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Effects of three types of attentional focus on standing long jump performance.

An important aspect of learning and performing motor skills involves effectively directing one's attention. Attention generally refers to conscious awareness and/or cognitive effort, and people are able to direct their attention to specific aspects of the environment, bodily positions, and movements, a process known as attentional focus (Magill & Anderson, 2014). Instructors rely on this attentional process when they provide verbal instructions, cues, and feedback. A softball player, for example, may be told to "Concentrate on keeping your hands back," which provides attention-focusing directions for the next trials. Nideffer (1976, 1993) proposed a well-recognized model of attention composed of two dimensions, width (broad or narrow) and direction (internal or external). He suggested that athletes change the width and direction of attentional focus as they play and perform, and that the most effective attentional focus would be a function of task characteristics.

One strategy to direct attention is through the use of self-talk. Self-talk, is a person's internal dialogue that may include thoughts and/or statements related to feelings and perceptions, evaluations of performance, self-instructions, reinforcement, and attentional focus (Hackfort & Schwenkmezger, 1993), and is a cornerstone of cognitive-behavioral approaches to behavior and learning. Within the sport psychology domain, guiding athletes' self-talk using cue words or short phrases has a long history as a means to enhance performance, with this practice grounded in attentional concepts (Landin. 1994; Moran, 1996; Nideffer, 1993; Rushall, 1984; Theodorakis, Weinberg, Natsis, Douma, & Kazakas, 2000; Vealey, 2007; Zinsser, Bunker. & Williams, 2010). The content of cues may include those that are instructional (focusing on relevant technical, tactical, or kinesthetic aspects of the action), or motivational (to increase effort, enhance self-confidence, and/or create positive mood) (Tod, Hardy, & Oliver, 2011)

The use of self-talk cues can be traced to Zieglcr's (1987) study of tennis players in which she reported that performance of groundstrokes was improved when learners were instructed to use the attention-focusing cues "ball, bounce, hit, ready" to prompt them to visually track the ball to racket contact, then return to ready position for the next shot. Since then, research on self-talk has flourished, and instructing learners to focus their attention by using cues has been shown to enhance motor performance in novices and elite athletes in a variety of tasks including tennis, darts, basketball shooting, and figure skating, as well as maximal effort activities including sprinting (Mallett & Hanrahan, 1997), vertical jump (Tod, Thatcher, McGuigan, & Thatcher, 2008), and endurance cycling (Hamilton, Scott, & MacDougall, 2007). For reviews of this literature, see Hardy (2006), Hatzigeorgiadis, Zourbanos, Galanis and Theodorakis (2011), Landin (1994), and Tod et al. (2011).

One line of inquiry on attentional focus has compared the relative effectiveness of adopting an internal versus an external focus when learning and performing motor skills. When using an internal focus of attention, a performer directs thoughts to characteristics of their body actions (e.g., the movements of the feet or arms during a tennis swing). Conversely, when adopting an external focus, attention is directed on aspects of the task other than body movements, for example on the desired outcome of the movement (the intended direction of the shot), on equipment used (movement of the racket), or on relevant aspects of the environment (on the approaching tennis ball). Wulf, Hob, and Prinz (1998) initiated these studies by having college students learn to operate a slalom ski simulator, and providing them instructions to exert force on their outer foot (internal focus), or on the outer wheels of the platform (external focus). Their results showed that performance was enhanced in the external attentional focus condition. In a second experiment, using a stabilometer (balance task), learners were instructed to focus attention on keeping their feet balanced (internal), or on keeping markers on the apparatus balanced (external). Again, performance was enhanced in the external, compared to the internal focus condition (Wulf et al. 1998).

Since then, numerous investigations using this research paradigm have been conducted. In most studies, the external attentional focus has been found to be more beneficial. The conclusion appears to be robust, and has been demonstrated for a variety of tasks including, for example, golf (Bell & Hardy, 2009; Wulf, Lauterbach, & Toole, 1999; Wulf & Su, 2007). dart throwing (Russell, Porter, & Campbell, 2014), volleyball serving (Wulf, McConncl, Gartner, & Schwarz, 2002), and playing the piano (Duke, Cash, & Allen, 2011). See Lohse, Wulf, and Lewthwaite (2012) and Wulf (2013) for reviews.

