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Coaching instructions and cues are methods of verbal communication that can be used specifically by strength and conditioning and sport coaches to focus an athletes’ attention for enhanced sport performance. Specifically, there is evidence to support that providing athletes external or neutral attentional focus instruction and cues can enhance sprinting speed. The purpose of this article is to translate the findings from the literature regarding the benefits and effects of coaching instructions and cues on sprint performance and to provide general recommendations for enhancing athlete sprint capabilities through the administration of appropriate verbal communications.
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Coaching Instructions and
Cues for Enhancing Sprint
Performance
Adam Benz, MKin, CSCS,
1
Nick Winkelman, MSc, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D,
2,3
Jared Porter, PhD,
4
and Sophia Nimphius, PhD, CSCS*D
1
1
Centre for Exercise and Sport Science, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup, Western Australia;
2
Rocky Mountain
University of Health Professions, Provo, Utah;
3
EXOS, Phoenix, Arizona; and
4
Department of Kinesiology, Southern
Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois
ABSTRACT
COACHING INSTRUCTIONS AND
CUES ARE METHODS OF VERBAL
COMMUNICATION THAT CAN BE
USED SPECIFICALLY BY
STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING
AND SPORT COACHES TO FOCUS
AN ATHLETES’ ATTENTION FOR
ENHANCED SPORT PERFOR-
MANCE. SPECIFICALLY, THERE IS
EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT THAT
PROVIDING ATHLETES EXTERNAL
OR NEUTRAL ATTENTIONAL
FOCUS INSTRUCTION AND CUES
CAN ENHANCE SPRINTING SPEED.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE IS
TO TRANSLATE THE FINDINGS
FROM THE LITERATURE REGARD-
ING THE BENEFITS AND EFFECTS
OF COACHING INSTRUCTIONS
AND CUES ON SPRINT PERFOR-
MANCE AND TO PROVIDE GEN-
ERAL RECOMMENDATIONS FOR
ENHANCING ATHLETE SPRINT CA-
PABILITIES THROUGH THE ADMIN-
ISTRATION OF APPROPRIATE
VERBAL COMMUNICATIONS.
INTRODUCTION
Strength and conditioning is a pro-
fession that largely depends on
communication between a coach
and an athlete. Verbal instructions, cues,
and feedback are essential to the
coaching process to communicate
appropriate information for enhanced
performance. Within the realm of
coach-athlete communication, verbal
instructions, cues, and feedback are the
3 main types of performance-related
communication a coach will use during
practice or competition. Although
many coaches and researchers use these
terms interchangeably, there are distinct
differences between them. The opera-
tional definition of verbal instructions
for this article is medium-to-long task-
oriented phrases, generally 3 or more
words in length, verbally administered
to an individual before the performance
of a motor skill. Verbal cues are short
task-oriented phrases, generally 1 or
2 words in length (22), verbally admin-
istered to an individual before or during
the performance of a motor skill. Most
verbal cues are verbs, for example
“push,” “explode,” and “drive,” and can
be used by an athlete as a mantra to
focus on and/or repeat during the per-
formance of a motor skill. Finally, aug-
mented verbal feedback is task-relevant
information provided during or after
(17) the performance of a motor skill
by an external source (e.g., coach, video
replay) and is supplemental to the nat-
urally available feedback that is available
through the athlete’s senses (i.e., audi-
tory, tactile, and visual). Collectively,
verbal instructions, cues, and feedback
provide a framework for coach commu-
nication before, during, and after the
performance of motor skills.
Despite the role coach communication
has on motor skill development, it is
still common to hear coaching called
as “an art opposed to a science.” How-
ever, emerging research in the area of
motor behavior has provided insights
that clarify the scientific underpinnings
of effective coach communication.
Based on the available findings, this
article will focus on the influence of
verbal instructions and cues on the per-
formance of motor skills. Specifically,
linear sprinting will be emphasized, as
it represents one of the most important
motor skills in sport. Moreover, being
able to sprint faster and more efficiently
puts an individual at a considerable
competitive advantage (55).
ATTENTIONAL FOCUS: LINKING
COACHING INSTRUCTIONS AND
CUES TO SPRINT PERFORMANCE
There has been a recent increase in
motor behavior publications within
strength and conditioning research
journals (5,46,47,49,67). The primary
emphasis of this research has been to
examine the effects of attentional focus
on explosive power-based tasks (e.g.,
sprinting, jumping). From a coaching
perspective, instructions and cues facil-
itate an attentional focus. For the pur-
poses of this article, attentional focus is
KEY WORDS:
coaching; instructions; cues; feedback;
attentional focus; sprinting
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defined by the conscious ability of an
individual to focus their attention
through explicit thoughts in an effort
to execute a task. An athlete’s atten-
tional focus can be directed internally
on their body movements (i.e., move-
ment process), externally on the effect
their movements have on the environ-
ment (i.e., movement outcome), or
neutrally whereby there is no explicit
attempts at conscious focus, instead
nonawareness is promoted (19,48,75).
For the purpose of this article, we will
consider analogies (or metaphors) to
fall within the definition of external
focus (e.g., “get off the ground fast like
you’re sprinting on hot coals”), as the
analogies suggested within the practi-
cal sections of this article do not explic-
itly call attention to the body (8). For
example, a coach instructing the push
phase of a sprint may provide an inter-
nal cue by telling the athlete to “focus
on explosively pushing through their
foot,” provide an external cue by telling
the athlete to “focus on explosively
pushing the ground away,” or provide
a neutral cue by telling the athlete to
“complete the sprint as fast as you can.”
The instructions carry the same mes-
sage, but the internal cue calls attention
to the body (i.e., foot), the external cue
calls attention to the effects on the
environment (i.e., ground), whereas
the neutral cue does not focus attention
internally or externally (Figure). It
should be noted that analogy
instructions and cues allow individuals
to implicitly adopt movement profi-
ciency without being explicitly aware
of the body movements being per-
formed (1,14); thus, analogy instruc-
tions and cues may encourage an
external focus of attention by promot-
ing goal-relevant dimensions of the
task (25).
Focus of attention has wide spread
importance across strength and condi-
tioning, sports coaching, physical edu-
cation, and physical therapy. Over the
past 17 years, the evidence showing
the differential role of various atten-
tional foci has grown exponentially
(69). Using a ski-simulator task, Wulf
et al. (75) published the first experi-
ment describing the differential role
of an internal versus external focus of
attention. In that study, the internal
focus group was “instructed to exert
force on the outer foot” and the exter-
nal focus group was “instructed to exert
force on the outer wheels” of the ski-
simulator, whereas the control group
received no instruction (i.e., neutral
focus). This subtle difference in instruc-
tions resulted in superior performance
for the external compared with the
internal focus and control groups, with
no difference observed between the
internal focus and control groups.
