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What’s New?

  • Chandro Tomar is a successful 89-year old sharpshooter from northern India. What explains her success? “You need to focus only on the target — forget about other distractions,” she said.
  • Legendary golf teacher, Vivien Saunders, knows that “it’s important to learn to move the clubhead rather than thinking too much about the way your body moves.” Great example of an external focus! (Thanks to Bob Jones for the link.)
  • Check out this new book by Clare Guss-West [Guss-West, C. (2021). Attention and focus in dance. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.] Clare is a former professional dancer, choreographer, opera director, teacher, and holistic health practitioner. In this book, she describes how she integrates an external focus into dance practice. Based on her extensive knowledge of Eastern movement practice and holistic health, she has naturally used instructional strategies and techniques that promote an external focus of attention in dance training long before she became aware of the research findings. Translating the experimental findings with great creativity and ingenuity, Clare uses language, images, and metaphors that promote an external focus specifically appropriate to a dance context. By focusing on a chosen image, a dancer’s attention is directed away from body movements on to the intended effect or outcome of the action. Clare successfully applies this approach in her work with dance companies such as the Finnish National Ballet, Royal Academy of Dance, Opéra de Paris, Dutch National Ballet Education, and with teachers and therapists who work with professional dancers, children, older adults, or those with special movement challenges.

  • Check out Athlete Centered Skating by Garrett Lucash (see below) and Sean Marshinki. The OPTIMAL theory is a basis for their approach to “Giving Skaters the tools they need to succeed in sport and in life.” Here you can see how Coach Sean Marshinski promotes an external focus. 
  • Here is a nice demonstration by Jason Ochart (Director of Hitting, Driveline Baseball) of how external focus cues are being applied to baseball. Jason also has an excellent blog on coaching. 
  • An external focus is critical, but not enough, for optimal performance and learning: Two studies recent studies show that the presence of all 3 key factors in the OPTIMAL theory is important. In the Triple Play study, a group with enhanced expectancies, autonomy support, and an external focus showed superior learning relative to groups with combinations of only 2 factors. In the Onward and Upward study, implementing the 3 factors consecutively led to immediate incremental performance increases (maximum jump height). 
  • Steven Orr is the Director of Coaching for Cranfield Golf Academies. He is a UKCC Level 4 coach and is the youngest ever recipient of the PGA Master Professional title. Steven has a Master’s Degree in sports coaching from the University of Birmingham and is currently working on a doctoral degree in elite performance at the University of Central Lancashire. His dissertation work is related to the effects of attentional focus on skill learning. In this podcast with Karl Morris, Steven Orr talks about The Skill of Developing Skill
  • NOW AVAILABLE (includes a discussion of the OPTIMAL theory of motor learning): Schmidt, R. A., Lee, T. D., Winstein, C. J., Wulf, G., & Zelaznik, H. N. (2019). Motor control and learning (6thedition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 
  • Garrett Lucash is a United States pairs figure skating champion (2005), 3-time World Championships competitor, and now a full-time coach in Boston. Garrett successfully uses external focus instructions: “For several years I have been a complete external focus instructor – and I can tell you that this approach makes a huge difference over long term retention!!!” As the video demonstrates, Garrett also provides autonomy support and enhances performance expectancies. Thus, in his coaching, he incorporates all the essential ingredients for OPTIMAL learning! 
  • Perception & Action Podcast by Rob Gray: Interview of Gabriele Wulf and Rebecca Lewthwaite on the OPTIMAL theory. 
  • The Routledge International Handbook of Golf Science was published in October, 2017. It includes a chapter on how the learning of golf skills can be enhanced based on principles discussed in the OPTIMAL theory [Wulf, G., Orr, S., & Chauvel, G. (2017). Optimizing golf skill learning. In M. Toms (Ed.), The Routledge International Handbook of Golf Science. London: Routledge.]
  • Swing Thoughts podcast with Humble Howard and Tim O’Connor: Interview of Gabriele Wulf and Rebecca Lewthwaite (Show 43
  • Current Opinion in Psychology, 2017, 16, 38-42: Optimizing motivation and attention for motor performance and learning is available here
  • Kuhn, Y.-A., Keller, M., Ruffieux, J., & Taube. W. (2016). Adopting an external focus of attention alters intracortical inhibition within the primary motor cortex. Acta Physiologicadoi: 10.1111/apha.12807. — This is an important study by Yves-Alain Kuhn and colleagues. They used an isometric finger abduction task (30% of maximal force) and measured time to failure with an external or internal focus of attention. They also examined activity of the motor cortex (M1). Both time to failure and intracortical inhibition were increased with an external focus (EF). “Our data shed new light on the ability to instantly modulate the activity of inhibitory circuits within M1 by changing the type of attentional focus. The increased inhibition with EF might contribute to the better movement efficiency, which is generally associated with focusing externally” (Abstract): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/labs/articles/27653020/
  • Clare Guss-West is a renowned ballet teaching artist and choreographer. Clare systematically applies external focus cues in her work with the Finnish National Ballet, Ballet de L’Opera du Rhin, Opera de Paris-Opera Université, The Royal Academy of Dance, or L’Ecole Superieure de Danse Cannes et Marseille. Clare says, “an integrated external focus approach to training and performance promotes an immediate, palpable global movement cohesion in professionals, beginners and elderly dancers alike.” — Below is an example of Clare Guss-West’s approach from a workshop with people who have multiple sclerosis. She uses images such as wheat grass, lavender, or suns rays to promote an external focus of attention. From: “Dance for All – Dance for MS” hosted by Dutch National Ballet, Amsterdam and The Dance & Creative Wellness Foundation. 
  • A survey of professional ballet dancers (Guss-West & Wulf, 2016) showed that they do not always adopt an optimal attentional focus. 
  • Small choices can enhance the performance of (professional) athletes. For example, letting boxers choose the order of different maximal effort punches (lead straight, rear straight, lead hook & rear hook) delivered to a punching integrator significantly enhanced punching velocity and impact forces: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27465395.  The video below shows professional boxer and Australian champion David Toussaint using the punching integrator. 
  • Halperin, I., Chapman, D. W., Martina, D. T., & Abbiss, C. (2016). The effects of attentional focus instructions on punching velocity and impact forces among trained combat athletes. Journal of Sports Sciences, doi: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1175651 — This is an interesting study by Israel Halperin and his colleagues. It shows how competitive boxers can easily increase the impact forces and speed of their punches by a simple shift in attentional focus: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27088370
Punching integrator
  • Sports Coach UK (Interview at “Creating a Skills Revolution” seminar, Harvest Fields Centre, Sutton Coldfield, UK, July 9, 2015)