Resolving the Centipede’s Dilemma: External focus distance and expertise in applied, continuous skills

Stephen Banks*, Peter Higgins, John Sproule, Ursula Pool*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Research has reliably demonstrated that an external focus of attention during skill production enhances performance, retention, and transfer relative to an internal focus on movement mechanics. The optimisation of external focus points, across a range of contexts and performers, is important for effective skill production. Two studies were conducted evaluating the impact of external focus distance in an applied, continuous sports skill (kayak sprinting) with participants of two different expertise levels. In Study 1, using a within-participants design, recreational kayakers (n = 20) were timed sprinting 75 m in a surf ski under proximal external focus, distal external focus, and control conditions. The distal focus (on the finish) (29.75 s) was significantly faster than both other trials (ps < 0.001). The control condition (30.95 s) was significantly faster than the proximal focus (on the boat) (32.37 s) (p = 0.003). The effect size was large (ηp2 = 0.55). In Study 2, specifically trained racers in sprint kayaks (K1s) (n = 16) were timed in a 100 m K1 sprint under the same three conditions as in Study 1. The control condition (28.96 s) was significantly faster than the proximal focus trial (29.83 s) (p = 0.02). The effect size was large (ηp2 = 0.23). There was no significant difference between the distal focus trial (29.03 s) and the other conditions. These findings suggest that focus distance can play a pivotal role in continuous skills. Whilst recreational performers may benefit immediately from a distal focus, this might not be the case for specifically trained athletes. Further, a proximal focus on fitted, passive equipment may be detrimental to performance.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Research
Early online date4 Apr 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Apr 2024

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