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The 5-Stage Framework for Achieving Peak Performance

Author: Mike Shaw, Co-founder of Headstartpro Performance Training


In terms of skill development and competence, there are five stages that athletes must work through to achieve peak performance in any sport. But how does mental game fit into the skill-development picture? 

In this article, we’ll explore some ways to activate the Headstartpro techniques to aid skill development so that we can all reach stage 5, peak performance.


Stage 1: Unconscious Incompetence

When we start playing a sport, we often don’t realize how bad we are until we’ve screwed up enough times to know, “it’s not as easy as it looks.” We might participate in this kind of “ignorance-is-bliss” state for a little while, thinking, “oh yeah, I’ve got this.” Unfortunately, the bliss doesn’t last long, and we quickly realize that we actually “don’t got this.” It becomes clear that we need to put in work and effort to improve.


Stage 2: Conscious Incompetence

So, we’ve started to grasp our level of incompetence—usually a humbling experience. Now what?

At this stage, we need to start working on sport-specific skills to help us play at a higher level. In terms of competence, developing skills so that they reach “habit-strength” is the goal; which means learning a skill so that it happens automatically, whether we are thinking about it or not. It requires conscious effort and repetition, but after a while, the neural pathways become well-traveled, automatic, and concrete.

When early skill development involves the practice of Headstartpro’s performance-related habits, like moving your eyes first before you move, players and teams benefit. Not only do athletes learn to see opportunities and options faster, but they also enjoy the benefits of their reflex actions. Also, breaking bad habits is much more complicated than wiring good ones from the get-go. So, bringing performance-related habits into your practices at an early stage is a good tactic.


Stage 3: Conscious Competence

Ok, now our work is paying off, and we know what we’re doing, great! But we still need to think about our actions.

By stage 3, we’ve learned a set of sport-specific skills and have begun to work on some performance-related habits, but it’s not happening automatically—yet. Once we’ve dialed in our technique, we need some mileage, which is just a matter of doing enough reps. Keeping our heads in the game is essential at this stage because any distractions, whether they’re internal or external, can compromise our focus and ability to perform. So, we need to learn to manage distractions so we can control our attention.

Learning to use Headstartpro’s self-trigger technique is essential for getting your mind back in the moment when distracted, but it takes practice. When you’re in a rush, frustrated, or tired, use your physical state as a trigger to bring your mind back to the moment. As you practice this technique, you begin rewiring your brain with a new pattern of threat detection and response. For instance, when you recognize that you are in a rush, instead of thinking about why you’re rushing or what will happen if you’re late, your automatic response will be to keep your “eyes and mind on task.” Mastering the self-trigger technique is one of the keys to advancing to stage four.


Stage 4: Unconscious Competence

Wow, we’re getting good now! So good that we don’t even need to think about our actions. 

Once we reach stage 4, our level of competence is at the point where we no longer need to think about sport-specific skills, self-triggering, or our performance-related habits. Why? Because we’ve developed these skills to the point of habit-strength. When a sport-specific or performance-related ability has reached habit-strength, it happens automatically. Whether your mind is in the moment, on task, or not-on-task, your actions will fall back on these automatic skills—your habits.

One thing to note about stage 4 is this is where many of the significant performance errors and injuries happen. We are so competent that we no longer perceive the risk of making a mistake or error. In stage 4, it becomes incredibly important to continue putting effort into our habits with eyes and mind on task to compensate for complacency.

Achieving unconscious competence, when you no longer have to think about what’s happening and when your actions and awareness meet, is imperative for reaching stage 5—the flow state. 


Stage 5: The Flow State or “The Zone”

The Zone, that elusive state where everything just clicks, we perform at our best, our abilities are at an all-time high, and everything “flows.” We experience euphoria. We often can’t remember what happened, but things just worked, and it was fun! How can we get here more reliably?

The most common thing preventing athletes from hitting the flow state once they’ve mastered their sport-specific skills is getting distracted. Unfortunately, even if you are proficient enough at your sport to get into the flow state, distractions can impede your ability to get there. So, managing distractions with techniques like self-triggering and working on performance-related habits becomes essential for achieving peak performance more often and more reliably.

Source: (2017, May 11). The Four Stages of Competence. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/wiki/strategy-alignment-and-planning/the-four-stages-of-competence/


For more info on Headstartpro, the Critical Error Reduction Techniques, a full list of performance-related habits, and other strategies for achieving peak performance, check out our online courses for coaches and athletes:

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