There are four stages of player development. The steps begin with a player not even knowing they need to improve and moves through the revelation that improvement is needed. Next, there is a stage where the player has improved but doesn’t recognize the improvement, until finally the player reaches the point of knowing they are good.
Here are the stages and the roles coaches and players can play in each.
Unconsciously Incompetent: This is where players start. They don’t have a clue that they aren’t at the level they think they are. The coach’s role is to teach them what they need, encourage progress, and praise small successes.
Consciously Incompetent: Eventually, they will understand they are behind. It takes some longer than others to reach this understanding, and it is a critical stage. How they react when they first understand they are behind, is the most important aspect of this stage. They have three choices: quit, remain incompetent, or take it as a challenge and work at what others are doing better. It’s easy for a coach to continue comparing the struggling player to the others on the team. However, the best thing they can do is compare them to the player they used to be.
Unconsciously Competent: This is where the most progress can be made. Players generally become competent before they know it. It’s a confidence issue. Going from suddenly realizing most of the players around them are better to finally reaching equal footing is difficult transition. The coach plays an important role in building confidence, making sure the player knows that the process is working.
Consciously Competent: Now they know they are good. So what’s next? Again, players have a choice. However, they might not know it yet. It’s the coach’s job to point out their options. They can stop working and regress. They can be competent forever, basically do enough work to stay the same. Or they can continue using the process that got them to this stage and work toward the next stage. A simply question to ask is “How good do you want to be?”
Now let’s take the same four stages and discuss the parents’ role in each. First of all, it’s important to know there is an old saying in sports – Players win games, coaches lose games, parents ruin them.
Unconsciously Incompetent: This is difficult for parents to recognize in their own child, but without understanding he or she is behind, progress can’t be made. There are, of course, signs along the way. Does your child struggle with the basic skills? Does your son or daughter look lost on the field, spending more time watching than actually playing? Does your child seem to have problems others don’t?
Consciously Incompetent: Once parents are able to admit the painful truth, they can help. Parents should encourage their child to do extra work, and they should do what they do best – provide opportunities for their player to get that extra work, watch more games, learn from better players.
Unconsciously Competent: Like the player, the parent won’t initially recognize when the player reaches this stage. After spending all that time with the knowledge that their child is behind, it’s hard to see when the child has made enough improvement to reach a level equal to their teammates. When this realization is made, the parent can help with confidence and encouragement.
Consciously Competent: This, in a parent’s hands, can be dangerous, especially if a mom or dad has tied their role on the team to the ability of their child. Parents of a good player can ruin all the progress their child has made if they start acting like they are a special part of the team. The parent of a consciously competent player should help their child make the choice of how good they want to be. If child wants to continue making improvement and work toward being even better, the parent should simply help by assisting and encouraging.
As a coach or parent, it’s important to keep these roles in mind each time you step out onto the field, court or diamond. Staying honest through the process will help the player, and the team, reach their greatest potential.