The Path To Learning

Posted by : Liz Ford

In Psychology, there's a long-held theory that learning a new skill happens in stages, and that any student needs to pass through four levels of competence in order to achieve mastery. In level one, unconscious incompetence, you are blissfully unaware that you have the need for a new skill. Level two, conscious incompetence, brings awareness to the problem but no solution. Level three, conscious competence, sees you solving the problem, but with great effort. Level four, unconscious competence, means that you can be successful without thinking about it.

Most pool skills follow this trajectory as they become part of your game. Using English - specifically adjusting your aim to account for the deflection and curve that applying spin causes - is one of the most difficult things to incorporate into your game. Looking at aim adjustment with the four stages of competence model, let's examine the steps you're likely to go through from spin newbie to English boss.

Unconscious Incompetence
At this stage you aren't aware of or you undervalue the need to make adjustments in your aim. You start juicing up shots with English and scratch your head when they don't go in. You might even devalue using English as a skill because you miss when you try to use it. Usually you'll keep plugging away, missing shots, until someone shows you concretely what's going on and the value of making a change.

Conscious Incompetence
Now you start to become aware of the ways that you're missing shots. Thoughts cross your mind like "Gee, every time I use inside English, I overcut the shot" or "I can actually see the cue-ball curve as it crosses the table and I know I'm about to miss." You enter a path of trial and error to try to make successful adjustments, with most of your efforts being errors. The news of your lack of ability can feel depressing, but the increased powers of observation are vital to your moving forward into competence.

Conscious Competence
Through repeated trial and error, you finally begin to build a step-by-step framework around aiming with English - where you first think about the adjustment required to be successful and then execute it. Mental errors still produce physical errors when you get tired, forget a step or suffer a brief loss of confidence in your skills, but now you're confident that you can get the results you want from hard work and discipline.

Unconscious Competence
At this final stage of the learning process, making aiming with English becomes second nature. You won't be aware that you're adjusting, just that it feels "right" to hit the shot in a certain way. Your aim has now become unconscious, or automatic, and you're able to start focusing on other aspects of the shot, like speed control, without a fear of missing. Chances are you won't notice the adjustment in aim unless you switch to a cue that plays very differently, causing you to readjust. At this stage you'll also be well-equipped to teach the skill to someone else and start them off down the same process.