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Effects of focus of attention depend on golfers' skill

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In this study, we examined the influence of internal and external attention instructions on the performance of a pitch shot by golfers who were either highly skilled (mean handicap = 4) or low skilled (mean handicap = 26). Ten golfers in each skill group used a 9-iron to pitch a ball as close as possible to an orange pylon, which was located at distances of 10, 15, 20 or 25 m from the golfer. Focus of attention was manipulated within participants (counterbalanced across golfers). Under internal focus of attention instructions, the participants were told to concentrate on the form of the golf swing and to adjust the force of their swing depending on the distance of the shot. For the external focus of attention conditions, the participants were told to concentrate on hitting the ball as close to the target pylon as possible. The most intriguing finding was an interaction of skill with focus of attention instructions for variability in performance. Similar to the findings of Wulf and colleagues, the highly skilled golfers performed better with external attention instructions than with internal focus instructions. In contrast, the low-skill golfers performed better with the internal than with the external focus of attention instructions. These findings are discussed relative to theoretical issues in motor learning and practical issues for golf instruction.
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Effects of focus of attention depend on golfers’ skill
NATALIE PERKINS-CECCATO, STEVE R. PASSMORE and TIMOTHY D. LEE*
Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, 1280 Main St. West, Hamilton, Ontario L8S 4K1, Canada
Accepted 24 March 2003
In this study, we examined the influence of internal and external attention instructions on the performance of a
pitch shot by golfers who were either highly skilled (mean handicap = 4) or low skilled (mean handicap = 26).
Ten golfers in each skill group used a 9-iron to pitch a ball as close as possible to an orange pylon, which was
located at distances of 10, 15, 20 or 25 m from the golfer. Focus of attention was manipulated within
participants (counterbalanced across golfers). Under internal focus of attention instructions, the participants
were told to concentrate on the form of the golf swing and to adjust the force of their swing depending on the
distance of the shot. For the external focus of attention conditions, the participants were told to concentrate on
hitting the ball as close to the target pylon as possible. The most intriguing finding was an interaction of skill with
focus of attention instructions for variability in performance. Similar to the findings of Wulf and colleagues, the
highly skilled golfers performed better with external attention instructions than with internal focus instructions.
In contrast, the low-skill golfers performed better with the internal than with the external focus of attention
instructions. These findings are discussed relative to theoretical issues in motor learning and practical issues for
golf instruction.
Keywords: focus of attention, golf, motor performance, skill.
Introduction
The mechanics, biomechanics, motor control and
physiology involved in playing golf have receiv ed
considerable attention in the sport science literature
recently (e.g. Craig et al., 2000; Lindsay et al., 2000;
Dorado et al., 2002). However, evidence about the
mental aspects of golf performance has generally been
limited to anecdotal testimonies. This appears to be
changing. New empirical evidence has emerged on the
mental training of the golf swing (Christina and
Alpenfels, 2002; Guadagnoli et al., 2002), the electro-
encephalographic patterns of the pre-putt routine
(Crews and Landers, 1993), the responses of golfers
to pressure (Beilock and Carr, 2001) and the study of
the ‘yips’ in putting (Smith et al., 2000). Another issue,
which is the focus of this paper, is the role of attentional
focus, defined as the influence of instructions to
consciously attend to specific information during the
production of action.
For many years, attentional focus received con-
siderable attention in both learning theory and the
game of golf, but only recently has it become the
subject of empirical investigation. Discussion of the
role of attentional focus in golf was restricted to
opinions offered in golf instruction books by profes-
sional golfers and golf instructors. Not surprisingly,
there is wide variation in opinion on the topic. For
example, some emphasize that the golfer’s attention
should be focused on what the limbs are doing during
the swing, with suggestions such as: ‘consciously make
sure your hands are firm at the finish of each swing’
(Toski et al., 1978, p. 19), and, in putting, ‘con-
centrate on keeping your hand and wrist position
steady through impact’ (Kern, 2001, p. 22). Othe rs,
however, suggest that attention should be directed
away from what the hands or other body parts are
doing. For example, Jack Nicklaus suggests that ‘it’s
all too easy to become so immersed in ‘‘swing
mechanics’’ that you forget the objec t of the exercise
. . . stay focused on swinging the club head freely
through the ball’ (Nicklaus and Bowden, 2000). In
lagging putts, David Leadbetter suggests you ‘imagine
that you’re sw eeping the putter-blade just as you
would a broom . . . The brush point where the
bristles would make contact should be right at the
ball’ (Leadbetter and Smith, 2001).
Researchers have also commented on the role of
attentional focus (James, 1890; Bernstein, 1996 ), but it
was not until recently that Wulf and her colleagues
provided some empirical evidence. Using different
* Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed.
e-mail: scapps@mcmaster.ca
Journal of Sports Sciences, 2003, 21, 593–600
Journal of Sports Sciences ISSN 0264-0414 print/ISSN 1466-447X online
#
2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/0264041031000101980
sports and laboratory tasks, Wulf and others (recently
reviewed in Wulf and Prinz, 2001) examined the impact
of attentional focus, often by comparing the effects of
instructions that direct a participant’s attention to the
production of body movement (internal focus of
attention) or to the effect in the environment that is
produced as the result of body movement (external
focus of attention). Their results revealed that perfor-
mance under external focus of attention instructions
was better than performance under internal focus of
attention instructions for both the performa nce and
learning of motor skills. These findings have been
replicated and extended by others (Hodges and Franks,
2000), implying that the focus of attention finding is a
rather robust and potentially importa nt component of
the ‘mental’ aspect of sport performance.
For golf perfo rmance, the results of several studies
have suggested that performance improves when atten-
tion is directed away from the production of movement.