More recently, Porter et al. (2015)
found that low-skilled sprinters com-
pleted a 20-m sprint significantly faster
when they were instructed to focus
externally “on driving forward as pow-
erfully as possible while clawing the
floor with your shoe as quickly as pos-
sible as you accelerate” compared with
focusing internally “on driving one leg
forward as powerfully as possible while
moving your other leg and foot down
and back as quickly as possible as you
accelerate” and neutrally within a control
condition where they focused on “run-
ning the 20-m dash as quickly as possi-
ble.” Collectively, a large amount of
evidence has extended early findings in
the laboratory to a diversity of popula-
tions and environments that are relevant
to the strength and conditioning coach.
Specifically, there is now evidence sup-
porting the use of an external focus of
attention across balance and postural
control (10,37,59,76,78), plyometric
tasks (5,31,46,47,49,67,71,72,79), sprint-
ing (18,52), agility (48), various strength
qualities (34,35,63), and a multitude of
sport specific skills (3,70,73,74,77,80).
The effects of attentional focus on sport
performance can be explained through
the constrained action hypothesis
(CAH), which states that directing
attention externally allows the motor
control system to operate under non-
conscious automatic processes by
which movement occurs reflexively
(20,52), leading to superior performance
outcomes (29). According to the CAH,
when attention is directed internally,
the motor control system operates
under consciously controlled processes
Figure. Internal versus external instructions applied to sprinting.
Instructions and Cues for Sprint Performance
VOLUME 38 | NUMBER 1 | FEBR UARY 2016
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(i.e., explicit monitoring), potentially
invoking working memory (45), which
constrains the motor system, leading to
less reflexive and fluent movement pat-
terns and poorer performance out-
comes compared with an external
focus of attention (6,20).
Keeping in mind the research findings
regarding attentional focus and perfor-
mance measures, it seems that using
verbal instructions and cues to alter
an individual’s focus of attention has
a meaningful impact on motor perfor-
mance. The impact that verbal instruc-
tions and cues have on performance
directly relates to how the coach or
sport scientist implements the instruc-
tions and cues to the individual, thus
affecting one’s attentional focus. How
the individual consequently focuses
their attention can then have an imme-
diate impact on skill performance, in
this case on sprint performance.
Despite such potential for improving
performance, the literature regarding
coaching tactics for sprinting has re-
vealed that coaches may not be regu-
larly providing the most beneficial type
of coaching instructions, cues, and
feedback to athletes to enhance sport
skills. For example, during the 2009
USA Track & Field National Cham-
pionships, a number of athletes from
various events, including the sprints,
were surveyed and asked what type
of verbal instructions, cues, and feed-
back their coaches provide to them
during training and competition (51).
The results of the study by Porter
et al. (51) revealed that 84.6% of the
athletes reported that their coaches
gave instructions, cues, and feedback
related to body movements (i.e., inter-
nal focus of attention). Consequently,
69.2% of the track and field athletes
reported that they adopt an internal
attentional focus when participating
in track and field competitions. This
finding is consistent with the conclu-
sions reported by Williams and Ford
(66), which stated that it is not typical
for coaches to apply suggestions made
by researchers. Possible reasons for
a disconnect between what sports sci-
ence research has found to be effective
and the methods adopted by coaches
may be the result of multiple factors,
including research being too theoreti-
cal or impractical, research using tasks
that are unrelated to sport perfor-
mance, and the possibility that coaches
are not aware of relevant research
(51,66). However, it is clear that sprint
performance can be enhanced by sim-
ply altering the way instructions, cues,
and feedback are delivered to ath-
letes (60).
EFFECTS OF VERBAL
INSTRUCTIONS AND CUES ON
SPRINT PERFORMANCE
SPRINT TIMES
Changes in sprint performance as
a result of instruction and cue provi-
sion are likely due to the athlete focus-
ing their attention on their own body
movements or specific body parts, on
a movement goal or effect, or by sim-
ply adopting a nonawareness strategy.
When focus of attention is altered,
there is likely a subsequent augmenta-
tion of biomechanical, physiological,
motor learning, or psychophysical out-
comes, which will all be discussed later
in this article. In regard to providing
athletes with instructions and cues to
enhance sprint times, there have only
been a few studies performed specifi-
cally exploring the effects of verbal
communication on sprinting speed
(Table 1). Currently, the results suggest
that the skill level of the athlete may be
a factor mediating how the athlete re-
sponds to the instructions and cues.
For example, Porter et al. (52) found
that low-skill athletes benefited most
from an external attentional focus
(52), whereas Porter and Sims (50)
found that high-skill athletes benefited
most from no assigned focus (50,60).
However, Ille et al. (18) found that
expert and novice athletes performed
faster 10-m sprint times with an exter-
nal attentional focus compared with
internal and nonassigned conditions.
Collectively, the limited evidence pro-
vides some preliminary conclusions
relative to how coaches should provide
instructions and cues. First, there is no
evidence within the sprinting literature
showing that an internal focus results
in superior sprint performance com-
pared with an external or neutral focus
(18,32,50,52,60). Second, although
some studies have shown that experts
perform better while using a neutral
focus relative to an external focus
(50,68), many studies have shown that
experts perform equally well under
external focus conditions (62) or even
better in some cases (18,74). There is
limited evidence to support the use of
neutral focus of attention instructions
and cues for enhancing novice perfor-
mance for simple tasks (61). However,
there is no evidence to suggest that
novices benefit from a neutral focus rel-
ative to an external focus particularly for
more complex tasks such as sprinting,
and therefore, coaches should preferen-
tially use external focus instructions and
cues with novice athletes (18,52) until
further research clarifies this topic. In
summary, novices and experts equally
benefit from an external focus relative
to an internal focus of attention; how-
ever, there may be instances where ex-
perts with high motor skill automaticity
do not need any explicit instruction (i.e.,
neutral).
BIOMECHANICAL OUTCOMES
Because there is an absence of litera-
ture regarding the effects of various
attentional foci on specific biomechan-
ical sprint variables, especially kinetic
sprint variables, this section will make
suggestions based on the previous lit-
erature in motor behavior and biome-
chanics. With regard to sprinting,
numerous biomechanical studies have
researched the key performance varia-
bles needed to sprint optimally
(38,39,53,65). One of the primary
methods for enhancing sprint velocity
is through the application of large
mass-specific ground reaction forces
(GRFs), over a minimal amount of
time (i.e., 0.101–0.083 seconds) (33)
during the stance phase (9,11,64).