Theoretical underpinnings of these findings have been grounded in Wulf, McNevin, and Shea's (2001) Constrained Action Hypothesis, which argues that conscious attention to body positions and movements constrains the motor system by interfering with automatic control mechanisms that could regulate the action efficiently. Conversely, adopting an external focus, directing attention toward the intent or effect of the action, promotes the use of automatic control processes inherent to the neuromotor system. This may be akin to freezing vs. unfreezing degrees of freedom (Lohse et al., 2012). Using an internal attentional focus, and attempting to move one body part in a particular way, disrupts the overall coordination pattern. In comparison, an external focus allows for a more coordinated, integrated movement to occur.

Recently, the relative effects of internal versus external attentional focus has been examined on the performance of explosive power-based tasks. Wulf, Zaehry, Granados, and Dufck (2007) had individuals perform the vertical jump under internal and external attentional focus conditions. For the internal condition, performers were told to "Concentrate on the tips of the fingers, reaching as high as possible," whereas during trials using an external focus, they were told to "Concentrate on the rungs of the Vertec [measuring apparatus], reaching as high as possible." Vertical jump height was significantly higher in the external condition, that is, when focusing attention on a spot on the apparatus to reach.

Wu, Porter, and Brown (2012) reported similar results in their study of the standing long (horizontal) jump. Recreationally-active college students jumped significantly farther when they were instructed to adopt an external attentional focus on the goal of the task ("Think about jumping as close to the green target [a marker] as possible"), than when they received internal focus instructions ("Think about extending your knees as rapidly as possible"), or a control condition ("Jump as far as you can"). Additional experiments using power-based tasks have paralleled these findings; an external focus enhanced performing bench press and squat lifts to fatigue, an agility test, sprinting, horizontal jumping, and maximal elbow flexion (see appendix for list of these studies).

In a review of these findings with applications to coaching, Benz, Wenkelman, Porter, and Nimphius (2016) held that when the content of attention-focusing cues is instructional, performers should be encouraged to focus attention externally (on the outcome goal or the apparatus/equipment) rather than adopting a narrow-internal focus (on specific actions or body parts). In addition, they also suggested that attention-focusing directions that are neutral, that is do not reference specific body actions nor equipment or environment, may also enhance performance. Sprinters, for example, could be instructed to use cues with an internal focus ("push with your feet"), external focus ("push against the starting blocks), or neutral focus ("push" or "explode"). Thus, the neutral focus may be encouraged through kinesthetic cues, which direct attention to relevant physical feelings associated with movements without referencing specific body parts or actions (Goudas, Hatzidimitriou, & Kikidi, 2006; Moran. 1996; Rushall, 1984). For example, Zinsser et al. (2010) suggested golfers could use cues such as "smooth" or "oily," or cues such as "hit" or "go" when performing explosive movements.

These types of kinesthetic cues have been shown to have performance enhancing effects. Rushall, Hall, Roux, Sassefille, and Rushall (1988) found competitive cross-country skiers improved their performance by concentrating on cue words such as "feel long and powerful," and Goudas et al. (2006) demonstrated increased shot-put distance when athletes were instructed to use kinesthetic cue words such as "fast." However, to date, the effect of this type of neutral or kinesthetic attention focus has not been compared to the internal or external focus. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine the relative effectiveness of these three types of attentional focus on the performance of a maximal-effort power task.


Participants were 27 healthy recreationally-active college student volunteers (14 female, 13 male) recruited from junior and senior level Kinesiology theory courses at a regional university in the southeast United States. All signed an informed consent document that included the purpose of the study and an explanation of data collection methods. The study was approved by the university's Institutional Review Board. Participants wore athletic clothing and shoes, and data were collected in a controlled strength and conditioning research lab with a rubber composite floor.

The task selected for the study was the standing long jump, a common measure of leg power, which has been used in previous studies of attentional focus (e.g.. Porter et al., 2010; Wu et al, 2012). All jumps were performed on a jumping lane 1.22m (4.0 ft) wide, marked with a starting line. Participants began with both feet close to and behind the starting line, and the result of each jump was measured to the nearest one-half inch from the starting line to the heel of the foot closest to the starting line at the completion of the jump, using markings on the floor. Jump distances were later converted from inches to cm.