Masters (1992) and Hardy et al. (1996) conducted golf
putting studies in which participants who learned to
putt while simultaneously doing a secondary task
performed better under pressure than participants
who tried to learn the task with attention to the explicit
procedures involved in putting. In a study by Beilock et
al. (2002), relatively high -skill golfers (handicap 58)
also benefitted from secondary task performance. In
this study, participants either monitored their swing
(verbally indicating when the follow -through was
completed) or did not monitor their swing by perform-
ing an attention-distracting task (listening to a tape and
responding verbally when a specific tone was detected).
Performance in the tone-monitoring condition was
better than in the swing-monitoring condition, lending
support to the idea that intern ally focused attention
disrupts putting performance. In another study by Wulf
et al. (1999), groups of inexperienced individuals
learned a golf chipping task under differing conditions
of attentional focus. The participants who were asked to
focus on the club during the swing (an external focus)
performed better in practice and retention than the
participants who were asked to focus attention on the
arms during the swing (an internal focus). Thus, there
is some evidence to support the cont ention that an
external focus of attention is better than an internal
focus of attention for golf performance (and learning).
Although focusing one’s attention on the movement
of the limbs during a golf shot appears to be detrimental
to performance (compared with an external focus), this
may depend on the skill of the golfer. On a theoretical
level, Bernstein (1996) suggested that an external focus
of attention might be more beneficial for skilled athletes
than less skilled athletes because the level of automiza-
tions are different. Bernstein argued that motor skills
(or the subcomponents of motor skills) are more highly
automatized in expert athletes than in non-experts. An
internal focus of attention would essentially revert the
athlete to a mode of control associated with less skill,
consequently disrupting the current mode of control. A
similar theoretical idea (dechunking of proceduralized
skills) was suggested by Beilock and her colleagues for
the breakdown in performance associated with atten-
tional monitoring of the putting stroke (Beilock and
Carr, 2001; Beilock et al., 2002).
There is also some empirical evidence which suggests
that attentional demands have different effects on
automatized and non-automatized skills. A second
study in Beilock et al. (2002) compared the dribbling
performance of skilled and novice football players who
used either their dominant or non-dominant foot. In
the attention demanding task (listening to words and
speaking a target word out loud when detected), the
high-skill soccer players’ performance far exceeded that
of the novices in both the dominant and non-dominant
foot conditions. However, when attention was directed
to movement (the foot), the performance of the
experienced players was far better than that of the
novices for the non-dominant foot, but only moderate ly
better when using the dominant foot. Thes e findings
suggest that the internal focus of attention conditions
disrupted performance of the high-skill players only
when they performed with the foot that, presumably,
had achieved more automated performance control.
Also, there was a slight trend in the findings of Beilock
et al. (2002) for the novices to perform better in the
internally focused conditions than in the attentionally
demanding condition when using both the dominant
and non-dominant foot.
The findings of Beilock et al. (2002), together with
other theoretical predictions, suggest that the detri-
mental effects of internal focus of attention instructions
might be greater for high-skill golfers than for low-skill
golfers. Also, because their mode of control would
probably be far less ‘automated’ than that of high-skill
golfers, it might be expected that the performance of
low-skill golfers under an internal focus of attention
would be less detrimental or, perhaps, even better than
with an external focus of attention. These experimental
predictions were examined in the present study using a
golf pitch shot.
Methods
Participants
Ten high-skill male golfers and 10 low-skill golfers (8
males, 2 females) volunteered to participate in the
study. The high-skill golfers had a mean Royal
Canadian Golf Association (RCGA) handicap of 4; all
had handicaps between 0 and 8. The mean handicap of
594 Perkins-Ceccato et al.
the low-skill golfers was 26; all had handicaps between
20 and 36. None of the low-skill golfers had ever
received formal golf training and all had played
recreationally for a minimum of 2 years. All individuals
signed informed consent, were naive to the purpose of
this study and were paid $20 (Cdn) at the end of the
study.
Apparatus and task
Pitch shots were performed on a flat grass field. The
participants chose to use either their own 9-iron or one
that was provided by the experimenter. Although the 9-
iron may not be the club preferred by all golfers for
pitch shots of varying distances, we believed that, for
low-skill golfers, it is a club that is more commonly used
and easier to control for pitch shots than wedges. Solid
core white golf balls were used by every participant
throughout. The participants pitched at a target from
four hitting locations of 10, 15, 20 and 25 m. The target
was a standard fluorescent orange pylon. A ‘+ was
created from the centre of the pylon with yellow nylon
rope to divide the target area into four quadrants (see
Fig. 1). Initial ball contact position (the location where
the ball first landed on the grass) was used to measure
performance. To determine this position, all golf balls
were coated with white chalk. This chalking resulted in
a white mark where the ball first contacted the grass
surface. This method allowed for a quick and accurate
measure of the initial contact position of the golf ball in
terms of its distance and angle relative to the pylon.
Two experimenters determined the ball’s location: one
calculated the distance with a measuring tape radiating
from the centre point, while the oth er measured the
angle with a protractor. From the distance and angle
information, x- and y-coordinates were determined
through bas ic trigonometric calculations. These coor-
dinates were necessary to calculate two-dimensional
error scores.
The participants were not informed of the results of
their performance after each trial so as to reduce the
effects of knowledge of results on the performance of
subsequent shots. To further reduce information feed-
back about the just-performed shot, occlusion goggles
were worn to prevent direct vision of the outcome of the
shot. The goggles permitted full vision during set up,
preparation to hit the ball and during the swing until the
point at which the club made contact with the ball. At
this point, a third experimenter manually controlled a
switch that resulted in the goggles immediately becom-
ing opaque. Vision remained occluded until after all
measurements had been taken, the resting golf ball had
been removed from the field and the golfer had been
guided to the next starting position. Although not very
‘natural’, it was our belief that the effectiveness and
consistency of the experimental manipulations would
be stronger if information about the outcome of the shot
was eliminated, since post-action feedback is generally
acknowledged to be a leading contributor to trial-to-
trial changes in motor behaviour.
