I took private lessons from only one professional growing up. I owe a great deal of my passion for tennis to him, as well as a most of my development as a player. During a lesson one day he explained to me the four stages of learning any physical skill, and it’s stuck with me to this day. Today’s Essential Tennis article won’t be as long or technical as the previous few, but the information is very important to understand.

Phase 1: Unconsciously Incompetent

People who are in this phase include everybody who’s never played tennis before, along with those who have played for fun, but haven’t spent any time pursuing the improvement of any skills or abilities. This is the starting point for every player, no skills, and no knowledge of proper technique.

Phase 2: Consciously Incompetent

Now we have players who are in the beginning stages of improving their games. These players are seeking out information and hep that will benefit their strokes, strategy, and other technique. They now hold knowledge concerning tennis (hopefully it’s correct), however, they’ve yet to experience and practice enough to put these skills into practice consistently. A very large percentage of recreational tennis players fall into this category. They go out and play with their friends once a week for fun or exercise, once in a while they’ll flip through Tennis Magazine or discuss a certain stroke with a colleague, but when it comes down to it very few if any of their technique is fundamentally sound.

Phase 3: Consciously Competent

These players play often, and have invested time and effort into really improving their game. There is now an awareness of technique, strategy and stroke production. There is an understanding of right and wrong, good and bad, which elements of their game are strong and which are weak, and they are continuing to improve based on that knowledge. Very few players will get to this point without some kind of professional teaching or coaching, so most consciously competent players are taking lessons either regularly or at least once in a while to make sure they’re on the right path. I would say level wise, most of these players fall between 4.0 and 5.0 on the NTRP rating scale.

Phase 4: Unconsciously Competent

This is the ultimate! Only the highest level amateurs (5.0-5.5) and professionally playing tennis competitors ever get a taste of this. This player has the full package in terms technique, every stroke is fundamentally sound and confident after years of repetition and purposeful practice. When this player is operating at full capacity there is no conscious thought! Thats right, they go out and simply perform each part of their game automatically. Each and every stroke has been grooved enough that no thought is needed to perform it correctly. That doesn’t mean that this player doesn’t make any mistakes. After an error he or she will identify the problem, and the next time said stroke occurs, will be ready to perform it correctly again.

So there you have it, the ladder of tennis success. Only a very small percentage ever reach the top. Please realize that each of these terms is a generality speaking of a players entire game. In other words, one could be at Phase 3 for their backhand, and Phase 4 with their forehand, or have Phase 2 volleys and a Phase 1 serve. For a player to get their entire game to Phase 4 takes a great deal of dedication and work, and its my hope all of you will strive for the excellence that this takes!