Prior to data collection, participants were provided a brief explanation and examples of using a specific attentional focus, followed by a demonstration of the action by an athlete experienced with the task. The modeled action depicted a deep knee bend, exaggerated arm swing, and landing on both feet extended in front of the body. Participants were encouraged to jump as far as possible during all trials. Following this introduction, participants completed a warm-up that included stretching, calisthenics, and 3 practice jumps. After a 5-min rest period, participants then completed 3 sets of 3 jumps, each set preceded by attention-focusing instructions, and 5 min of rest between sets.

Instructions for attentional focus guided participants to direct their attention using an internal focus (INTF), external focus (EXTF), or kinesthetic focus (KINF). INTF instructions directed participants to "focus your attention on pushing as hard as possible with your legs, and swinging your arms in a big motion." For the EXTF set of trials, they were instructed to "focus your attention on jumping over a line on the floor you think you can reach on your best jump." For the KINF trials, participants were instructed to "focus your attention on feeling explosive, and think the word 'Go' as you jump." The order of attentional-focus instructions was counterbalanced. As participants lined up for each jump, there were given a reminder, either "push my legs and swing my arms," or "jump over a target line," or "feel explosive and think Go."


Scores for each participant were averaged across the three trials for each condition. As shown in Figure I Jumping performance was lower during internal focus (mean 107.47cm, SD=48.20), and higher during external (mean 114.99cm, SD=47.90) and kinesthetic focus conditions (mean 113.34cm, SD=45.60). Performance scores were analyzed using a repeated measures ANOVA, and Cohen's d was calculated as an indicator of effect size. Data analysis revealed a significant effect for condition, F (2, 52) = 11,09, p<.001. Follow-up comparisons indicated significant differences (/K.01) between EXTF and INTF (Cohen's d= .16), and between KINF and INTF (Cohen's d= .13).


Research has consistently supported the conclusion that attention focusing instructions and cues enhance learning and performance. In addition, there is strong evidence that encouraging an external attentional focus is more advantageous than an internal focus. Absent from research comparing the internal versus external dimension are cues that are neutral or kinesthetic, which direct attention to general kinesthetic feelings without specific body actions or external referents. However, there is evidence that a neutral or kinesthetic attentional focus may also enhance performance. In this study, performance of an explosive power-based task (standing long jump) was compared in three conditions, two involving the traditional internal and external attentional focus instructions, and a third during which performers were asked to think about kinesthetic feelings appropriate to the task.

There arc two primary results of this study. First, explosive jump performance was greater when instructions focused attention externally (on reaching a target) than when attention was focused on specific body actions (pushing legs and swinging arms). This is consistent with previous research (e.g., Keller et al.,2015; Porter, Ostrowski, et al., 2010: Wii et al., 2012). The Constrained Action Hypothesis (Wulf et al., 2001) would suggest that thinking about reaching a distant target allowed automatic motor control processes to regulate the action, which resulted in increased performance. Conversely, when jumpers directed their attention to pushing with their legs and swinging their arms, automatic control processes were disrupted, which resulted in poorer outcomes.

Directing attention involves selecting and attending to specific stimuli and suppressing or ignoring others (Magill & Anderson, 2014). Therefore, focusing attention during motor performance necessarily prioritizes some aspects of the task over others. When someone focuses attention on the outcome of the task (e.g.. maximizing the distance jumped), a coordination pattern is encouraged or adopted that maximizes this priority. However, when someone concentrates on moving a body part in a certain way (e.g., swinging the arms using a big motion), that specific aspect of the action becomes the priority of the attempt. He or she likely does indeed use a big arm swing, but that may not necessarily result in the desired outcome (increased jump distance), and as suggested by Keller et al. (2015) may negatively affect overall coordination. Achieving the outcome goal involves coordinating a number of body parts. It would appear that attention to one or few component parts (a narrow internal focus), even if these actions are generally desirable or appropriate for the task, disrupts outcome goal achievement, at least in the short term. This study and others before it document support that an external attentional focus on the desired goal outcome enhances end-result performance compared to a narrow internal attentional focus on one or few specific bodily actions.

The second finding of this study was that performance of the standing long jump during the neutral kinesthetic condition was similar to that when using an external attentional focus, and significantly better than that in the internal focus condition. Benz et al. (2016) advanced the idea that neutral kinesthetic instructions or cues may be advantageous to an internal focus, and previous research (e.g.. Goudas et al., 2006; Rushall et al., 1988) has shown that kinesthetic cues encouraging achieving general bodily feelings can enhance athletic performance. However, their effects to date, have not been compared to internal and external focus instructions.