Skilled sprinters achieve high maximal
velocities compared with non-sprinters
(10.4 60.3 versus 8.7 60.3 m$s
21
) by
applying larger vertical ground reac-
tion forces (vGRF) during the first half
(2.65 60.05 versus 2.21 60.05 N$N
21
or “bodyweights”) of the stance phase
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Table 1
Depiction of studies that used internal, external, or neutral instructions or cues to influence sprint performance
Effects of verbal instructions and cues on sprint performance
Study Participants Internal instructions
or cues (INT)
External instructions
or cues (EXT)
Control (
a
neutral)
instructions or cues (CON)
Performance
times (s)
Porter and
Sims (50)
9 males, skill level: highly trained
NCAA division I college
football players. Mean age:
21.11 61.22; mean height:
182.04 cm 64.25; mean
weight: 93.24 kg 636.23
While you are running the 20
yard dash with maximum
effort, focus on gradually
raising your body level. Also,
focus on powerfully driving 1
leg forward while moving
your other leg and foot
down and back as quickly as
possible
While you are running the 20
yard dash with maximum
effort, focus on gradually
raising up. Also, focus on
powerfully driving forward
while clawing the floor as
quickly as possible
Run the 20 yard dash with
maximum effort
Times for 18.28 m—
INT: 2.92 s 60.06;
EXT: 2.92 s 60.07;
CON: 2.90 s 60.07
First 9.14-m split—INT:
1.78 s 60.05; EXT:
1.78 s 60.06; CON:
1.78 s 60.05
Second 9.14-m split—
INT: 1.14 s 60.03;
EXT: 1.14 s 60.03;
CON: 1.12 s 60.04
Significant main effect
for condition in the
second 9.14-m split,
F
(2,78)
53.182, P,
0.047
Ille et al. (18) 16 males, skill level: 8 of 16 were
skilled sprinters involved in
regional to international
competitions. Age range:
20–30
Push quickly on your legs and
keep going as fast as
possible while swinging
both arms back and forth
and raising your knees
Get off the starting blocks as
quickly as possible, head
toward the finish line rapidly
and cross it as soon as
possible
No instructions other than
starting block position
and the task goal were
provided
Times for 10 m—
novices: INT: 1.83 s 6
0.07; EXT: 1.77 s 6
0.08; CON: 1.81 s 6
0.06
Experts: INT: 1.72 s 6
0.05; EXT: 1.68 s 6
0.06; CON: 1.72 s 6
0.04
Significant main effect
for condition,
F
(1,14)
533.80, p,
0.0001, h
p2
50.69
Instructions and Cues for Sprint Performance
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Table 1
(continued)
Mallett and
Hanrahan
(32)
12 sprinters (11 male and 1
female), skill level: sprint-
trained athletes with mean
100-m personal bests at
10.86 s 60.37, mean age:
21.6 62.4, mean height:
176.4 cm 66.8, mean weight:
73.4 kg 69.3
None Push, heel, and claw No description of the
control condition
instructions was given
for this study
0–30-m race segment
—EXT: 4.28 s 6
0.12; CON: 4.36 s 6
0.17
30–60-m race segment
—EXT: 3.04 s 6
0.13; CON: 3.13 s 6
0.20
60–100-m race
segment—EXT: 4.11
s60.17; CON: 4.21
s60.27
Significant main effect
—for condition, p#
0.005
Porter et al.
(52)
84 participants (42 females, 42
males), skill level: none were
former high school or current
collegiate athletes and had no
formal training in sprinting.
Mean age: 20.32 61.73
While you are running the 20-
m dash, focus on driving one
leg forward as powerfully as
possible while moving your
other leg and foot down and
back as quickly as possible as
you accelerate
While you are running the 20-
m dash, focus on driving
forward as powerfully as
possible while clawing the
floor with your shoe as
quickly as you accelerate
Please run the 20-m dash
as quickly as possible
20-m times—INT:
3.87 s 60.64; EXT:
3.75 s 60.43; CON:
3.87 s 60.45
Significant main effect
for condition,
F
(1,83)
56,565.3, p#
0.001
a
Control conditions in the studies refer to a neutral focus of attention.
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during a stride cycle of sprinting (11).
Furthermore, elite sprinters have high-
er hip extension velocity (;8358/s ver-
sus ;7358/s) and swing back velocity
(;6058/s versus ;4508/s) compared
with their slower counterparts (2).
Based on the mechanical determinants
of maximal velocity sprinting, coaches
could use external focus of attention
instructions or cues to enhance sprint
performance by asking the athlete to
“step down hard” or “accelerate into
the ground with maximum effort,”
thereby potentially augmenting the
athlete’s relative GRFs and subsequent
sprint velocity.
Based on the existing literature
(58,64,65), it seems that the reposition-
ing of upper and lower body limbs for
the subsequent step are largely a reflex-
ive process because of energy transfer
rather than by actively moving the
limbs into position. Repositioning the
limbs more quickly than necessary can
result in attenuation of the impulse on
the subsequent stance phase, which
could have a negative effect of overall
sprint velocity and performance (9,64).
It would therefore seem more prudent
for coaches and sport scientists to focus
efforts on providing athletes instruc-
tions, cues, and feedback that regard
the active (as opposed to passive) pro-
cesses of the stride cycle (e.g., the down
stroke movement of the thigh and
hand). For instance, “hammer the
nails” could be provided as an analogy
instruction to the athlete to allow one
to focus externally on the down stroke
motion required of the shoulder exten-
sion during the stride cycle. However,
it should be noted that athletes strug-
gling with the flight phase of the sprint
could still benefit from cues focused on
knee lift and leg recovery (e.g., “drive
your shoe laces to the sky”), as there
is no definitive research to show
otherwise.
It has been reported that elite 100-m
sprinters (those running in the range of
9.90–9.58 seconds) positively acceler-
ate to ;50–70 m into the race
(24,30), with the best sprinters acceler-
ating furthest into the race. Therefore,
using external focus instructions and
cues emphasizing, accelerating as far
into the run as possible is suggested,
as this technique is applied by elite
sprint coaches (e.g., “push as far into
the run as possible”) (4).
