Because there is an absence of literature regarding the effects of various attentional foci on specific biomechanical sprint variables, especially kinetic sprint variables, this section will make suggestions based on the previous literature in motor behavior and biomechanics. With regard to sprinting, numerous biomechanical studies have researched the key performance variables needed to sprint optimally (38,39,53,65). One of the primary methods for enhancing sprint velocity is through the application of large mass-specific ground reaction forces (GRFs), over a minimal amount of time (i.e., 0.101–0.083 seconds) (33) during the stance phase (9,11,64). Skilled sprinters achieve high maximal velocities compared with non-sprinters (10.4 ± 0.3 versus 8.7 ± 0.3 m·s−1) by applying larger vertical ground reaction forces (vGRF) during the first half (2.65 ± 0.05 versus 2.21 ± 0.05 N·N−1 or “bodyweights”) of the stance phase during a stride cycle of sprinting (11). Furthermore, elite sprinters have higher hip extension velocity (∼835°/s versus ∼735°/s) and swing back velocity (∼605°/s versus ∼450°/s) compared with their slower counterparts (2). Based on the mechanical determinants of maximal velocity sprinting, coaches could use external focus of attention instructions or cues to enhance sprint performance by asking the athlete to “step down hard” or “accelerate into the ground with maximum effort,” thereby potentially augmenting the athlete's relative GRFs and subsequent sprint velocity.
It has been reported that elite 100-m sprinters (those running in the range of 9.90–9.58 seconds) positively accelerate to ∼50–70 m into the race (24,30), with the best sprinters accelerating furthest into the race. Therefore, using external focus instructions and cues emphasizing, accelerating as far into the run as possible is suggested, as this technique is applied by elite sprint coaches (e.g., “push as far into the run as possible”) (4).
There have been a number of studies performed showing that providing external focus instructions and cues results in enhanced efficiency at a neuromuscular level. Specifically, an external focus has been associated with lower muscle activation than an internal focus when measured by surface electromyography (28,63,72,80), enhanced running economy (by enhanced oxygen consumption efficiency) (57), promotion of phasic heart rate deceleration just before performing a motor skill (42,54), and reduction in heart rate during physical exertion (40) during a variety of activities. Sprinting is a complex motor skill involving numerous muscle groups that must be contracted at appropriate times and intensities throughout the stride cycle to maximize sprint performance. Thereby, optimizing the timing of agonist and antagonist muscle activation, promoting decreased co-contraction at inappropriate times during the stride cycle may subsequently improve sprint velocity (56). Based on the current literature, external attentional focus instructions have been shown to reduce antagonist muscle activity during motor skill execution (27) and overall muscle activation while concurrently enhancing dynamic motor skill performance (72). There is a potential for external and neutral focus of attention instructions and cues to promote more efficient muscle activation and more optimal timing of the agonist and antagonist muscles involved during sprinting to enhance sprinting ability at a neuromuscular level. However, further research will need to be performed to verify this presumption.
One area that is underdeveloped in motor behavior literature is how the quantity of verbal instructions and cues affect motor skill performance. In regard to short-term memory, our biological limit is about 4 items (or chunks) of information on average (13). Similarly, it is known that verbal instructions and cues can have an impact on working memory, which is closely tied to the efficacy of motor skill acquisition (36). The conscious processing hypothesis (45) states the load placed on working memory has a direct impact on performance, with internal focus instructions having a greater demand on working memory compared with external focus instructions. As a result, poorer performances associated with the adoption of an internal focus of attention may be the byproduct of increased working memory demands placed on the individual. This may be a result of internal focus instructions and cues in particular, having a larger amount of information (i.e., quantity), which may disrupt working memory by engaging explicit processing of mechanical rules about how to perform sprinting (36), thus potentially causing a decrement in sprint performance. We propose that providing short and concise external directing instructions will lessen the demand that is placed on the athlete's working memory and therefore lead to enhanced sprinting ability.