Using the Constrained Action Hypothesis explanation, the neutral kinesthetic attentional focus (e.g., explosive, loose, fast) may, similar to an external attentional focus, allow for automatic control processes to regulate movement. That is, focusing on feelings associated with cxplosivencss may not have had the coordination-disrupting effects of thinking about specific body parts or actions, but allow for an effective motor pattern to emerge.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Helping learners and athletes direct attention appropriately to enhance performance is central to instruction and coaching. There is strong evidence that instructions and cues that direct attention to relevant aspects of the task are beneficial, and the content of instructions and cues should logically match characteristics of the action. Research to date suggests that an external focus of attention is desirable, and this study also supports the Benz et al. (2016) proposal that neutral or kinesthetic instructions and cues may also have a performance-enhancing effect for power-based explosive tasks, relative to those encouraging a narrow internal focus. Limitations of this study include the use of only one motor task, and a sample of active college students heterogeneous in terms of training and fitness. Thus conclusions and generalizations should be tempered. However, despite these limitations, the results show that both an external attentional focus on the outcome goal of the task, and a kinesthetic focus on feeling explosive, enhanced maximum-effort standing long jump performance. The inclusion of the kinesthetic focus, and the results of this study, raise questions for research about effective attentional focus, and also have practical implications. Suggestions for future research include the inclusion of the kinesthetic attentional focus condition, and replication of these conditions on other skills.


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Research Examining the Effects of Attentional Fucus on Explosive
Power-Based Movements

Author (year)     Task (dependent     Instructions provided in each
                     measure)                   condition

Becker & Smith     Standing long    INT1: "Extend your knees as
(2015)            jump (distance)     rapidly as possible."
                                    INT2: "Use your legs."
                                    EXT: ".lump as far past the start
                                      line as possible"
                                    CON: "Jump as far as possible."

Ducharme, Wu,        Standing       INT: "... think about extending
Lim, Porter, &       longjump         your knees as rapidly as
Gerardo (2016)      (distance)        possible."
                                    EXT: "... think about jumping as
                                      close to the green targets as
                                    CON: "Jump as far as you can."

Ille, Selin,        10m sprint      INT: "Push quickly on your legs,
Do, &             (reaction time,     and keep going as fast as
Thon(2013)         running time)      possible while swinging both
                                      arms back and forth and rapidly
                                      raising your knees."
                                    EXT: "Get off the starting
                                      blocks as quickly as possible,
                                      head towards the finish line
                                      rapidly, and cross it as soon
                                      as possible.
                                    CON : No attentional focus

Keller, Lauber,       Counter       INT: "Focus your attention on
Gottwchalk, &      movement jump      extending your legs as rapidly
Taube(2015)        (jump height)      as possible."
                                    EXT: "Focus your attention on
                                      jumping as close to the ball
                                      [suspended overhead] as you
                                      possibly can."

Marchant,           Bench press     INT: "Focus on moving and
Grcig, Bullough    with standard      exerting force with your arms."
& Hitchen         weight (reps to   EXT: "Focus on moving and
(2011), Exer 1       failure)         exerting force through and
                                      against the barbell."
                                    CON: "Perform as many
                                      repetitions as you can before

Marchant,           Bench press     INT: "Focus on moving and
Greig, Bullough   with weight set     exerting force with your amis."
& Hitchen          at 75% of 1RM    EXT: "Focus on moving and
(2011), Exer 2       (reps to         exerting force through and
                     failure)         against the barbell."
                                    CON: "Perform as many reps as
                                      you can before failure."

Marchant,           Squat with      INT: "Focus on moving and
Greig, Bullough    weight set at      exerting force with your legs."
& Hitchen           75% or 1 RM     EXT: "Focus on moving and
(2011), Exer 3       (reps to         exerting force through and
                     failure)         against the barbell."
                                    CON: "Perform as many reps as
                                      you can before failure."

Marchant,           Isokinetic      INT: "Focus upon the movement
Grieg. & Scott     elbow flexion      of your arm and muscles during
(2009)            (peak net joint     the lift."
                      torque)       EXT: "Focus upon the movement
                                      of the crank hand bar during
                                      the lift."

