Adopting an External Focus of Attention Improves Sprinting Performance in Low-Skilled Sprinters

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Porter, JM, Wu, WFW, Crossley, RM, Knopp, SW, and Campbell, OC. Adopting an external focus of attention improves sprinting performance in low-skilled sprinters. J Strength Cond Res 29(4): 947–953, 2015—For more than 10 years, researchers have investigated how the focusing of conscious attention influences motor skill execution. This line of investigation has consistently demonstrated that directing attention externally rather than internally improves motor skill learning and performance. The purpose of this study was to test the prediction that participants completing a 20-m sprint would run significantly faster when using an external focus of attention rather than an internal or no-focus of attention. Participants were college-aged volunteers (N = 84; 42 women, 42 men; mean age = 20.32, SD = 1.73 years) with no prior sprint training. This study used a counterbalanced within-participant design. Each participant completed 3 days of testing, with each day utilizing a different focus of attention (i.e. internal, external, or control). Running times were collected automatically using infrared timing gates. Data were analyzed using a 1-way repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA). The results of the ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for condition, F (1, 83) = 6565.3, p ≤ 0.001. Follow-up analysis indicated that the trials completed in the external focus condition (mean = 3.75 seconds, SD = 0.43) were significantly faster than trials completed in the internal (mean = 3.87 seconds, SD = 0.64) and control conditions (mean = 3.87 seconds, SD = 0.45). The analysis also indicated that the control and internal conditions were not significantly different. The results of this study extend the findings of previous research and demonstrate sprinting performance can be improved by using an external focus of attention.

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