help_outline Skip to main content
Login / Profile
Login / Profile


Where are you in the skill scale?
Author Last Post
Read my post below first, otherwise this doent make sense.
Im somewhere between level 2 and 4 depending on the skill set. here's my self assessment:

I have some technique flaws that Joe pointed them out to me recently. I know my stroke wasnt perfect, but didnt necessarily know what I was doing wrong. Now, Im correcting them, but still have to think about correct form so Im a level 2 or 3.

Bow paddling I think Im level 3 or 4. I do most of it without thinking but still get burned every now and then so Im certainly not a solid 4, but getting closer

Stern paddling Im a level 2.5 or 3. I can do it competently most of the time but if I stop thinking about it in a race, my stroke, course, technique, timing, or power suffers.

Bracing Im a pretty solid level 4. This is in large part to paddling solo a lot in a J200 race boat. If you're not ready to brace without thinking about it you do a lot of swimming during turns, so this engrained a fairly automatic reflex in me.

Solo paddling Im somewhere between level 2 and 3. I can do most of it pretty well, but I still think a fair amount about where I need to be, how to fight or ride a wave and things like that. Its becoming unconscious in calm conditions, but when you get in a busy situation like a race start I still have to think a lot about what I need to be doing.

So thats my deal. Feel free to post your own insights if you want to!
After Rookies we were talking to a couple people about how to improve their skills. The wise Mr Karl H mentioned the theory of conscious competence which I wasnt familiar with. After a little researching it I think it relates directly to paddling skill (or any other skill in life really). If you've never heard about it, read this excerpt explaining it and place yourself in one of these categories:

You start a level 1: Unconscious Incompetence.
(You Don't Know that You Don't Know)
(You Don't Know that You Don't Know)
("You dont know that you dont know")
-The person is not aware of the existence or relevance of the skill
-The person is not aware that they have a particular deficiency in the area concerned
-The person might deny the relevance or usefulness of the new skill
-The person must become conscious of their incompetence before development of the new skill or learning can begin
-The aim of the trainee or learner and the trainer or teacher is to move the person into the 'conscious competence' stage, by demonstrating the skill or ability and the benefit that it will bring to the person's effectiveness

Level 2: Conscious Incompetence ("You know that you dont know")
-The person becomes aware of the existence and relevance of the skill
-The person is therefore also aware of their deficiency in this area, ideally by attempting or trying to use the skill
The person realizes that by improving their skill or ability in this area their effectiveness will improve
-Ideally the person has a measure of the extent of their deficiency in the relevant skill, and a measure of what level of skill is required for their own competence
-The person ideally makes a commitment to learn and practice the new skill, and to move to the 'conscious competence' stage

Level 3: Conscious Competence ("You know that you know")
-The person achieves 'conscious competence' in a skill when they can perform it reliably at will
-The person will need to concentrate and think in order to perform the skill
-The person can perform the skill without assistance
-The person will not reliably perform the skill unless thinking about it - the skill is not yet 'second nature' or 'automatic'
-The person should be able to demonstrate the skill to another, but is unlikely to be able to teach it well to another person
-The person should ideally continue to practice the new skill, and if appropriate commit to becoming 'unconsciously competent' at the new skill

Practice is the single most effective way to move from stage 3 to 4

Level 4: Unconscious Competence ("You dont know that you know, its subconscious") 
-The skill becomes so practiced that it enters the unconscious parts of the brain - it becomes 'second nature';
common examples are driving, sports activities, typing, manual dexterity tasks, listening and communicating
-It becomes possible for certain skills to be performed while doing something else, for example, knitting while reading a book
-The person might now be able to teach others in the skill concerned, although after some time of being unconsciously competent the person might actually have difficulty in explaining exactly how they do it - the skill has become largely instinctual
-This arguably gives rise to the need for long-standing unconscious competence to be checked periodically against new standards

(if you're still reading I applaud you! Its kinda dry, but I love this science-y brain stuff. I think it leads to a better self perspective if nothing else).

(the Unofficial) Level 5 ("You have insight to your unconscious actions")
'Conscious competence of unconscious competence', which describes a person's ability to recognize and develop unconscious incompetence in others.

Arguably this is a development in a different direction: ability to recognize and develop skill deficiencies in others involves a separate skill set altogether, far outside of an extension of the unconscious competence stage of any particular skill. As already mentioned, there are plenty of people who become so instinctual at a particular skill that they forget the theory - because they no longer need it - and as such make worse teachers than someone who has good ability at the conscious competence stage.

Alternatively a fifth stage of sorts has been represented as follows:

"One will only know a maximum of 80% of anything ... and the remaining 20% is never the same." (Thanks to W McLaughlin for this, who suggested separately that 'Bateman' may be the source of the conscious competence model itself.)

And another suggestion, from David Baume:

David wrote, May 2004: As a fifth level, I like what I call 'reflective competence'. As a teacher, I thought "If unconscious competence is the top level, then how on earth can I teach things I'm unconsciously competent at?" I didn't want to regress to conscious competence - and I'm not sure if I could even I wanted to! So, reflective competence - a step beyond unconscious competence. Conscious of my own unconscious competence, yes, as you suggest. But additionally looking at my unconscious competence from the outside, digging to find and understand the theories and models and beliefs that clearly, based on looking at what I do, now inform what I do and how I do it. These won't be the exact same theories and models and beliefs that I learned consciously and then became unconscious of. They'll include new ones, the ones that comprise my particular expertise. And when I've surfaced them, I can talk about them and test them. Nonaka is good on this (Nonaka, I. (1994). "A Dynamic Theory of Organizational Knowledge Creation." Organization Science 5: 14-37. (David Baume, May 2004).

Originally authored from

Return to Forum