Porter. Nolan,    Agility L test    INT: "Focus on moving your legs
Ostrowski, &         (time to         as rapidly as possible ...
Wulf (2010)          complete)        focus on planting your foot as
                                      firmly as possible."
                                    EXT: "Focus on running toward
                                      the cone as rapidly as possible
                                      ... focus on pushing off the
                                      ground as forcefully as
                                    CON: "Run through the course as
                                      quickly as you can with maximum

Porter,            Standing long    INT: "Focus your attention on
Ostrowski.        jump (distance)     extending your knees as rapidly
Nolan. & Wu                           as possible."
(2010)                              EXT: "Focus your attention on
                                      jumping as far past the start
                                      line as possible."

Porter. Wu,         20 m sprint     INT: "Focus on driving 1 leg
Crossley,         (running time)      forward as powerfully as
Knopp. &                              possible while moving your
Campbell (2015)                       other leg and foot down and
                                      back as quickly as possible as
                                      you accelerate."
                                    EXT: "Focus on driving forward
                                      as powerfully as possible while
                                      clawing the floor with your
                                      shoe as quickly as possible as
                                      your accelerate."
                                    CON: "Run the 20-meter dash as
                                      quickly as possible."

Wu. Porter, &      Standing long    INT: "Think about extending
Brown (2012)      jump (distance)     your knees as rapidly as
                                    EXT: "Think about jumping as
                                      close to the green target as
                                    CON: "Jump as far as you can."

Wulf & Dufek       Vertical jump    INT: "Concentrate on the tips
(2009)            (height, center     of the fingers, reaching as
                      of mass         high as possible."
                   displacement,    EXT: "Concentrate on the rungs
                     vertical         of the Vertec [apparatus],
                     impulse)         reaching as high as possible."

Wulf, Dufek,       Vertical jump    INT: "Concentrate on the tips
Lozano, &            (height)         of the fingers, reaching as
Pettigrew                             high as possible."
(2010)                              EXT: "Concentrate on the rungs
                                      of the Vertec [apparatus],
                                      reaching as high as possible."

Wulf, Zachry.      Vertical jump    INT: "Concentrate on the tips
Grandados, &         (height)         of the fingers, reaching as
Dufek (2007),                         high as possible."
Exp. 1                              EXT: "Concentrate on the rungs
                                      of the Vertec [appara-tus],
                                      reaching as high as possible."
                                    CON: No attentional focus

Wulf, Zachry.      Vertical jump    INT: "Concentrate on the tips
Qrandados, &      (height, center     of the fingers, reaching as
Dufek (2007),         of mass         high as possible."
Exp. 2             displacement)    EXT: "Concentrate on the rungs
                                      of the Vertec [appara-tus],
                                      reaching as high as possible."
                                    CON: No attentional focus

Author (year)          Result

Becker & Smith    EXT > INT1, INT2

Ducharme, Wu,     EXT > INT, CON
Lim, Porter, &
Gerardo (2016)

Ille, Selin,      EXT > INT
Do, &

Keller, Lauber,   EXT> INT
Gottwchalk, &

Marchant,         EXT > INT
Grcig, Bullough
& Hitchen
(2011), Exer 1

Marchant,         EXT > INT, CON
Greig, Bullough
& Hitchen
(2011), Exer 2

Marchant,         EXT > INT, CON
Greig, Bullough
& Hitchen
(2011), Exer 3

Marchant,         EXT > INT
Grieg. & Scott

Porter. Nolan,    EXT > INT, CON
Ostrowski, &
Wulf (2010)

Porter,           EXT > INT
Nolan. & Wu

Porter. Wu,       F.XT > INT, CON
Knopp. &
Campbell (2015)

Wu. Porter, &     EXT > INT, CON
Brown (2012)

Wulf & Dufek      F.XT > INT

Wulf, Dufek,      EXT> INT
Lozano, &

Wulf, Zachry.     EXT > INT, CON
Grandados, &
Dufek (2007),
Exp. 1

Wulf, Zachry.     EXT > INT. CON
Qrandados, &
Dufek (2007),
Exp. 2

NOTE: EXT--External attentional focus; INT--Internal attentional
focus: CON--Control condition.

Edward P. Hebert and Brian M. Williams

Southeastern Louisiana University

Edward P. Hebert and Brian M. Williams

Southeastern Louisiana University

Address correspondence to: Edward P. Hebert, Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Southeastern Louisiana University, SLU Box 10845, Hammond, LA 70402.

Caption: Figure 1. Long jump distance (mean and standard error) as a function of attentional focus condition.
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Author:Hebert, Edward P.; Williams, Brian M.
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Article Type:Report
Date:May 1, 2017
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