The participants’ task was to perform golf pitch shots
as accurately as possible by attempting to land the ball
as close as possible to the target pylon (on the fly) while
performing according to the instructions of a particular
focus of attention condition. We chose to use the ball’s
landing point as the task goal simply because the
‘smoothness’ of the grass landing area where the
experiment was conducted was much less consistent
than would be expected, for example, when pitching the
ball onto a green and rolling the ball towards the hole
true bounces and rolls were much less consistent in our
test area than would be expected on a green. Thus, the
landing point was considered to be a more reliable
estimate of the golfer’s shot than the final resting point.
Procedure
The participants performed five practice trials from a
distance other than the four used in the study. This
allowed each participant to become familiar with the
hitting turf and the occlusion goggles. A 5 min rest
Fig. 1. The experimental set-up. The small dark circle
represents a spot where a ball landed, the larger shaded circle
represents the target pylon, and the four distances from the
pylons represent the hitting locations (not drawn to scale).
595Effects of focus of attention depend on skill
period was allowed after these practice trials and
participants were instructed about their objective: to
hit a target pylon with the golf ball using a 9-iron pitch
shot. The participants were assigned to one of the two
attention exposure ord ers, whereby they completed 40
pitch shots in one focus of attention conditi on, followed
by 40 pitch shots in the other focus of attention
condition. Order of focus of attention exposure was
counterbalanced across participants within each group.
Shots occurred in a predetermined, quasi-random
order at each of the four shot locations. In total, the
golfers performed 10 shots at each of the four target
distances under each of the two attentional focus
conditions.
The participa nts received verbal focus of attention
instructions at the start of the study and were
reminded of these instructions before every fourth
shot. For the internal focus of attention instructions,
the participants were told to concentrate on the form
of the golf swing and to adjust the force of their swing
depending on the distance of the shot. For the ex ternal
focus of attention conditions, the participants were
told to concentrate on hitting the ball as close to the
target pylon as possible. To encourage the participants
to adopt the given attentional focus instructions, they
were asked to make an estimate of their perceived
performance after each shot. After shots in the internal
focus of attention condition, the participants we re
asked to estimate the appropriateness of the force that
they had used for the just-completed shot based on a
5-point Likert scale (‘far too little force’, ‘too little
force’, ‘just the right amount of force’, ‘too much
force’ or ‘far too much force’). Our rationale was that
asking golfers to estimate the force produced on the
just-completed shot would help to encourage an
attentional focus on the force requ irements needed
for the next shot. After each external focus of attention
trial, the participants were asked to estimate where the
ball had landed relative to the pylon (well before the
target, just before the target, on target, just past the
target or well past the target). Here, our rationale was
that asking the golfers to estimate the outcome of the
shot relative to the location of the pylon would
encourage attentional focus on the pylon for the
upcoming shot.
Two-dimensional average and variable error scores
were calculated, using the formulae suggested by
Hancock et al. (1995). The average error score
represented the mean two-dimensional distance of the
landing point of the shot relative to the target. The
variable error score represented the within-person,
within-condition variability of the individual trials about
the mean average centroid. The average error score and
the variable error score were computed using the
following formulae:
average error ¼ðXc
2
þ Yc
2
Þ
½
variable error ¼fð1=kÞ E ½ðXi XcÞ
2
þðYi YcÞ
2
g
½
where Xc is the mean dis tance from the pylon in the
direction of the shot, Yc is the mean distance from the
pylon perpendicular to the direction of the shot, Xi is
the distance from the pylon in the direction of the shot
for the ith trial and Yi is the distance from the pylon
perpendicular to the direction of the shot for the ith
trial.
An initial analysis of the data revealed that the
assumptions for analysis of variance (ANOVA) regard-
ing homogeneity of variance had not been met,
especially for the variable error data. Therefore, before
analysis of variance, the average and variable error data
were subjected to a log transformation. Subsequently,
transformed data for each measure were submitted to
a four-factor ANOVA (two between-person and two
within-person factors) as an initial analysis. The
between-person factors were skill (low vs high) and
attention order (external–internal vs internal–external).
The within-person factors were attentional focus
(internal vs external) and target distance (10, 15, 20
and 25 m). This analysis was conducted to assess the
potential influence of order of attentional focus
instructions. Subsequent to this analysis, only the data
for the first 40 trials were used. That is, within each
skill group, we analysed only the first attentional
exposure condition. Therefore, the second set of
analyses involved a three-factor ANOVA, using skill
group and attention condition (internal vs external) as
between-person factors and distance as the within-
person factor. Tukey’s HSD tests were used to assess
between-mean differences for significant ANOVA
effects. Note that although the inferential statistics
(ANOVA and post-hoc tests) reflect the analysis of
transformed data, the means that are reported in the
text, tables and figures reflect observed (not trans-
formed) values.
Results
Average error
Average error performance by all groups in all condi-
tions is summarized in Table 1. The initial, four-factor
ANOVA revealed only main effects for skill
(F
1,16
= 16.1, P 50.001) and dista nce (F
3,48
= 15.9,
P 50.001). The low-skill group had significantly higher
error scores (mean = 463 cm) than the high-skill group
(mean = 205 cm). For the distance main effect, average
error increased with target distance (means = 207, 277,
382 and 471 cm for the 10, 15, 20 and 25 m distances,
respectively). Post-hoc analyses revealed significant
596 Perkins-Ceccato et al.
differences between all means with the exception of the
difference between the 10 and 15 m targets.
