They say that those who can’t do, teach. If that’s true, then the inverse must be true as well: Those who do, can’t teach.

It’s an interesting phenomenon that happens more often than you might think. For example, take Wayne Gretzky, hockey’s all-time best player. After retiring from the sport, he emerged as head coach to the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005. To the disappointment of many, he failed to lead the team to the playoffs in his four seasons as coach, which begs the question — why?

An explanation can be found in something called the “conscious competence learning model,” which outlines the steps everyone goes through when acquiring a new skill. Here’s how it works.

Stage 1 is called “unconscious incompetence.” The individual has no understanding and/or know-how of the skill, and does not even recognize its importance. (Example: A person who doesn’t drive a car.)

Stage 2 is “conscious incompetence.” Here, the learner acknowledges the value of the skill and their need for it. This is key because people only respond to training when they are aware of their deficit and see how they would benefit from learning the new skill. (Ex: A person with a driver’s permit.)

Stage 3 is known as “conscious competence.” Training begins and the individual is hard at work practicing the new skill, which requires deliberate, or conscious, effort. (Ex: A person who has just passed their driver’s test.)

Stage 4 is “unconscious competence.” At this point, the learner has mastered the skill to the point where it’s become second nature, requiring no thought, and can perform it while executing another task. (Ex: A person who drives on "autopilot.")

As a professional athlete, Wayne Gretzky was performing at the highest Stage 4 level — the sport had become almost instinctual to him. Those performing at such a high level often have a difficult time breaking down the steps to explain to others how they do what they do. Because of this, they may be worse teachers than those in the “conscious competence” stage.

So how does this relate to aquatics? Well, understanding this learning process can help managers train their staff more effectively. It stresses the need to train people in stages, which is vital to overcoming training obstacles. These obstacles often can be solved by identifying which stage the individual is at and exploring the reasons preventing their progress.