NEUROMUSCULAR OUTCOMES
There have been a number of studies
performed showing that providing
external focus instructions and cues re-
sults in enhanced efficiency at a neuro-
muscular level. Specifically, an external
focus has been associated with lower
muscle activation than an internal
focus when measured by surface elec-
tromyography (28,63,72,80), enhanced
running economy (by enhanced
oxygen consumption efficiency) (57),
promotion of phasic heart rate decel-
eration just before performing a motor
skill (42,54), and reduction in heart rate
during physical exertion (40) during
a variety of activities. Sprinting is
a complex motor skill involving numer-
ous muscle groups that must be con-
tracted at appropriate times and
intensities throughout the stride cycle
to maximize sprint performance.
Thereby, optimizing the timing of ago-
nist and antagonist muscle activation,
promoting decreased co-contraction at
inappropriate times during the stride
cycle may subsequently improve sprint
velocity (56). Based on the current lit-
erature, external attentional focus in-
structions have been shown to reduce
antagonist muscle activity during
motor skill execution (27) and overall
muscle activation while concurrently
enhancing dynamic motor skill perfor-
mance (72). There is a potential for
external and neutral focus of attention
instructions and cues to promote more
efficient muscle activation and more
optimal timing of the agonist and
antagonist muscles involved during
sprinting to enhance sprinting ability
at a neuromuscular level. However, fur-
ther research will need to be performed
to verify this presumption.
MOTOR LEARNING OUTCOMES
Motor learning literature has shown
that providing external attentional
focus feedback to athletes results in
higher learning rates when compared
with an internal focus condition (74).
Interestingly, in the study by Wulf et al.
(74) it was observed that the with-
drawal of internal focus feedback to
the athletes enhanced their perfor-
mance to a point where it was equiv-
ocal to that of the external focus
instruction group. Such a finding sug-
gests that providing internal focusing
feedback had a depressing effect on
motor learning. The effects of instruct-
ing, cueing, and providing feedback
emphasizing external attentional focus
can additionally transfer over to novel
sport conditions, such as high-stress
situations (7,43), which may prevent
athletes from choking under pressure
in competition settings. Ong et al. (43)
found that providing external focus in-
structions promoted an enhanced rate
of skill acquisition while simulta-
neously resulting in positive perfor-
mance under pressure, whereas
internal focus instructions resulted in
a slower rate of skill acquisition and
poorer performance under pressure
among participants. Based on the ex-
isting literature, it seems likely that pro-
viding external and/or neutral focus of
attention instructions and cues to ath-
letes may result in an expedited motor
learning process and an enhanced abil-
ity to sprint at a high level under pres-
sure situations such as those
experienced when peers are watching
and during competition.
PSYCHOPHYSICAL OUTCOMES
Sports science literature has shown
that providing external focus of atten-
tion instructions and cues can result in
a lower rating of perceived exertion
(RPE) for athletes (12) and has been
shown to reduce the perceived level of
difficulty for a practiced task (41,57).
Relevant to sprinting, in 2 attentional
focus running studies, Ziv et al. (81)
and Schu¨cker et al. (57) both found that
when participants were given external
focus instructions, they had lower RPE
scores compared with internal focus
instructional groups. Furthermore,
Lohse and Sherwood (26) found that
individuals had an increased resistance
to fatigue when focusing externally
rather than internally. With regard to
Instructions and Cues for Sprint Performance
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sprinting, directing attention externally
may therefore help promote an
improved sprint performance by enhanc-
ing an athlete’s resistance to fatigue.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF
VERBAL INSTRUCTIONS AND CUES
FOR ENHANCING SPRINT
PERFORMANCE
QUALITY OF INSTRUCTIONS AND
CUES
Quality refers to the ability of the ver-
bal instructions and cues to achieve the
intended result on administration to
the athlete. Because providing external
focus verbal instructions and cues has
been shown to enhance sprint perfor-
mance (32,50,52,60), while internal focus
instructions and cues have been shown
to depress performance, the benchmark
for quality is evident. Providing external
focus of attention instructions and cues
may improve novice and intermediate
athlete sprint performance, whereas pro-
viding external and neutral focus of atten-
tion instructions and cues ensures the
likelihood that expert athletes will sprint
at more optimal levels. Coaches are
encouraged to provide external focus of
attention instructions and cues to novice
and intermediate athletes, while provid-
ing external and neutral focus of attention
instructions and cues to expert athletes to
enhance sprint performance. Verbal in-
structions and cues should be specific
to the phase of the sprint the athlete is
to perform (i.e., acceleration, maximal
velocity, deceleration–speed endurance)
and specific to the areas of improvement
the athlete needs to make to improve
biomechanical efficiency and thus sprint
performance. Examples of quality in-
structions and cues that can be provided
to athletes can be found in Table 2.
FREQUENCY OF INSTRUCTIONS
AND CUES
With regard to frequency of instruc-
tion and cues provided to athletes, to
the author’s knowledge, no studies
have been performed with the intent
to specifically explore this idea with
sprinting. However, the 4 studies
(18,32,50,52) that have examined
how altering focus of attention effects
sprint performance, all provided the
Table 2
All verbal instructions provided are either external or neutral
Verbal instructions, cues, and feedback for enhancing sprint performance
Acceleration instructions and cues Maximal velocity instructions and cues
Push Slam
Drive March
Explode Run tall
Trim the grass
a
Step over
Push through the post
c
Step down
Explode off the blocks Block high
b
Drive hard out of the blocks Hit the ground hard
Tear back the track Hammer the nails
Hammer the acceleration and
come up gradually
Accelerate into the ground
Explode off the ground Explode through the track
Push the ground/track back
explosively
Sprint through the finish line
Drive away from the start line
as fast as possible
Sprint 3 m past the finish line
Drive out like you are sprinting
up-hill
Push into the ground with maximum effort
Explode out like you are being
chased
Relax
Explode off the line like a jet
taking off
Just sprint as fast as you can
Explode off the line like you are
already sprinting
If someone gets in front of you, reel them back in
Drive off the ground as if to spin the earth
backward
Snap your shoe laces to the sky
Snap the ground down and back
Explode off the ground like the crack of a whip
Sprint like you are in a wind tunnel
a
Trim the grass refers to the athlete having a low heel recovery on the first few steps of the
acceleration in which their toes should “trim the grass.”
b
Block high refers to the thigh blockage happening close to or at 908, thus allowing for the
athlete a longer time to accelerate the thigh back down toward the ground and possibly
augment the ground reaction forces during the sprint run.
c
Push through the post refers to the athlete pushing into the ground in line with the force
vectors in which one comes into contact with the ground, thus allowing for efficient force
application.
