An external focus of attention, as opposed to an internal focus of attention, has been shown to increase performance and enhance learning. However, little research has examined whether these findings have been integrated into collegiate coaching and adopted by student-athlete performers. The purpose of this study was to examine the verbal instructions and instructional feedback provided by NCAA division 1 collegiate coaches during practice and how it influenced student-athletes’ focus of attention during competition. Thirty-one student-athletes completed a questionnaire that inquired about coaches’ verbal instructions and instructional feedback during practice and student-athletes’ focus of attention during competition. Fifty percent of participants reported that their coaches instructed them to focus their attention internally and only four participants reported that their coaches instructed them to focus externally. Our results also showed that coaches provided an equal amount of internal and external instructional feedback. During competition, however, the majority of participants reported statements that fell under the category of “winning and strategy.” These results suggest that the beneficial effects of an external focus of attention have not been integrated into NCAA division 1 collegiate coaching and the focus of attention adopted by student-athletes may be more complex than what is studied in laboratory research.
Jed A. Diekfuss and Louisa D. Raisbeck
Louisa D. Raisbeck and Jed A. Diekfuss
Performance benefits exist for an external focus of attention compared with an internal focus of attention for performance and learning (Wulf, 2013). It is unknown, however, if varying the number of verbal cues affects learning and performance. Focus of attention and the number of verbal cues were manipulated during a simulated handgun-shooting task. For the internal focus conditions, participants were told to focus on their hand, arm, and wrist, whereas the external focus instructions were to focus on the gun, gun barrel, and gun stock. To manipulate the number of verbal cues, participants received instruction to focus on a single verbal cue or multiple verbal cues. Shooting performance was assessed at baseline, acquisition, and at two separate retention phases (immediate, delayed) that included transfer tests. Participants completed the NASA—Task Load Index to assess workload following all trials. Participants who received one verbal cue performed significantly better during immediate retention than those who received three verbal cues. Participants who used external focus of attention instructions had higher performance and reported less workload at delayed retention compared to those who used internal focus instructions. This research provides further support for the benefits of an external focus and highlights the importance of minimizing the number of verbal cues.
Jed A. Diekfuss and Louisa D. Raisbeck
The primary purpose of this study was to describe the focus of attention NCAA Division 1 golfers use during practice and competition. A secondary purpose was to determine who was most influential in the focus of attention strategies adopted by NCAA Division 1 golfers. We collected observational data by attending practice sessions, conducting semistructured interviews, and administering guided focus groups. Results revealed two major themes pertaining to the focus of attention adopted by our sample of NCAA Division 1 golfers: situational focus and reactivity focus. Situational focus refers to the focus used within a specific context, and reactivity focus refers to the focus golfers adopt because of a psychological state. Further, our results revealed the importance of esteemed individuals’ instruction on the development of attentional focus strategies. Parents, coaches, and popular media were highly influential in our sample of NCAA Division 1 golfers’ selection of attentional focus strategies.
Louisa D. Raisbeck, Jed A. Diekfuss, Dustin R. Grooms and Randy Schmitz
Context: Although the beneficial effects of using an external focus of attention are well documented in attainment and performance of movement execution, neural mechanisms underlying external focus’ benefits are mostly unknown. Objective: To assess brain function during a lower-extremity gross motor movement while manipulating an internal and external focus of attention. Design: Cross-over study. Setting: Neuroimaging center Participants: A total of 10 healthy subjects (5 males and 5 females) Intervention: Participants completed external and internal focus of attention unilateral left 45° knee extension/flexion movements at a rate of 1.2 Hz laying supine in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner for 4 blocks of 30 seconds interspersed with 30-second rest blocks. During the internal condition, participants were instructed to “squeeze their quadriceps.” During the external condition, participants were instructed to “focus on a target” positioned above their tibia. Main Outcome Measures: T1 brain structural imaging was performed for registration of the functional data. For each condition, 3T functional magnetic resonance imaging blood oxygenation level dependent data representing 90 whole-brain volumes were acquired. Results: During the external relative to internal condition, increased activation was detected in the right occipital pole, cuneal cortex, anterior portion of the lingual gyrus, and intracalcarine cortex (Z max = 4.5–6.2, P < .001). During the internal relative to external condition, increased activation was detected in the left primary motor cortex, left supplementary motor cortex, and cerebellum (Z max = 3.4–3.5, P < .001). Conclusions: Current results suggest that an external focus directed toward a visual target produces more brain activity in regions associated with vision and ventral streaming pathways, whereas an internal focus manipulated through instruction increases activation in brain regions that are responsible for motor control. Results from this study serve as baseline information for future prevention and rehabilitation investigations of how manipulating focus of attention can constructively affect neuroplasticity during training and rehabilitation.
Christopher K. Rhea, Jed A. Diekfuss, Jeffrey T. Fairbrother and Louisa D. Raisbeck
Falls in older adults are a public health challenge due to their influence on well-being and health-care costs. One way to address this challenge is to discover new methods to enhance postural control in older adults so they are better prepared to maintain an upright stance. Older and younger adults (N = 32) performed a static balance task on a force plate with no instructions, internal focus instructions, or external focus instructions. Center of pressure displacement time series were analyzed using sample entropy and standard deviation. Only the external focus condition significantly increased postural control entropy, which was observed across both age groups. This study showed that an external focus of attention can be used to increase postural control entropy within a single session of testing.
Chanel T. LoJacono, Ryan P. MacPherson, Nikita A. Kuznetsov, Louisa D. Raisbeck, Scott E. Ross and Christopher K. Rhea
Obstacle crossing, such as stepping over a curb, becomes more challenging with natural aging and could lead to obstacle-related trips and falls. To reduce fall-risk, obstacle training programs using physical obstacles have been developed, but come with space and human resource constraints. These barriers could be removed by using a virtual obstacle crossing training program, but only if the learned gait characteristics transfer to a real environment. We examined whether virtual environment obstacle crossing behavior is transferred to crossing real environment obstacles. Forty participants (n = 20 younger adults and n = 20 older adults) completed two sessions of virtual environment obstacle crossing, which was preceded and followed by one session of real environment obstacle crossing. Participants learned to cross the virtual obstacle more safely and that change in behavior was transferred to the real environment via increased foot clearance and alterations in foot placement before and after the real environment obstacle. Further, while both age groups showed transfer to the real environment task, they differed on the limb in which their transfer effects applied. This suggests it is plausible to use virtual reality training to enhance gait characteristics in the context of obstacle avoidance, potentially leading to a novel way to reduce fall-risk.