In the realm of fitness and sports coaching, the art of imparting instructions and feedback to athletes & clients plays a pivotal role in refining movement techniques and elevating performance levels. Central to this coaching dynamic is the choice between two distinct approaches to directing an athlete or client’s attention during movement execution: internal focus (IF) and external focus (EF). The former centres attention on body movements, while the latter directs focus to the environmental effects of the movement. Although prevailing literature supports the superiority of EF instructions for enhanced performance outcomes, a review published in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology (Werner et al. 2023) aimed to delve deeper into the nuanced interplay between focus-of-attention concepts and movement form corrections in technique training. Addressing this topic is crucial for coaches and trainers seeking to optimise their coaching strategies for improved results among their clients.
Understanding the Dichotomy: Internal vs. External Focus
The dichotomy between IF and EF instructions has been a focal point of research for over two decades. The effectiveness of EF instructions in promoting automatic motor control and superior movement execution has been extensively documented. In contrast, IF instructions, while persisting in coaching practices, are associated with constrained movement execution due to conscious interference with motor control mechanisms. Despite this disparity, IF instructions remain prevalent in certain application domains, posing the question of their role in movement technique adaptation.
Deciphering the Impact on Movement Form
A wealth of research literature has examined the effects of focus of attention on movement form and technique adaptation. Distinct areas of study have emerged, such as motor balance, explosive skills, youth sports, and therapeutic settings. However, the review identified a notable gap in understanding how focus instructions influence movement pattern changes. A crucial distinction arises between optimising coordination patterns within movement execution and refining specific movement trajectories to achieve desired outcomes. While EF instructions excel in optimising coordination patterns, IF instructions may hold the key to facilitating precise movement form changes.
Application to Technique Training
The application of attentional focus concepts to movement technique training is a critical consideration for us. Striking a balance between addressing body segments and the overall movement execution is essential for achieving optimal outcomes. Notably, the choice of instructions, whether implicit or explicit, significantly impacts movement outcomes. Engaging clients’ imaginations to visualise movement effects or creating novel constructs that direct attention towards specific movement trajectories can lead to enhanced movement form adaptations. The frequency and clarity of instructions, tailored to the clients’ comprehension, also play a pivotal role in achieving desired results.
Insights from Optimal Feedback Control Theory
Understanding the mechanics of attentional focus requires insights from the Optimal Feedback Control Theory. This theory elucidates how the variability in movement execution is controlled based on the task goal. Instructions focusing on specific body segments induce changes in the corresponding movement, often at the expense of holistic movement coordination. External-focused instructions, on the other hand, facilitate the integration of movement elements into a unified execution strategy, leading to optimised movement outcomes.
For us as coaches, and trainers, the review highlights several key takeaways:
- Nuanced Approach: While EF instructions tend to yield superior performance outcomes, the review underscores that the impact of attentional focus on movement form adaptations is nuanced. IF instructions can play a crucial role in facilitating targeted movement pattern changes.
- Technique Training: We should adopt a flexible approach, employing both IF and EF instructions strategically in movement technique training. Tailoring instructions to suit the desired outcome, whether it’s refining specific movements or optimising holistic coordination, is pivotal.
- Imagery Techniques: Leveraging imagery techniques that engage clients’ imagination to visualise movement effects can be a potent tool for achieving movement form corrections.
- Optimal Feedback Control: Understanding the principles of Optimal Feedback Control Theory provides a theoretical foundation for comprehending how attentional focus influences movement execution and coordination.
In essence, the interplay between attentional focus, movement form adaptations, and technique training is a multifaceted realm that demands a nuanced approach. By harnessing the insights offered by this review, we can enhance our coaching skills, tailor instructions for optimal results, and empower clients to reach new heights of performance excellence.
- Werner, I.; Federolf, P. Focus of Attention in Coach Instructions for Technique Training in Sports: A Scrutinised Review of Review Studies. Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology. 2023, 8, 7. Click here to review the full research article
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