Strength and Conditioning Journal | www.nsca-scj.com 7
Copyright ªNational Strength and Conditioning Association. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
verbal cues or instructions before each
trial (i.e., 100% frequency). Taking
these studies collectively, what is
known is that a 100% provision level
for external and neutral focus of atten-
tion instructions is likely to result in
sprint performance improvements
dependent on the skill level of the ath-
lete. Therefore, based on the current
literature, to enhance the sprint perfor-
mance of athletes, coaches are encour-
aged to administer external and neutral
verbal instructions to athletes before
each sprint repetition. What is not
known is how a reduced frequency of
verbal instruction and cue administra-
tion would affect sprinting ability. For
example, what if verbal cues were
administered every-other sprint repeti-
tion or only once during a set of mul-
tiple sprint runs? A number of these
issues still need to be clarified. This is
an important issue considering that
previous research has demonstrated
that reducing the frequency of feed-
back provided after trials results in
enhanced learning compared with
feedback provided after each trial; fur-
thermore, delaying feedback adminis-
tration for several seconds has been
found to be more effective in promot-
ing learning compared with feedback
provided during or immediately after
motor skill performance (23). How-
ever, Wulf et al. (76) found that
a 100% provision rate for feedback
was more beneficial for complex motor
skills, as has been suggested by Eriks-
son et al. (15); though, this issue may
be dependent on the expertise level of
the athlete. Although the research pre-
viously mentioned focused on feedback
administration, instruction and cue
provision is likely to have similar effects
on the attentional focus and subse-
quent performance of the individual.
QUANTITY OF INSTRUCTIONS AND
CUES
One area that is underdeveloped in
motor behavior literature is how the
quantity of verbal instructions and cues
affect motor skill performance. In
regard to short-term memory, our
biological limit is about 4 items (or
chunks) of information on average
(13). Similarly, it is known that verbal
instructions and cues can have an
impact on working memory, which is
closely tied to the efficacy of motor
skill acquisition (36). The conscious
processing hypothesis (45) states the
load placed on working memory has
adirectimpactonperformance,with
internal focus instructions having
agreaterdemandonworkingmemory
compared with external focus instruc-
tions. As a result, poorer performances
associated with the adoption of an inter-
nal focus of attention may be the byprod-
uct of increased working memory
demands placed on the individual. This
may be a result of internal focus instruc-
tions and cues in particular, having
alargeramountofinformation(i.e.,quan-
tity), which may disrupt working mem-
ory by engaging explicit processing of
mechanical rules about how to perform
sprinting (36), thus potentially causing
adecrementinsprintperformance.We
propose that providing short and concise
external directing instructions will lessen
the demand that is placed on the athlete’s
working memory and therefore lead to
enhanced sprinting ability.
PROVIDING VERBAL
INSTRUCTIONS AND CUES IN
PRACTICE AND COMPETITION
Based on the current evidence avail-
able, coaches are encouraged to pro-
vide either external and/or neutral
focus of attention instructions and cues
to athletes at 100% frequency levels
with the quantity of verbal instructions
and cues kept minimal. Verbal instruc-
tions and cues used during training
should be specific to the biomechanical
areas in need of most immediate
improvement. The coach should take
note of landmark positions in the stance
and flight phases of the stride cycle
(e.g., toe-on, toe-off, mid-stance, and
mid-flight positions). Based on the
coach’s evaluation of the athletes’
mechanics in the various phases of the
stride cycle, specific verbal instructions
and cues can then be implemented in
order of priority. Identification of the
mechanical flaw in need of the most
improvement should be the top priority
for implementation of verbal instructions
and cues; identification and improve-
ment of the main biomechanical flaws
may augment multiple other biome-
chanical subareas that may have also
been in need of improvement (44). For
example, a coach that has an athlete who
becomes fully upright within the first 3
steps of the starting blocks during prac-
tice may encourage the athlete to “Keep
astraightposturewhiledrivingoutatan
aggressively low angle and claw the track
back for the first 10–15 m.” Encouraging
amorestraightforwardleaningtorso
angle during acceleration may poten-
tially enhance the orientation of the
resultant force vector in the horizontal
direction during toe-off and thus may
result in faster acceleration velocity as
abyproductofhighernetanteroposte-
rior GRF (53), which has been associ-
ated with faster sprinting velocity more
than less acute torso and shin angles at
take-off (16,21).
Because of the nature of competition,
stress and anxiety will likely be height-
ened during these periods, potentially
leading to a higher chance of the ath-
lete choking due to the performance
pressures (6). Therefore, it is especially
important for coaches to be very care-
ful with the quality and quantity of the
verbal instructions and cues that are
provided to the athlete during compe-
tition. Verbal instructions and cues pro-
vided during competition should elicit
an external or neutral focus of attention
and should be brief in nature to
enhance sprint performance and to
prevent the choking phenomenon
from occurring (7,52,60). An example
of an external and neutral focus of
attention instruction during competi-
tion would be “Push through with an
aggressive acceleration velocity and
stay relaxed during the later stage of
the race.”
Coaches can implement external
and/or neutral focus of attention in-
structions and cues to enhance sprint
performance in athletes by simply
encouraging a movement goal while
omitting body parts and/or limbs
when providing instructions and cues.
For example, as opposed to saying to
an athlete, “Accelerate your foot down
Instructions and Cues for Sprint Performance
VOLUME 38 | NUMBER 1 | FEBR UARY 2016
8
Copyright ªNational Strength and Conditioning Association. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.
hard into the ground during maximal
velocity,” the coach could alternatively
say, “Accelerate down hard into the
ground during maximal velocity.” The
movement goal is stated and the refer-
encing to body parts is omitted, leading
the athlete to potentially focus exter-
nally, thus leading to a greater chance
for enhanced sprint performance due
to enhanced vGRF during maximal
velocity.
SUMMARY
In summary, the way coaches provide
athletes verbal instructions and cues
plays an integral role in the skill
development of sprinting. Because
sprinting is a critical locomotor skill
that is an essential determining fac-
tor in numerous team and individual
sports, it is imperative that coaches
use as many methods as possible
to enhance the biomotor ability of
speed. As this article demonstrates,
providing appropriate verbal in-
structions and cues is a simple and
effective way to enhance sprint per-
formance in athletes. More specifi-
cally, the current literature suggests
that verbal instructions and cues
administered to the athlete should
emphasize an external or neutral
focus of attention to optimize sprint-
ing performance. However, further
research will need to be conducted
to determine the mechanisms that
underpin how sprint performance
changes occur and the extent that
instruction and cue frequency and
quantity affect sprint performance.
Conflicts of Interest and Source of Funding:
The authors report no conflicts of interest
and no source of funding.
Adam Benz is
aSportsScience
PhD candidate
within the Faculty
of Computing,
Health & Science
at Edith Cowan
University (ECU)
in Perth, Western
Australia.