No significant interactions were found in this
analysis, raising the concern that the order of attentional
focus conditions somehow moderated the res ults. That
is, perhaps once an individual received a given focus of
attention instruction, there was a carryover effect that
influenced subsequent performance in the other att en-
tional focus condition. Anoth er consideration was that
participants’ performance may have been affected by
fatigue. However, the findings of the second ANOVA,
in which only the data from the first attentional focus
condition were analysed (i.e. the first 40 trials), also
revealed only the same main effects as the initial
analysis. Both skill (F
1,16
= 14.6, P 50.01) and distance
(F
3,48
= 7.69, P 50.001) were the only significant
effects.
Variable error
Variable error performance by all groups in all condi-
tions is summarized in Table 2. The initial, four-factor
Table 1. Mean average error scores (standard deviations in parentheses; all values in cm) for the four groups of golfers as a function
of the two orders of instructions and the four shot distances
Internal focus External focus
10 m 15 m 20 m 25 m 10 m 15 m 20 m 25 m
Low skill 226 270 402 446 273 333 475 522
(int/ext) (147) (166) (156) (207) (119) (127) (89) (192)
Low skill 300 487 546 749 369 469 581 963
(ext/int) (278) (290) (344) (437) (213) (151) (310) (646)
High skill 104 137 288 307 139 194 271 186
(int/ext) (93) (74) (117) (157) (129) (171) (229) (71)
High skill 107 139 266 327 141 188 223 265
(ext/int) (49) (77) (82) (155) (72) (50) (110) (187)
Note: Int/ext = the internal focus instruction trials given first and the external focus instruction trials given second. Ext/int = the external focus
instruction trials given first and the internal focus instruction trials given second.
Table 2. Mean variable error scores (standard deviations in parentheses; all values in cm) for four groups of golfers as a function of
the two orders of instructions and the four shot distances
Internal focus External focus
10 m 15 m 20 m 25 m 10 m 15 m 20 m 25 m
Low skill 892 1341 1786 2117 1274 1619 1413 2135
(int/ext) (158) (292) (549) (326) (354) (578) (195) (578)
Low skill 1403 2198 2515 2560 1285 2132 2982 4477
(ext/int) (307) (553) (620) (908) (248) (725) (1033) (3413)
High skill 719 1014 1576 1419 827 1078 1318 1681
(int/ext) (189) (314) (537) (377) (235) (412) (410) (278)
High skill 666 969 847 1214 524 624 820 1178
(ext/int) (226) (179) (284) (251) (262) (158) (213) (311)
Note: Int/ext = the internal focus instruction trials given first and the external focus instruction trials given second. Ext/int = the external focus
instruction trials given first and the internal focus instruction trials given second.
597Effects of focus of attention depend on skill
ANOVA revealed a significant main effect for skill
(F
1,16
= 41.2, P 50.001), with the high-skill group
(mean = 1029 cm) performing with significantly less
variability than the low-skill group (mean = 2008 cm).
A significant main effect was also found for distance
(F
3,48
= 44.5, P 50.001), which revealed increased
variability with increased pitching distance
(means = 949, 1372, 1657 and 2098 cm for target
distances of 10, 15, 20 and 25 m, respectively).
We also found a significant two-way interaction
between skill and attention exposure order
(F
1,16
= 13.0, P 50.01). Post-hoc analyses revealed that
the low-skill group when performing the internal focus
of attention condition first produced less overall variable
performance (mean = 1572 cm) than in the reverse
order (mean = 2444 cm). The opposite was true, how-
ever, for the high-skill group. For these more skilled
golfers, performing with external instructions first
resulted in overall lower variability (mean = 855 cm)
than with internal instructions first (mean = 1204 cm).
The subsequent ANOVA, which used only the data
from the first attentional exposure condition, also
revealed main effects for skill (F
1,16
= 29.5, P 50.001)
and distance (F
3,48
= 46.3, P 50.001), replicating pre-
viously described effects. Of importance, however, was
the finding of a significant skill by attentional focus
interaction (F
1,16
= 11.1, P 50.01). As illustrated in
Fig. 2, post-hoc analyses revealed that the low-skill
golfers performed with significantly more variability
when given external focus of attention instructions
(mean = 2719) than when given internal focus of
attention instructions (mean = 1665 cm). In contrast,
the high-skill golfers showed the opposite effect,
performing with significantly less variability in the
external focus of attention condition (mean = 786 cm)
than in the internal focus of attention condition
(mean = 1182 cm). Viewing the interaction from a
different perspective, the results revealed that the
high-skill golfers performed better than the low-skill
golfers with the external focus of attention instructions
only; the two skill groups were not significantly different
under internal focus of attention instructions.
Discussion
Several findings from the present study provide support
for the position that focus of attention effects in golf
pitching depend on the skill of the individual. First, we
found that the order in which instructions were given
affected the low-skill and high-skill golfers differently.
For the low-skill golfers, being provided with the
internal focus of attention instructions first resulted in
more consistent performance overall than when pro-
vided with the external focus of attention instructions
first. If the attention instructions had a carryover effect
from the first to the second set of trials (Poulton and
Freeman, 1966), then it might be expected that the
cause for this effect was the better carryover effect
produced by first having performed the internal focus of
attention condition. For the high-skill golfers, being
presented with the external focus of attention instruc-
tions first resulted in better perform ance overall than
being provided with the internal focus of attention
instructions first. Thus, if the impact of the first
instructional set produced a carry over effect to the
second, these findings suggest that the external atten-
tional focus instructions were more beneficial for the
more skilled golfers than the internal attentional focus
instructions.
