Academic journal article Physical Educator

Combining Attentional Focus Strategies: Effects and Adherence

Academic journal article Physical Educator

Combining Attentional Focus Strategies: Effects and Adherence

Article excerpt

Typically, when a motor skill is introduced, the key elements or characteristics of the optimal movement pattern are highlighted for the learner. Often, in an attempt to assist the learner in understanding the movement requirements, this description directs learners' attention to their own body movements. This was demonstrated by Porter, Wu, and Partridge (2010), who found that 84.6% of elite track and field coaches gave instructions that focused on body and or limb movements. Numerous studies however, have indicated that this strategy should be reconsidered. Specifically, evidence suggests that learning and performance are enhanced when the learners' attention is instead directed to the effects of their movements (see Wulf, 2013, for a review).

A question of interest with respect to instructional focus is whether the external focus benefit was independent of individual differences. Wulf, Shea, and Park (2001) conducted a series of studies that examined what focus participants would adopt when given a choice and the resulting performance effects on a balancing task. On the first day of practice in Experiment 1, participants were asked to switch between an internal and external focus from trial to trial. Participants were then asked to select the focus condition they deemed most advantageous and were instructed to use it exclusively during practice the second day. No instructions regarding which focus to adopt were given during the retention test. Results indicated that of the 17 participants, 10 elected to adopt an internal focus for practice on Day 2, but no performance differences between the two focus groups were found. During the retention test however, only four participants maintained an internal focus (and one switched from an external to an internal focus) and the external group performed significantly better.

In the second experiment, more practice time was given and participants could explore the two strategies (internal vs. external focus) without restrictions. At the end of practice the second day, they were then asked which focus they perceived as more effective and were instructed to use only that strategy during the retention test. Results indicate that during practice, the total time spent utilizing each focus was similar. After the second day of practice, 16 of 20 participants elected to adopt an external focus for the retention test and this group was found to perform significantly better than their internal focus counterparts. The authors concluded that given sufficient experience with a task, learners are able to select the strategy that leads to better performance and learning and that the benefits of an external focus do indeed appear to be independent of individual differences as hypothesized (Wulf et al., 2001).

An alternative explanation, however, may be plausible. According to models proposed by Fitts and Posner (1967) and Gentile (2000), a characteristic of the first stage of learning is to develop an understanding of a movement's requirements. Given that participants were only given eight 90-second trials in the first experiment of Wulf et al's (2001) study, it is possible that the participants were still trying to acquire the movement pattern needed for successful performance and felt that the internal focus would best assist them in doing so. Once an initial pattern was established and the performer moved to the next stage of learning, they were able to determine that the external focus would be more beneficial for skill refinement. The findings of Perkins-Ceccato, Passmore, and Lee (2003) lend support to this notion. In their study, high and low skilled golfers performed pitch shots under different attentional focus schedules. Half of the participants in each skill level group were first directed to adopt an internal focus, while the other half were provided with external focus instructions. Upon completion of 50% of the practice trials, groups switched their focus to the other condition. …

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