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Mastering the inner game of tennis through managing the competency cycle

Updated on June 23, 2013

Becoming competent at tennis - the inner game of tennis

When you start to consciously improve your game of tennis, you will find that your competency with any tennis shot will improve in a predictable way. Understanding this competency cycle, can help you persist and improve how you play both the inner game of tennis and the outer game.

Sports coaches have come to recognize that competency develops through four recognized stages. Understanding the stages of the competency cycle is a key aspect of mastering the inner game of tennis. It will also help you persist with your efforts to improve your tennis strokes. The four stages are discussed in the modules below.

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Stage 1: Unconscious incompetence

Before you start to improve a tennis stroke, you are often unconscious of what you are doing wrong. It may have to do with your swing, your stance, your grip or the way you address the tennis ball.

In this stage, you are not conscious of your specific incompetence though you may experience a sense of unease or dissatisfaction with the results of your effort. This dissatisfaction leads to the desire to improve the way you play tennis.

Stage 2: Conscious incompetence

Through your reading, coaching or observation, you have now become aware of what you are doing wrong. You may have been watching a slow motion video on YouTube and seen how Federer plays his backhand. You have identified an area for improvement, e.g. improving the way you grip the racquet to complete a backhand stroke.

You are now consciously incompetent, you are aware of your specific incompetence in relation to gripping the racquet for a backhand. You start to change your grip in practice and it feels very uncomfortable and you are not successful initially. One of the challenges at this stage is to unlearn established, unconscious habits.

It is important to persist despite the discomfort and frustration. This is where so many people drop out, give up and go back to their old way of doing things.

Stage 3: Conscious competence

If you persist with practising a better way (e.g. improving the way you grip your racquet for a backhand shot), you will start to feel comfortable with the new grip. You will also start to be more successful with your backhand shots.

The improvement in your backhand gives you positive reinforcement to keep up your practice.

You still have to make a conscious effort but you are acquiring the necessary competence, you are becoming consciously competent.

Stage 4: Unconscious competence

This is the stage where the new backhand grip becomes a part of your normal play, you do not have to think about it as you just do it naturally. It requires no conscious effort.

The old saying, 'practice makes perfect' is emphasizing this stage of achievement. If you persist with conscious practice, eventually you will overcome old habits and replace them with new ones that are equally unconscious.

If you reflect on your game as you play tennis you will notice that there are many things that you do on a tennis court that represent unconscious competence, things that you do naturally or spontaneously, without conscious thought. These are the micro-skills you have built up over time.

As you progressively build from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence across a range of tennis strokes, you are building your inner strength and inner armor. You are developing your ability to win the inner game of tennis.

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    • ronpass lm profile image
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      ronpass lm 8 years ago

      Feel free to leave your views and experiences of mastering new tennis strokes or developing your tennis mind game.