Another finding that supports the above interpreta-
tion was noted when the data from on ly the first set of
trials were analysed, thereby eliminating the potential
carryover influences of order. For these data, the results
showed that performance under internal focus of
attention instructions was better than under external
focus of attention instructions for the low-skill group.
Conversely, the external focus of attention instructions
resulted in better performance than the internal focus of
attention instructions for the high-skill golfers.
We interpret these findings as supporting the view
that, in the execution of a golf pitch shot, once the
fundamentals of the swing have been learned well,
performance will benefit more by conc entrating on
where to hit the shot than by attending to the action of
the golf stroke that will produce the shot. Indeed, the
results from the second analysis revealed that the
performance of the high-skill golfers was no better than
that of the low-skill golfers when both were performi ng
Fig. 2. Variable error performance for the high-skill and low-
skill golfers under internal and external focus of attention
instructions.
598 Perkins-Ceccato et al.
with internal focus of attention instructions. In contrast,
the performance of the low-skill golfers, who may not
have learned the fundamentals of the pitch shot to the
extent where monitoring of the swing is no longer
necessary, appeared to benefit more by concentrating
on the action and the force to be produced than by
concentrating on the target. These differing roles of
attentional focus as a function of skill support both the
theoretical predictions of Bernstein (1996) and the
empirical findings of Beilock et al . (2002).
It is interesting to note that the dependent variable of
greatest importance in the present study was variable
error, not average error. This finding might reflect what
golfers of all levels of skill find to be the most frustrating
aspect of the game of golf the ability to perform
consistently from shot to shot. That attentional focus
would have such an impact on performance variability
supports the widely held contention that the game of golf
is strongly infl uenced by the mental aspects of the game.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the effec-
tiveness of motor learning practice variables reflects a
rather complex relationship that depends on many
factors, just one of whi ch is the skill of the individual
(e.g. Guadagnoli et al., 1996, 1999). The present
findings add to the growing complexity of this general
observation our results should be viewed as prelimin-
ary evidence for the differential effectiveness of focus of
attention instructions as a function of skill in golfers.
Obviously, there are many sources of information that
could be used as focal points upon which ‘internal’ and
‘external’ instructions could have been based. For
example, as a source for an internal focus, instructions
to have the golfer attend to the V-shape produc ed by the
angles of the two wrists, the amount of backswing of the
limbs during takeaway or many other swing keys, could
very well have produced a set of results that were either
stronger or weaker in terms of their influence on
performance by golfers of differing skill. Similarly,
several other sources of information could have been
used as the object of an external focus of attention.
Hitting a ball through an imaginary ‘window’, making
crisp contact at the ball–ground contact point and other
environmental cues to which the golfer could have been
directed to attend might also have produced stronger or
weaker ‘external’ attention effects. The notion of golf
skill might also be a critical variable. For example, there
is no assurance that participants with absolutely no prior
experience with golf would perform better under either
focus of attention condition. Therefore, the present
findings should be regarded with cautious optimism that
an effect that is entirely ‘mental’ has a profound impact
on the performance of golfers depending on their
playing skill. The implications of these findings for
instructing golfers of differing skill warrants further
research on the topic.
Acknowledgements
The work presented here represents part of the masters degree
requirements completed by the first author. This research was
supported by an operating grant awarded to the last author by
the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of
Canada. We thank Sian Beilock, Digby Elliott and Dominic
Simon for their comments on an earlier draft of the manu-
script.
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600 Perkins-Ceccato et al.
... Strong conclusions aside, EF has not always proved superior in studies of attentional foci (e.g., Maurer & Munzert, 2013;Neumann et al., 2020;Perkins-Ceccato et al., 2003). And while target-directed aiming tasks are well represented in the current literature, there are tasks that may favor more internal foci. ...
... Yet, sport studies have also demonstrated positive effects of task-relevant IF cues on rowing ergometer performance (Neumann et al., 2020) and golf pitching (Perkins-Ceccato et al., 2003) at lower skill levels. Neumann et al. (2020) recruited participants with no formal rowing experience and found that IF instructions encouraging them to exert force via various body parts, and also to focus on breathing and overall technique, led to a greater distance and power output on the rowing ergometer, as compared to EF instructions that asked participants to focus on various ergometer components. ...
... Focus on internal force exertion seems relevant for powerful and continuous exercises such as ergometer rowing, where the body provides rich feedback throughout the trials and fatigue plays an important role (Hutchinson & Tenenbaum, 2007). Further, Perkins-Ceccato et al. (2003) found more consistent pitching performance in low-level golfers (mean handicap ¼ 26) when using an IF, while high-level golfers (mean handicap ¼ 4) were more consistent with EF. Interestingly, the IF manipulation involved an encouragement to "concentrate on the form of the golf swing and to adjust the force of their swing depending on the distance of the shot" (p. ...
Article
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Research has repeatedly suggested that an external focus of attention is far superior to an internal focus of attention in motor learning and performance. Such findings have been explained through the lens of automaticity, as focusing externally on something outside your body should promote efficient and subconscious execution of any given motor action. In this paper, I critically review evidence and propose an alternative mechanism to explain why various foci are effective. Information, and its relevance to the task at hand, are at the center of this alternative view. The strong conclusions recently put forth in favor of an external focus, and the dismissal of all internal foci, appear unfounded. Researchers and practitioners should keep exploring attentional strategies that promote task-relevant information attunement.