Nick
Winkelman is
the director of
movement and
education at
EXOS and is
currently com-
pleting his PhD
at Rocky Moun-
tain University of
Health Professions.
Dr. Jared
Porter is cur-
rently an Associ-
ate Professor and
Director of the
Motor Behaviour
Laboratory at
Southern Illinois
University.
Dr. Sophia
Nimphius is cur-
rently a senior
lecturer in the
MS of Strength
and Conditioning
at Edith Cowan
University.
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... Visual cues also enable imagery, the notion that by picturing objects in one's mind their movements would be afected [46,64,65]. From abstract lines that portray alignment, to imagined objects that are manipulated through certain movements [65], metaphors have often been used by teachers and coaches to "evoke diferent invitations to interaction" [65] and allude to qualities that the movement should possess (e.g., "get of the ground fast like you're sprinting on hot coals" [7]). Our cues relied on animation -a dynamic representation of motion -but we also tried to incorporate a more static comics' staple [68] (i.e., "word balloons", to convey sounds [62]) in external cueing to reinforce some of the proposed metaphors. ...
... Instructional cues are usually verbal instructions aimed at conveying information about the movement to be performed [7]. They belong to two categories: internal, focusing on the body and the movement to be performed; and external, focusing on the efect of the movement on e.g., an instrument [19]. ...
... Our results show that visual cues can enhance proprioceptive awareness [7,19,67] of the body, but diferent types of cues will do so in diferent ways. Cues that focus people's attention to a specifc body area (e.g., body highlights) can increase awareness of that specifc area. ...
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Instructional videos for physical training have gained popularity in recent years among sport and ftness practitioners, due to the proliferation of afordable and ubiquitous forms of online training. Yet, learning movement this way poses challenges: lack of feedback and personalised instructions, and having to rely on personal imitation capacity to learn movements. We address some of these challenges by exploring visual cues’ potential to help people imitate movements from instructional videos. With a Research through Design approach, focused on strength training, we augmented an instructional video with diferent sets of visual cues: directional cues, body highlights, and metaphorical visualizations. We tested each set with ten practitioners over three recorded sessions, with follow-up interviews. Through thematic analysis, we derived insights on the efect of each set of cues for supporting movement learning. Finally, we generated design takeaways to inform future HCI work on visual cues for instructional training videos.
... Over recent years, the role of attentional focus has emerged as a significant modulator in sprint performance. Attentional focus refers to an individual's intentional attempt to direct their attention through explicit thoughts for the purpose of executing a motor skill [16,17]. An individual can pay attention to an IF (i.e., concentration on the body 2 of 13 movements) or an EF (i.e., concentration on the intended movement effect). ...
... Furthermore, an EF, which is helpful in suppressing needless neural activity [62] and muscular co-contractions [59], contributes to clarifying neuromuscular coordination. Sprinting, as a complex motor skill, requires the contraction of several muscle groups at accurate times and intensities during the stride cycle for the purpose of achieving optimal sprint performance [16]. Therefore, through more efficient muscle activation at the neuromuscular level, an EF has the possibility to boost sprint performance. ...
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Sprinting is often seen in a variety of sports. Focusing one’s attention externally before sprinting has been demonstrated to boost sprint performance. The present study aimed to systematically review previous findings on the impact of external focus (EF), in comparison to internal focus (IF), on sprint performance. A literature search was conducted in five electronic databases (APA PsycINFO, PubMed, Scopus, SPORTDiscus, and Web of Science). A random-effects model was used to pool Hedge’s g with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). The meta-analysis included six studies with a total of 10 effect sizes and 166 participants. In general, the EF condition outperformed the IF condition in sprint performance (g = 0.279, 95% CI [0.088, 0.470], p = 0.004). The subgroup analysis, which should be viewed with caution, suggested that the benefits associated with the EF strategy were significant in low-skill sprinters (g = 0.337, 95% CI [0.032, 0.642], p = 0.030) but not significant in high-skill sprinters (g = 0.246, 95% CI [−0.042, 0.533], p = 0.094), although no significant difference was seen between these subgroups (p = 0.670). The reported gain in sprint performance due to attentional focus has practical implications for coaches and athletes, as making tiny adjustments in verbal instructions can lead to significant behavioral effects of great importance in competitive sports.
... Attentional focus is the conscious ability of a player to focus their attention to execute a task. A player's attentional focus can be directed internally on their movement process, externally on the outcome or effect of the movement, or on 'nonawareness' where there is no attempt at conscious focus (Benz et al., 2016;Wulf & Weigelt, 1997 ;Wulf, Höß & Prince, 1998 ). Analogies and metaphors used as movement cues may provide an external or internal focus of attention. ...
... For example, a coach instructing the bowler in delivery stride to 'push the arm high' provides an internal cue, or an external cue by telling the player to 'scrape the sky with your bowling hand', or provides a neutral cue by telling the player to 'get the arm as high as you can'. The intent of the direction is the same in all three instructions; however, the internal cue directs attention to the body (i.e., hand), the external calls attention to the environment (i.e., the sky), while the neutral cue does not focus attention internally or externally ( Benz et al., 2016 ). Many authors have shown that analogies can assist in motor skill acquisition in populations ranging from older adults to young children (e.g., Bobrownicki et al., 2015 ;Lam, Maxwell & Masters, 2009 ;Tse et al., 2017aTse et al., , 2017bZacks & Friedman, 2020 ). ...
... The biological factors that affect sprint performance are complex and diverse. Traditionally, it has been thought that sprint performance is mainly determined by genetic genes, [8,9]; aerobic fatigue refers to localized fatigue caused by prolonged exercise. Like sexual chronic fatigue and general fatigue, there is sufficient oxygen to participate in the exercise process, also known as chronic fatigue. ...
