Levels of Competency
Moving from unconsciousness to awareness to unconsciousness
David Smith, Senior Editor TennisOne
Players who excel at tennis not only use ‘skilled' tennis strokes or techniques, they usually play within a mental ‘competency level' that often occurs at or near a subconscious level of thought.
In any sport, when a performer is playing or executing at superior levels of play, they are often quoted as playing ‘unconscious' or ‘in the zone'—a reference that they were operating at a level that required very little thought. I call this playing at one's ‘competitive intuitiveness.'
Click photo to hear Dave Smith talk about the difficulty of reaching high levels of play.
Let's take a small test. Get out of your chair and walk to the nearest light switch and turn the switch off and on. Go on, do it. I'll wait.
Good. You can come back now.
Now, let me ask you some questions about this activity. Did you think about which foot to step with first towards the wall? Did you think about how big of a stride you should take to efficiently get you to the wall? Did you over run the wall and bang your head on it? Did you think about how high to place your hand to touch the switch, how much pressure to use to turn it on or off? Did you miss the switch all together?
Obviously, you performed this simple task at a level of competency that did not require much, if any, conscious thought. Walking and reaching stationary objects don't require a great deal of skill. However, we did initially, as young children, move through a short period of trial and error, gaining balance, and generally failing (falling) many times until we mastered the simple art of walking and reaching for stationary objects.
Unlike walking, skilled tennis strokes, grips and swing patterns are neither simple nor common actions that novice players execute on a daily basis. Even when we are taught correct patterns and grips, these usually feel foreign and uncomfortable. Certainly, players trying to teach themselves tennis simply by trial and error will seldom attempt shots using foreign or uncomfortable grips or swing patterns. Likewise, players who understand that skilled tennis strokes require patience and dedicated practice will eventually create comfort and confidence in such previously unfamiliar actions.
Competency in any sport requires a dedicated and purposeful progression using ‘competent' techniques. Such competency will lead players to do two things:
Hit more effective shots more consistently.
This phase is the epitome of skilled tennis played at high levels. While there are many ways to hit a tennis ball over the net, most methods do not lead to the acquisition of this phrase. While many dinkers and hackers can play fairly consistently, few can hit progressively more effective shots. (This defines why so many players stagnate far below their potential.) In addition, if players do indeed improve, they generally will play against progressively better players. (Who can also hit more effective shots more consistently!) Sure, many techniques can get 3.0 level shots back. But at the 4.0 and above levels, balls come lower, faster, with more spin, more finesse, and greater disguise. Thus, most novice techniques fall short both in their own effectiveness as well as defending against these more effective shots.
Click photo to hear Dave Smith talk playing unconciously at the highest level.
Players who thus strive to work on difficult grips and strokes eventually gain a level of competency using such swing effects. Understanding that this will occur should provide all players with the confidence to proceed with such learning. Yet, this is just one step.
The following description of competency should open your eyes to the progressive nature of tennis for those who are actively seeking higher levels of skilled play:
Four Levels of Competency
Conscious incompetence: The first step towards awareness. Here we know we are doing it wrong but we may or may not be willing to change our incompetent—but comfortable—methods. This is a player who continues to dink second serves with no spin. They know that their serve is a puff ball, but they either don't know how, or are not willing, to make the necessary changes.
So, how do we reach this unconscious competency? Well first we must move from conscious incompetence, (recognizing we have a problem!) to conscious competency. (Conscious control.) When we create opportunities to practice conscious control of our strokes, like walking, we eventually do it without thinking.
At the pro level, players instinvtively stroke the ball without having to think about their technique.
Like playing the piano, if we only play with our two index fingers for twenty years, we won't be able to play much more than ‘Chop Sticks' during those two decades.
Tennis must be attempted within the framework of skilled grips and strokes, even while they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. This is the ONLY way that we can become competent tennis players. People don't spontaneously master such actions. Avoiding them certainly won't allow you to master them! Hitting a million shots with bad form will not suddenly make you have skilled form! If that were possible, we would have millions upon millions of skilled tennis players!
As always, we would love to hear from you! Questions, comments, personal experiences all create helpful dialogue for everyone! Please click here to send us your email.
(Click link to purchase Dave Smith's book, Tennis Mastery, at tenniswarehouse.com.)
Monty Basnyat focuses on the Maria Sharapova forehand and finds an important but too often overlooked component of the stroke. Club players of all levels can learn a lot form this simple yet insightful video tip.
Flow and the Zone
The flow can be defined as “a state of consciousness where one becomes totally absorbed in what one is doing, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and emotions. In this series of articles, Scott Ford discusses the components of flow and how they are reproduced and synthesized using the Parallel Mode Process. In tennis we call this optimal experience, this flow state “playing in the zone.
Why am I losing?
Players working hard on their game and who play competitive tournaments, at some point end up asking the question, “Why did I lose?” But in every tournament, all but one player will go home losers. Winning should not be the instrument of assessment in determining a player's improvement nor success. Winning is, however, more common for those who focus not on winning but on the improvement process. Dave Smith
Virtual Tennis Academy
Current professional tour coach, Heath Waters and wife, top 100 and former no. 33 in the world ranked tour player, Lindsay Lee-Waters, are proud to release the first predominantly all streaming video based e-learning tennis instructional website at www.virtualtennisacademy.com
Subscribers will receive personal video tennis instruction directly from Heath and Lindsay as well as mental coaching, sports performance training,and much more froma hand chosen team of experts currently working with professional tennis players on tour. Now anyone in the world, no matter what level, can receive the same world class training the world's best tennis players receive right from theconvenience of their own home.
Jeff Greenwald - Fearless Tennis
Feel you're playing tentatively and know that you have greater potential than you're demonstrating in tournaments? This one of a kind, double- CD audio program, FearlessTennnis: The 5 Mental Keys To Unlocking Your Potential, will help you compete with confidence, close out matches and is a great way to get the mental edge en route to a tournament.
Schedule Jeff Greenwald to Speak
If you wish to be removed from our newsletter list, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and leave the subject line blank. A confirmation email will be sent to you, and you will be removed from our newsletter list once you reply to that confirmation.
Copyright Notice: The contents of the TennisONE web site and contents forwarded to you by TennisONE are intended for your personal, noncommercial use. Republishing of TennisONE content in any way, including framing or posting of these materials on other Web sites, is strictly prohibited. See our full copyright statement