... For example, a consistent benefit of external over internal focus instruction among both beginner and expert golfers was reported by Wulf and Su (2013). In contrast, Perkins-Ceccato et al. (2003) found that although the benefit of external over internal attention focus was present for experts' golf performance, no difference was found among beginners. Similarly, a recent study by Singh and Wulf (2020) found expert volleyball players to perform with higher accuracy under distal external focus instructions compared to proximal focus on the movement technique, whereas the opposite was found for novice players. ...
... This finding is in line with results by Wulf and Su (2013) that compared beginner and expert golf players. However, these results contradict findings by Perkins-Ceccato et al. (2003) and Singh and Wulf (2020), reporting larger benefits of external over internal attention focus instructions for expert over novice golf and volleyball players, respectively. Our findings also contradict results from Duke et al. (2011), who found only non-pianist musicians (n = 12) but not expert pianists (n = 4) to benefit from an external over an internal instruction, although that finding should be interpreted with caution as the keyboard task was very simple, possibly resulting in ceiling effects for expert pianists. ...
Article
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Detriments to performance under pressure are common in many performance settings, from public speaking to skilled sports or music performances. In the last few decades, sports scientists have suggested that the quality and accuracy of movements can depend on what the performer attends to while executing the action, with an external focus of attention directed at the effects of the movement on the environment resulting in better performance than an internal focus, where attention is directed at the performer’s own body movements. Here we investigated the effects of attention focus instruction on the accuracy of piano performance. Amateur pianists were asked to practice a set piano piece for 7 days and then perform it to the experimenter under different performance instructions (no instruction, internal focus, external focus). An external focus of attention resulted in more accurate performance compared to an internal focus instruction, as evaluated by the difference in the number of note pitch errors and note corrections between the two conditions. Importantly, the advantage of an external over internal focus did not depend on pianistic expertise in our sample. Our research supports the idea that an external attention focus can improve music performance and should be considered in music teaching practice.
... However, in another meta-analysis by Nicklas, Noël, and Klatt (2022) it was reported that the findings in support of an external focus cannot be generalized to all tasks and skill levels. On a local level, Perkins-Ceccato, Passmore, and Lee (2003) reported that novice golfers performed better under an internal focus of attention compared to an external focus. Porter and Sims (2013) investigated the effects of internal and external focus among highly trained football players performing a short distance sprint. ...
Article
Research on novices suggests that an external focus improves performance over an internal focus. For experienced performers the results on attentional focus have been mixed. Recently Becker, Georges, and Aiken (2019) suggested that a holistic focus may be a useful substitute when an external focus is not appropriate. The purpose of this study was to investigate attentional focus within track and field athletes performing an underhand shot throw. 18 female athletes performed an underhand shot throw (4 kg) under three focus conditions: internal, external, and holistic. Participants also rated their adherence to each attentional focus manipulation. Repeated-measures ANOVAs with Sidak post-hoc were used to analyze both underhand shot throw distance and focus adherence. A significant main effect for condition was observed for distance (F = 6.14, p = .005). A holistic threw farther than an internal focus (p < .001) with no difference between internal and external (p = .380), or holistic and external foci (p = .312). For adherence, a significant main effect for condition was observed (F = 4.56, p = .018) with holistic focus adhering to the cue significantly more than internal focus (p < .019). The results of this study are in line with research that found a benefit for a holistic focus with novice performers (Becker et al., 2019). Mullen and Hardy (2010) also found a benefit for the golf putt, basketball shot, and long jump with skilled performers adopting a focus on the global or holistic aspect of the skill.
... Ceccato, Passmore ve Lee; golf sporu ile uğraşan bireylerin dikkat odağı talimatlarının etkisi ile ilgili yapılmış olan araştırmada sonuç olarak; iyi düzeyde ve becerikli olan golf sporcularının iç dikkat odağı talimatları ile dış dikkat odağı talimatlarında çok daha iyi performans sergilerken, düşük becerili golf sporcularının aksine iç dikkat odağı talimatları ile çok daha iyi performans gösterdikleri sonucuna ulaşılmıştır. (Ceccato, Passmore & Lee, 2003 Dart sporunun dikkat düzeyine etkisinin incelenmesi amacıyla yapılan bu araştırmada elde edilen bulgular hareketle öğrencilerin dikkat seviyeleri cinsiyet değişkenine göre incelendiğinde herhangi bir farklılık tespit edilememiştir. ...
Article
Dart sporunun dikkat düzeyine etkisinin incelenmesi amacıyla yapılan bu araştırmada deneysel araştırma modeli kullanılarak, ön test-son test, kontrol ve deney grubu oluşturulmuştur. 2018/2019 Eğitim Öğretim yılı II. dönem başında, Ankara İl Milli Eğitim Müdürlüğüne bağlı olan Özel Aziziye Ortaokulunda öğrenim gören yaşları 9-31 arasında değişkenlik gösteren ve sedanter olan rastgelen seçilmiş 60 öğrenci oluşturmaktadır. Çalışma grubunda yer alan 60 öğrenci yansız atama yöntemi ile deney ve kontrol grubu olmak üzere iki gruba ayrılmıştır. Oluşturulan deney ve kontrol grubuna ön test olarak bourdon dikkat testi uygulanmıştır. 9-13 yaş deney grubunda bulunan katılımcılara sınıflarına asılan iki dart tahtası ile, Salı ve Perşembe günleri haftada iki gün olarak 8 haftalık dart sporu eğitimi verilmiştir. Aynı okulda öğrenim gören kontrol grubu öğrencilerine herhangi bir dart eğitimi verilmemiş ve normal okul eğitimlerine devam edilmiştir. Sekiz haftanın sonuna gelindiğinde hem kontrol hem de deney grubunda yer alan öğrencilere son test olarak Bourdon dikkat testi tekrar uygulanmıştır. Dart sporunun dikkat düzeyine etkisinin incelenmesi amacıyla yapılan bu araştırmada elde edilen verilerin analizinde bağımsız örneklem t-testi, tek yönlü varyans analizi ve sadece çalışma grubunda yer alan öğrencilerin ön test ve son test karşılaştırmalarının incelenmesi amacıyla, paired samples t-testi kullanılmıştır. Sonuç olarak; deney grubunda bulunan katılımcıların, ön test ve son test skor ortalamaları arasında oransal anlamda farklılığın olduğu, deney grubunun son test süre ortalamaları yaş değişkenine göre incelendiğinde anlamlı bir farklılık olduğu sonucuna ulaşılmıştır. Elde edilen veriler doğrultusunda, 9-13 yaş gruplarında, dart sporu uygulamalarının dikkat düzeyleri üzerinde pozitif yönde bir etkisinin bulunduğu ile ilgili öneriler sunulmuştur.
