Teaching Sports Skills

Cradling a lacrosse ball is another example of how external focus cues can be more effective. Cradling requires a smooth stick movement that begs to be done automatically. Learning to cradle is much easier if the external focus cue is to “keep the ball in constant motion.” Giving instructions that require the learner to be consciously deliberate about every movement performed by the arms during the cradle (internal focus) makes it almost impossible to keep the ball in the pocket of the lacrosse stick.

Also, this conscious mode of attention promoted by internal focus cues may cause an athlete to “choke.” In a soccer penalty kick, for example, it is more effective to use an external focus: contacting a specific spot on the soccer ball, noting the desired trajectory of the ball or aiming for a specific target in the goal mouth.

Changing Tactics

Are you wondering about what types of focus cues you have been using? It’s actually fairly easy to change the phrasing of both your instruction and your feedback so that you encourage your athletes to use an external focus of attention. Here are two examples of changing an internal focus cue to an external focus cue:

Sports Skill

Golf Chip Shot

Change Internal Focus Cue: “Keep your left wrist straight and firm throughout the entire shot” to This External Focus Cue: “Get the ball on the green and rolling toward the hole as fast as you can.”

Sports Skill

Racquetball Z-serve

Change Internal Focus Cue: “Keep your knees bent to keep the ball low” to This External Focus Cue: “Aim for a specific target that is low on the front corner wall, so the ball barely makes it over the short line.”

Many sports skills can be learned and retained more effectively by using an external focus of attention: skating, skiing, golf, tennis, gymnastics, pole vaulting, jump shooting, hitting a curve ball, serving a volleyball, windsurfing, even riding a unicycle! Promoting an external focus of attention has been shown to be superior for both beginners and experts. So the next time you give a lesson, try to emphasize the “effect” of the movement by giving cues like “square the position of the racquet” or “give the ball a high trajectory” or “aim at the preferred target.” When you help learners use an external focus of attention, they might just start to believe that they are “motor gifted!”

Susan Langlois has over 25 years experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sports facilities consultant. She is currently the campus director at Springfield College School of Human Services in Manchester and St. Johnsbury, N.H. She can be reached at susan.langlois@comcast.net.

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Related posts:

  1. The Fundamentals of Sport
  2. Get Your Motors Running
  3. Teaching The Basics
  4. The Kayaking Effect
  5. Why Johnny Hates Sports

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