Came across this description of player ability over on the polo section of the London Fixed-Gear and Single Speed Forum and thought it was a pretty good description:
You're brand new to the game. For some reason, you've found yourself on court, on a bike and with a mallet in your hand. Try as you might, you cannot hit the ball. How people can ride so fast, cover their brakes, play on their off-side, do weird scoop shots and read the game tactically you have no idea. In learning terms, this player is unconsciously incompetent. That is to say they have no understanding of what to do or what they need to do to attain that understanding.
You've played some polo. You've crashed a few times. You tweaked some things on your bike and you have your own mallet. You've worked out that sometimes you need to play in goal and sometimes you're happy to sit there if there are two better players on your team. You've realised that there are things you need to learn to get better. You are consciously incompetent.
You can play polo but it takes mental effort and concentration. You need to focus to play your best. You need to ask yourself questions like “Am I in the right position?” You have become consciously competent.
Polo is in your blood. You do things without thinking. If another player asks you a question about a specific situation then you can't explain why you do it – it's second nature. You've developed a style and character to your play. You have become unconsciously competent.
Consciously unconsciously competent. You think about why you unconsciously do the things you do and you can explain it to other people. You can talk about and test your skills and theories against other people's theories. Consequently you become exposed to new ones that expand your own competencies.
The move between stage 1 and stage 2 will take care of itself. You may only be in this stage for a few hours which is why a lot of players don't really remember their early days and how alien it feels to try and hit that ball.
The move between stage 2 and 3 is tough. To make the move you need to start to question everything you do on court. What happens if you try new things? Ask yourself who has a polo game that you respect and look at what they do. Ask why they do it. If they can't explain it, try doing it and work out why they do it for yourself. It's about finding answers.
The move between stage 3 and 4 is experience. It's knowing yourself and your decisions inside-out. You can't get there until you've perfected your decision making process though – otherwise you will be making wrong decisions and feeling unsure of yourself. You need the confidence to trust your decisions.
The move between stage 4 and 5... I don't really know. I'm not sure if anyone is at that level in polo yet – I don't think there's been enough time in the game's evolution.
The other thing to remember is that these states are fluid when applied to specific areas of your game. Let's take the example of your shot. Say you discover something that changes the way you shoot – suddenly you shoot in a consciously competent way as you try to remember the new technique. Over time, it becomes unconscious until you start to tweak your technique again. Things can get worse before they get better!
London really holds it down. They have enough people to have two leagues going with nine teams each. I'd like to think I'm a solid stage 4 player - and that Memphis' best are all around there. But maaaaaan it'd be cool to have fifty active players in the city...