... An external focus of attention is oriented towards the movement effect in the environment, whereas an internal focus of attention aims at the moving body. Various studies investigated the effect of attentional focus in different types of movements, such as balance tasks, standing long jump, or counter movement jump [3][4][5], as well as in different sports, such as darts, golf, or surfing [6][7][8][9]. Most of these studies confirm that an external focus of attention leads to enhanced movement performance and learning (for a review, see [2]), but the explanation of this phenomenon and methodical questions are still being discussed [10][11][12]. ...
Article
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Externally focused attention is known to induce superior results in the movement outcome, whereas focusing attention on the moving body (internal focus) causes conscious control and constrains action. The study investigated effects on knee trajectory and whole-body movement complexity when addressing knee alignment using externally (EF) vs. internally (IF) focused instructions. Young ski racers, n = 24 (12 male), performed landings with subsequent jumps to submaximal height. Movements were tracked and analyzed during the ground contact phase. Sets of jumps were executed without instruction (CON), followed by EF and IF instructions on knee alignment in a random order. Medial–lateral displacement of the knee in landing quantified task achievement, and whole-body principal component analysis was used to compute movement complexity. Knee alignment instructions led to a significantly lower medial knee displacement compared to CON (p = 0.001, ηp2 = 0.35). EF vs. IF did not reach significance. EF, as well as IF instructions increased the prominence of the first movement pattern (p = 0.01, ηp2 = 0.22) with a reduction of higher-order patterns (p = 0.002, W = 0.11), suggesting a strategy of freezing degrees of freedom. Both instructions addressing the movement form positively influenced knee displacement during landing, and both led to a freezing strategy, simplifying whole-body coordination.
... However, in sports where movement itself is a primary evaluation criteria (i.e., gymnastics, dance, synchronized swimming) some authors suggested that the performance of those types of skills may benefit more from an internal focus of attention [39,40]. This is also supported by other research that claimed different effects of attentional focus according to the characteristics of the performed task, evaluation method, and developmental stage [38,[41][42][43]. ...
Article
Full-text available
The aim of our study was to discover the effect of different types of feedback in teaching/learning of difficulty elements of aerobic gymnastics. The study was designed as a one-group comparative interrupted time study. For this purpose, eight gymnasts competing in the national development category were selected (average age 9 ± 1.5 years; average sport age 4 ± 1.5 years). The design of the study included two intervention programs; each lasting 23 days interrupted by an 8-week break. In intervention program 1, the group practiced a straddle jump using self-modeling followed by verbal feedback, and in intervention program 2 the group practiced a split jump using expert modeling followed by verbal feedback. The experimental group practiced three times a week for a period of 30 min per usual training session (normally lasting 90 min). The results showed that the execution of the elements in both intervention programs improved at the 5% level of significance. In intervention program 1, we noted a significant improvement (p ≤ 0.05) in subphase approach and culmination. In intervention program 2, we noted a significant improvement (p ≤ 0.05) in culmination only. There was no significant difference between the changes of the final scores of the executed elements in intervention programs 1 and 2. Comparing the results of individual subphases, we noted no significant difference either.
... This locus of visual search might naturally adjust participants' FOA to the external focus. Furthermore, Perkins-Ceccato et al. (2003) suggested the skilled golfers performed more consistently when provided with an external FOA, whereas the less skilled golfers performed less consistently when provided with an external FOA. However, it can be criticized that the participants in the internal FOA condition were asked to concentrate on the form of the golf swing. ...
Article
Although research has leaned toward an external focus, there is no consensus on the optimal distance of the attentional focus for novice learners. The purpose of this study was to examine which type of attentional focus is beneficial for the novices performing golf putting task. Forty-five novice learners (23 males, 22 females), aged 20 to 37, participated in this study. Participants were randomized into the attentional focus of attention (FOA) conditions of internal (i.e., focus on the arm movement), external-proximal (i.e., focus on the golf club), and external-distal (i.e., focus on the target). Each participant was requested to perform four blocks of 10 putts on an artificial putting surface. The total number of putts made, total putt points achieved, and perceived confidence for each putt were recorded. A 4 (block) × 3 (condition) mixed-design analysis of variance was applied for data analysis. The external-proximal FOA condition had significantly better performance (i.e., more putt points) than the external-distal FOA condition. Under the internal FOA condition, participants significantly made more golf putt points during the third and fourth blocks than the first block. Perceived confidence was significantly elevated during the third block and fourth block compared to the first block across all conditions. Postexperimental manipulation check showed most participants adopted the focus as they were instructed. The external-distal FOA may be detrimental for novice learners in skill acquisition. Putting performance was related to the perceived confidence for the golf stroke. Therefore, it is recommended that practitioners consider the OPTIMAL theory by facilitating external-proximal FOA and the motivational factor together for novice learners.
