beginner, understanding the relevance of the skill but they do not have the ability to perform the skill. Additionally, the athlete is interested in progressing further and developing the skill. For example, the athlete wants to learn how to do a muscle up but knows they currently do not possess the skills to do so, and in turn, they seek an experienced coach who can guide them in learning the muscle up.

One of the ways individuals can progress to the next stage of skill acquisition is under the guidance of an experienced coach. Without this external guidance, the athlete will find it difficult to gain competence in the skill.

Stage 3: Conscious Competence

This stage of skill acquisition is when the athlete is midway through their journey. The athlete is beginning to learn the skill and is now able to perform it successfully. As the name of this stage implies, the athlete is very conscious of their actions within the skill and will be unsuccessful if they are not focused

This stage is where practice is extremely necessary, especially conscious and focused practice. Through repetition, the athlete will be able to move to the fourth and final stage.

Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

The final stage of skill acquisition is where the skill has become somewhat automatic as if performing the skill is second nature. The athlete no longer has to think about how to perform the skill, they can simply execute it with less effort required. A benefit of this level of skill development is the athlete can now perform multiple tasks at the same time. This may involve performing a muscle up, and communicating with a team mate to let them know they should be prepared to start the next task.

One feature of this level of development is that it also needs to be maintained. Frequent practice of the skill is necessary to ensure it remains second nature to the athlete, otherwise, they may slip back into earlier stages.


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