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Node localization and temporal synchronization, as two key parts of each self-organized and localization-aware wireless sensor network (WSN), have been a key topic for research and applications. The initial prototype of the sensor network is the same as that of the local area network. All nodes are connected by wires, and there is a central control node. All nodes transmit data to the central node point-to-point. With the development and progress of wireless communication technology, the current sensor network has developed into a WSN. Without a central node, all nodes can communicate with each other; so, it is natural to develop positioning technology in WSN. Node positioning in wireless sensor networks refers to the process in which sensor nodes determine the location information of other nodes in the network through a certain positioning technology based on the location information of a few known nodes in the network. The principle of positioning is purely geometric in mathematics. With the in-depth promotion of WSN in the application field, there are more and more requirements for high precision positioning, the higher the positioning accuracy, the higher the requirements for network time synchronization, and the problem of node clock synchronization and high precision positioning of the node can be studied together. Solving the problem of node clock synchronization can further provide support for node positioning in a variety of different environments. As a new ultrabroadband (UWB) carrier-free communication technology with nanoscale temporal resolution, it has been widely used in high-precision node positioning systems in recent years, UWB technology is the most advanced noncarrier wireless communication technology that uses bandwidths above 1 GHz and uses nonsine wave narrow pulses from nanoseconds to picoseconds to transmit data. Therefore, it occupies a very wide spectrum. UWB technology has the advantages of low system complexity, low transmit signal power spectrum density, insensitive to channel fading, and high positioning accuracy. It is especially suitable for high-speed wireless access in dense multipath places such as indoors, providing a technical basis for the engineering implementation of high-precision positioning algorithms. However, the current situation of Chinese track and field events has not kept pace with the development of Chinese competitive sports, and even the level of individual events has a gradual decline. Therefore, it is very meaningful to study the relevant biological factors that affect sprint performance. This article analyzes the related biological factors that affect the performance of the sprint, combines the knowledge of physiology to analyze the training methods that appear in the sprint from the physiological perspective, and analyzes the related biological factors that affect the performance of the sprint. This article chooses to divide them into men’s group (3 groups) and women’s group (3 groups), with 4 people in each group. Experiment proved that after the experiment, these are the following factors: the fatigue of the nervous system, the technical difference of sprinting, the change of muscle fiber enzyme activity, the order of muscle fiber cross-sectional area and muscle activation, and the recruitment of muscle fiber types. Impact P value less than 0.05, which shows that the factors that affect sprint performance are complex, and the biological factors that affect step length can be studied through anthropometry. The impact of step frequency on sports performance is very important.
... The sled push was performed the same surface, and the athletes were instructed to 'explode', and 'push the ground away'. These cues were selected, as an external focus of attention can aid sprint time (5). Hand-height was individually standardised across trials. ...
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This study determined the effects of a single sled push at different loads on sprint performance in competitive male soccer players. Twenty male competitive outfield soccer players (age 19.6±1.3y, body mass 73.6±8.2kg) were split into experimental (n=10) and control groups. In the experimental group, 20m linear sprint time was measured immediately before and 5, 6 and 7minutes after the sled push with either 50 or 100% body mass. The control group performed the 20m sprints only. A repeated measures ANOVA comparing control and experimental groups revealed no effects of time, group or time by group interaction for either experimental condition (all P>0.05). The repeated measures ANOVA compared the experimental conditions revealed effects of time (P=0.034) and group (P=0.002), but not time by group (P>0.05). The effects sizes demonstrated favourable within group effects on sprint time that were small to moderate (-0.26 to 0.71) and trivial to small (-0.31 to 0.09) for the 50% and 100% body mass condition, respectively. These findings demonstrate that a sled push has no significant effect on 20 m sprint time in competitive footballers. If coaches continue to prescribe a sled push before sprinting, a single 15 m push with 50% body mass could have positive benefits.
... For example, external cues (focus on the movement effect) often lead to improved motor skill performance and learning [28] compared to internal cues (focus on the body), but internal cues may lead to more muscle activation than external cues [28], suggesting a constrained and inefficient movement. The verbal cues in this study to "to jump as high as you can after landing" or "to get off the ground as quick as you can" were intended to be relatively neutral cues on the internal to external cue spectrum to be sure subjects understood the difference in objectives [4]. Given the large effects our cues had on jump performance and landing mechanics, coaches cueing plyometric exercises should pay careful attention to align their cues with the goal of training or testing. ...
... These keywords were searched with PubMed, ERIC, SPORTDiscus, PsycArticle, CINAHL Plus with full text, and Health Source Nursing Academic edition search engines. Furthermore, reference lists of the previous literature reviews (Benz, Winkelman, Porter, & Nimphius, 2016;Kim, Jimenez-Diaz, & Chen, 2017;Marchant, 2011;Wulf, 2013) were consulted to capture as many studies as possible. After obtaining the results, duplicates were removed, and the title, abstract, and content were examined. ...
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Although multiple review studies have supported the superior effects of an external compared with internal focus, these reviews are based on performance outcomes. Currently, the literature lacks knowledge regarding the effects of external/internal foci on individuals’ perceptions, which may provide further explanations for how attentional focus affects performance. Therefore, the present study conducted a systematic review of survey/questionnaire data of participants’ thoughts and emotions from laboratory studies. The authors used ERIC, SPORTDiscus, PsycArticle, CINAHL Plus, Health Source Nursing Academic edition, and PubMed search engines. Literature specific to external/internal focus effects on motor learning or performance were reviewed ( N = 37). The results showed that participants generally adhered to the assigned attentional focus instruction and there was a trend that preference may affect the attentional focus effects, but the results were inconsistent regarding if attentional focus cues affected the magnitude of adherence and mental demands. There were substantial differences in methodologies and theoretical issues of measuring these data. Future studies should adopt inferential statistics, choose theoretically relevant questions in a priori manner, or, at minimum, propose a hypothesis for the selected question.
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Evidence that self-controlled feedback schedules are more effective for motor learning than yoked or predetermined schedules has been used to forward the recommendation that practitioners should provide choice to learners over when they would like to receive feedback. This recommendation can be questioned because the typical comparison groups in such experimentation do not well represent the applied setting. Consequently, comparison groups that better map onto the applied setting are needed. To this end, three groups learned a golf putting task: (1) self-controlled, (2) traditional-yoked, and (3) a group who were led to believe their KR schedule was being controlled by a golf coach. Participants (N = 60) completed a pre-test, acquisition phase, and delayed post-tests (retention/transfer). No group differences during the post-tests for mean radial error, F(2, 54) = 2.71, p = .075, or bivariate variable error, F(2, 56) = 0.11, p = .896, were found. Thus, the typical self-controlled learning advantage was not observed. Given the failure to replicate self-controlled benefits, combined with the fact there is little research that has directly compared self-controlled feedback schedules to coach-controlled schedules, we argue more evidence is needed before advocating that learners be provided choice over their feedback schedule.