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The aim of this study was the effect of internal and external attention on anticipatory motor plannig. in people with MS. Thirty patients with mean age of 34 age mean= 2 ± 34 / 43 , EDDS= 6-4) with criteria for participation in the study. to prevent the effects of sequencing on task assignment to a subgroup The three focus groups were internal, external, and non-instructional .In this study, the Bar-transfer task was used for anticipatory motor planning. Interventions focused on the focus of attention on the thumb and on the external attention to the Bar. Analysis of variance with repeated measures was used to investigate the effect of different types of focus onanticipatory motor planning. The results showed that external focus in the Bimanual task led to an increase in comfortable end state and non-instructional effort resulted in better internal focus as well as Stroop test score, executive functions, and weksler test with most project conditions and assignments. There was a significant relationship between most conditions and assignments. Also, Pearson correlation coefficient test results showed that there is a significant negative relationship between Stroop test score and executive functions with predictive planning in two-handed and two-handed assignments in all attentional focus conditions, and also between the numbers of the number-calling test and the Predictive projection in the two-handed and two-handed assignments was significantly correlated across all attentional conditions .
Article
Background: Outcome of motor practice is influenced by focus of attention. Paying attention to the environment (external focus) has been reported to be more effective than paying attention to body movements (internal focus). On the other hand, internal focus was reported to be more effective for novice sports players, indicating that the optimal focus differs among individuals. Outcome of motor practice is also reported to be influenced by motor imagery ability, where subjects with higher motor imagery ability show better outcomes. However, the possible relation between optimal focus of attention and motor imagery ability is not yet known. Methods: In this study, we evaluated the motor imagery ability of healthy young students using a mental rotation task, and divided the subjects into low-motor-imagery and high-motor-imagery groups. The subjects performed the Functional Reach Test, which reflects balance ability, and performance was examined during and after repeated practice with different focuses of attention. Results: Internal focus was more effective than external focus for the low-motor-imagery groups, while internal focus and external focus were similarly effective for high-motor-imagery groups. Conclusion: These results indicate the relation between optimal focus of attention and motor imagery ability, and suggest the importance of evaluating motor imagery ability in choosing optimal focus of attention for motor practice.
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This study examined whether the learning advantages of an external focus of attention relative to an internal focus, as demonstrated by Wulf, Hööß, and Prinz (1998), would also be found for a sport skill under field-like conditions. Participants (9 women, 13 men; age range: 21–29 years) without experience in golf were required to practice pitch shots. The practice phase consisted of 80 practice trials. One group was instructed to focus on the arm swing (internal focus), whereas another group was instructed to focus on the club swing (external focus). One day after practice, a retention test of 30 trials without instructions was performed. The external-focus condition was more effective for performance during both practice and retention.
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The goal of practice is generally to learn skills for the purpose of recalling those skills at a later date. One of the common dilemmas in organizing practice for skill acquisition is the degree to which interference during practice benefits skill acquisition. In the present study, a random practice protocol was compared to a blocked practice protocol to assess the effectiveness of each protocol on learning the skill of putting. Additionally, practice protocol was crossed with performer experience to assess the nature of the relationship between the level of the performer and appropriate practice protocol. Participants completed a pre-test, four practice putting sessions and a post-test. Retention test scores were analyzed using a 2(Practice Protocol)x2 (Performer Experience)x2(Test) ANOVA with repeated measures on the last factor. The results demonstrated that for novice performers, a blocked protocol yielded superior retention performance. However, for experienced performers, a random protocol yielded superior retention performance.
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Four groups learnt a novel bimanual coordination movement pattern under instructions designed to manipulate focus of attention. It was predicted that instructions directing attention onto the effects of the action would facilitate learning. Three groups received demonstrations of the required 90° relative phase movement. Two of the demonstration groups also received instruction directing attention either towards the feedback (EXTERNAL), or the relationship between their arm movements and the feedback (RELATION). The third group received no attention directing instructions (DEMO). A final group was only provided with goal relevant feedback (NO DEMO). A scanning task enabled coordination bias to be assessed pre-practice. This was conducted to ensure task novelty and assign participants equally across groups based on strength of bias to in- and/or anti-phase. Acquisition rate was slower for the DEMO only group, especially compared to the EXTERNAL group. Additionally, participants biased to in-phase (as compared to anti-phase) during the scanning trial also showed high error early in practice. These differences remained in retention. Irrespective of feedback condition the DEMO group evidenced the most error in retention. However, all groups were affected by the removal of on-line feedback, although the attention-directing instructions provided during practice somewhat decreased the negative effects associated with feedback removal. Overall, the in-phase-biased participants were most affected by withdrawal of feedback. It was concluded that movement demonstrations alone do not facilitate learning of a novel coordination task, unless additional goal-directed instruction is provided. Additionally, individual differences in coordination bias pre-practice can be used to predict learning rate and quality.
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Studies investigating the influence of the learner’s focus of attention, induced by instructions or feedback, on motor skill learning are reviewed. In general, directing performers’ attention to the effects of their movements (external focus of attention) appears to be more beneficial than directing their attention to their own movements (internal focus of attention). Preliminary evidence is presented indicating that an internal attentional focus constrains the motor system by interfering with natural control processes, whereas an external focus seems to allow automatic control processes to regulate the movements. Support for the view that actions are controlled by their anticipated effects comes from research demonstrating functional variability in motor control, as well as the benefits of purposeful activity in occupational therapy. We explain these results in terms of the ideomotor principle of human actions (James, 1890) and its more modern derivatives (Hommel, 1996; Prinz, 1990, 1997).
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