Investigating attentional focus cues in motor skill feedback


Research has shown that adopting an external attentional focus (i.e. focusing on the movement outcome on an apparatus or implement) enhances motor learning and performance by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of movements, when compared to adopting an internal attentional focus (i.e. focusing on produced body movements) (Wulf, 2007; Wulf, 2013). Given such empirical findings, the recommendations are such that instructors/coaches should guide learners via an external focus; however, previous work has failed to determine which type of attentional focus coaches predominantly rely on. The purpose of this study was to examine the information content of verbal feedback provided during practices to motor skill learners, with respect to attentional focus. Participants included one wrestling coach and one soccer coach. Both coaches wore an audio-recording device during two 30-minute practice sessions. Sessions were transcribed, and then coded by labeling pertinent verbal feedback as an internal or external cue. Results revealed that the wrestling coach delivered more internal (81%) than external cues (19%), whereas the soccer coach provided more external (53%) than internal cues (47%). Interestingly, the soccer coach used 76% external cues during one session; however, only 22% external cues throughout the other. This difference may be due to the nature of the soccer practices. More external cues were used in a goalkeeper training session, while more internal cues were provided during a general team practice. This exploratory research will lead to a greater understanding of how coaches use verbal feedback cues, and may guide evidence-based practice recommendations to improve coaching.