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Performance in sprint exercise is determined by the ability to accelerate, the magnitude of maximal velocity and the ability to maintain velocity against the onset of fatigue. These factors are strongly influenced by metabolic and anthropometric components. Improved temporal sequencing of muscle activation and/or improved fast twitch fibre recruitment may contribute to superior sprint performance. Speed of impulse transmission along the motor axon may also have implications on sprint performance. Nerve conduction velocity (NCV) has been shown to increase in response to a period of sprint training. However, it is difficult to determine if increased NCV is likely to contribute to improved sprint performance. An increase in motoneuron excitability, as measured by the Hoffman reflex (H-reflex), has been reported to produce a more powerful muscular contraction, hence maximising motoneuron excitability would be expected to benefit sprint performance. Motoneuron excitability can be raised acutely by an appropriate stimulus with obvious implications for sprint performance. However, at rest H-reflex has been reported to be lower in athletes trained for explosive events compared with endurance-trained athletes. This may be caused by the relatively high, fast twitch fibre percentage and the consequent high activation thresholds of such motor units in power-trained populations. In contrast, stretch reflexes appear to be enhanced in sprint athletes possibly because of increased muscle spindle sensitivity as a result of sprint training. With muscle in a contracted state, however, there is evidence to suggest greater reflex potentiation among both sprint and resistance-trained populations compared with controls. Again this may be indicative of the predominant types of motor units in these populations, but may also mean an enhanced reflex contribution to force production during running in sprint-trained athletes. Fatigue of neural origin both during and following sprint exercise has implications with respect to optimising training frequency and volume. Research suggests athletes are unable to maintain maximal firing frequencies for the full duration of, for example, a 100m sprint. Fatigue after a single training session may also have a neural manifestation with some athletes unable to voluntarily fully activate muscle or experiencing stretch reflex inhibition after heavy training. This may occur in conjunction with muscle damage. Research investigating the neural influences on sprint performance is limited. Further longitudinal research is necessary to improve our understanding of neural factors that contribute to training-induced improvements in sprint performance.
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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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DESPITE THE RESEARCH AVAILABLE TO COACHES AND PERFORMANCE PROFESSIONALS, TRAINING METHODOLOGY FOR SPRINTING AT MAXIMUM SPEED IS OFTEN MUDDLED BY ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE. THESE APPROACHES DEVIATE FROM SCIENTIFIC SUPPORT RESULTING IN MISDIRECTED ATTEMPTS TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE. THIS ARTICLE PROVIDES SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE ON 3 PROMINENT CONSTRUCTS IN THIS AREA: (A) ACHIEVING MAXIMUM SPEED OVER SHORT DISTANCES (,30 M), (B) ROLE OF THE GASTROCNEMIUS-SOLEUS-ACHILLES COMPLEX IN SPRINT PERFORMANCE, AND (C) THE PHASE OF THE SPRINT CYCLE LIKELY PLAYS A DOMINANT ROLE IN ACHIEVING MAXIMUM SPEED. THE DATA PRESENTED UNDERPINS AN EVIDENCE-BASED APPROACH FOR SPEED TRAINING.
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The present study examined whether the previously observed benefits of an external focus of attention (i.e., focusing on the movement effect), relative to an internal focus (i.e., focusing on one's body movements) and control conditions, would generalize to tasks requiring maximum force production, such as jumping. In two experiments, participants performed a vertical jump-and-reach task. A Vertec™ measurement device was used to determine jump-and-reach height. Participants performed under three conditions in a within-participant design: External focus (i.e., focus on the rungs of the Vertec that were to be touched), internal focus (i.e., focus on the finger, with which the rungs were to be touched), and control conditions (i.e., focus on jumping as high as possible). Experiment 1 showed that participants' jump-and-reach height was greatest with an external focus. Those results were replicated in Experiment 2. In addition, it was observed that the vertical displacement of the center of mass was greater under the external focus condition, compared to the other two conditions. This suggests that participants jumped higher by producing greater forces when they adopted an external focus. These findings indicate that the previously shown benefits of an external attentional focus generalize to tasks requiring maximal force production.
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The study examined effects of attentional focus on swim speed in expert swimmers. In previous studies, an external focus directed at the movement effect has been shown to enhance automaticity, relative to an internal focus directed at the body movements (or no particular focus). The swimmers in the present study were given focus instructions related to the arm stroke in crawl swimming. All participants swam 3 lengths of a 25-yard pool, once under each of 3 conditions. In the external focus condition, they were instructed to focus on "pushing the water back", in the internal focus conditions they were asked to focus on "pulling your hands back", and in the control condition they were not given instructions. Swim times were similar in the control and external focus conditions, but they were significantly slower with an internal focus. Furthermore, questionnaire results revealed that most swimmers focused on the overall outcome (e.g., speed) in the control condition, whereas others indicated that they focused on specific body parts. Post-hoc analyses demonstrated that those in the latter group had slower swim times in the control condition than those with a focus on the outcome. Overall, the results provide converging evidence that a body-related, internal focus hampers performance. Moreover, when movements are already controlled automatically at a high skill level (and the focus is on the outcome), external focus instructions may be superfluous.
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The content of instructions strength coaches give can have a significant impact on how an athlete or client performs. Research in motor learning has shown an advantage of instructions focusing on the effects of movements (external focus) over those focusing on the movements themselves (internal focus) in the performance of motor skills (15). Internally focused cues are abundant in coaching, so the purpose of this study was to test whether some internally focused cues might be more helpful than others. Participants (68) were randomly assigned to either an external focus (EX), broad internal focus (B-IN), narrow internal focus (N-IN), or a control group (CON), and performed five standing long jumps. All groups were instructed that the goal was to jump as far as possible. In addition, the EX group was told to "jump as far past the start line as possible." The B-IN group was told to "use your legs." The N-IN group was told to "extend your knees as rapidly as possible," and the CON group received no additional instruction. An ANCOVA showed the EX group (198.09 +/- 31.89cm) jumped significantly farther than both the B-IN group (173.74 +/- 35.36cm), p = .010 and the N-IN group (178.53 +/- 31.17cm), p = .049, with no group different from the CON group. The results suggest that a broad internal focus is no more effective than a narrow internal focus, and that an external focus leads to the greatest jump distance. Strength and conditioning professionals should carefully word their instructions to induce an external focus of attention whenever possible.
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Over the past 15 years, research on focus of attention has consistently demonstrated that an external focus (i.e., on the movement effect) enhances motor performance and learning relative to an internal focus (i.e., on body movements). This article provides a comprehensive review of the extant literature. Findings show that the performance and learning advantages through instructions or feedback inducing an external focus extend across different types of tasks, skill levels, and age groups. Benefits are seen in movement effectiveness (e.g., accuracy, consistency, balance) as well as efficiency (e.g., muscular activity, force production, cardiovascular responses). Methodological issues that have arisen in the literature are discussed. Finally, our current understanding of the underlying mechanisms of the attentional focus effect is outlined, and directions for future research are suggested.