4 Stages of Technical Development

By Jeff Tipping, UEFA A License, USSF A License, Former NSCAA Director of Coaching Education

Get Jeff’s book, “Drills and Exercises to Develop the Elite American Soccer Player©.”


My parents live in the UK and, when I visit them, I hire a car to get to their house. Driving in the UK is quite an adventure and is something to be approached very carefully if you are new to it;

  1. The British drive on the left hand side of the road.
  2. The steering wheel is on the right hand side of the car.
  3. 90% of British cars are stick shift and the gear stick is on your left.
  4. However - The pedals are the same as the USA – Clutch on the left, brake in the middle, accelerator on the right.

Accidents occur, frequently, at the airport and, often, involve a stick shift rental car driven by a person from a country where people drive on the right side – like the USA for example! It takes a while to adjust to driving in the UK. You really have to think about it!

I have learned that soccer players go through a similar process when learning a technique. Whether driving in the UK or learning the techniques of soccer there are four developmental phases which will need to be tackled. Let’s stick with soccer and forget the driving thing for the moment;

Stage 1. Unconsciously incompetent

At this stage of learning the player learning the skill is doing it incorrectly and does not know it. The first job of coaching is observation – the coach observes something is being done incorrectly. Of course coaches MUST know what it looks like when it is done correctly! If the coach does not have the basic knowledge of how a technique is done correctly then the incorrect habits the players have will become more and more ingrained – and more and more difficult to correct!

Stage 2. Consciously incompetent

The coach shows the player the correct movement and the player now becomes conscious of the correct technique. Players will still be, slavishly, patterned in the old ways and the coach can expect plenty of incorrect repetitions as the player tries to think through how it is done correctly but has difficulty in making the switch. Probably the quality the coach must have during this adjustment period is patience…AND…drills and exercises which allow the player time and space to make the initial adjustments without too much challenge! 



Stage 3. Consciously competent

The player is, for the majority of the time, performing the task correctly although he/she has to think about it. The player may still revert to old habits, particularly, when under pressure, or has to perform the technique quickly. The coach’s role here is, to give the player plenty of opportunities to practice the correct technique without too much pressure. To, slowly, put more and more pressure on the player until the player gets to stage 4.

Stage 4. Unconsciously competent

This is the final stage of learning wherein the player executes the correct technique 100% of the time without, having to think about it. This stage of learning involves executing correct techniques instinctively, under pressure and quickly. This is one of the ultimate goals of soccer coaching.

The key to player success will, often, depend on the sophistication level coaching when the player is developing initial habits. That is why there is such a growing emphasis, around the world, on having the best coaches coaching the youngest players!

And my advice when it comes to driving in the UK – take a taxi!