Based on the current evidence available, coaches are encouraged to provide either external and/or neutral focus of attention instructions and cues to athletes at 100% frequency levels with the quantity of verbal instructions and cues kept minimal. Verbal instructions and cues used during training should be specific to the biomechanical areas in need of most immediate improvement. The coach should take note of landmark positions in the stance and flight phases of the stride cycle (e.g., toe-on, toe-off, mid-stance, and mid-flight positions). Based on the coach's evaluation of the athletes' mechanics in the various phases of the stride cycle, specific verbal instructions and cues can then be implemented in order of priority. Identification of the mechanical flaw in need of the most improvement should be the top priority for implementation of verbal instructions and cues; identification and improvement of the main biomechanical flaws may augment multiple other biomechanical subareas that may have also been in need of improvement (44). For example, a coach that has an athlete who becomes fully upright within the first 3 steps of the starting blocks during practice may encourage the athlete to “Keep a straight posture while driving out at an aggressively low angle and claw the track back for the first 10–15 m.” Encouraging a more straight forward leaning torso angle during acceleration may potentially enhance the orientation of the resultant force vector in the horizontal direction during toe-off and thus may result in faster acceleration velocity as a byproduct of higher net anteroposterior GRF (53), which has been associated with faster sprinting velocity more than less acute torso and shin angles at take-off (16,21).
Because of the nature of competition, stress and anxiety will likely be heightened during these periods, potentially leading to a higher chance of the athlete choking due to the performance pressures (6). Therefore, it is especially important for coaches to be very careful with the quality and quantity of the verbal instructions and cues that are provided to the athlete during competition. Verbal instructions and cues provided during competition should elicit an external or neutral focus of attention and should be brief in nature to enhance sprint performance and to prevent the choking phenomenon from occurring (7,52,60). An example of an external and neutral focus of attention instruction during competition would be “Push through with an aggressive acceleration velocity and stay relaxed during the later stage of the race.”
1. Abernethy B, Masters RS, Zachry T. Using Biomechanical Feedback
to Enhance Skill Learning and Performance in: Routledge Handbook of Biomechanics and Human Movement Science. Oxon, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2008. pp. 581–593.
2. Ae M, Ito A, Suzuki M. The men's 100 metres. New Stud Athl 7: 47–52, 1992.
3. Al-Abood SA, Bennett SJ, Hernandez FM, Ashford D, Davids K. Effect of verbal instructions
and image size on visual search strategies in basketball free throw shooting. J Sports Sci 20: 271–278, 2002.
4. Anderson V. Maximal velocity mechanics and cuing. Presented at: USTFCCCA Convention; December 16–19, 2013; Orlando, FL.
5. Becker KA, Smith PJK. Attentional focus
effects in standing long jump performance: Influence of a broad and narrow internal focus. J Strength Cond Res 29: 1780–1783, 2015.
6. Beilock SL, Carr T. On the fragility of skilled performance: What governs choking under pressure? J Exp Psychol Gen 130: 701–725, 2001.
7. Bell J, Hardy J. Effects of attentional focus
on skilled performance in golf. J Appl Sport Psychol 21: 163–177, 2009.
8. Benz A. Verbal instructions
: Providing these for enhancing athletic performance. In: Techniques for Track & Field and Cross Country. Metaire, LA: Renaissance Publishing, 2014. pp. 10–18.
9. Brown TD, Vescovi JD. Maximum speed: Misconceptions of sprinting
. Strength Cond J 34: 37–41, 2012.
10. Chiviacowsky S, Wulf G, Wally R. An external focus of attention enhances balance learning in older adults. Gait Posture 32: 572–575, 2010.
11. Clark KP, Weyand PG. Are running speeds maximized with simple-spring stance mechanics? J Appl Physiol (1985) 117: 604–615, 2014.
12. Comani S, Di Fronso S, Filho E, Castronovo AM, Schmid M, Bortoli L, Conforto S, Robazza C, Bertollo M. Attentional focus
and functional connectivity in cycling: An EEG case study. Presented at: XIII Mediterranean Conference on Medical and Biological Engineering and Computing; September 25–28, 2013; Seville, Spain.
13. Cowan N. The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behav Brain Sci 24: 87–185, 2000.
14. Craig LC. The effects of focused attention on batting performance of collegiate athletes. In: Jackson College of Graduate Studies. Edmond, OK: University of Central Oklahoma, 2013.
15. Eriksson M, Halvorsen KA, Gullstrand L. Immediate effect of visual and auditory feedback
to control the running mechanics of well-trained athletes. J Sports Sci 29: 253–262, 2011.
16. Gamble P. Training for Sports Speed and Agility: An Evidence-Based Approach. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2012.
17. Hodges NJ, Franks IM. Modelling coaching
practice: The role of instruction and demonstration. J Sports Sci 20: 793–811, 2002.
18. Ille A, Selin I, Do MC, Thon B. Attentional focus
effects on sprint start performance as a function of skill level. J Sports Sci 31: 1705–1712, 2013.
19. Ives JC, Shelley GA. Psychophysics in functional strength and power training: Review and implementation framework. J Strength Con Res 17: 177–186, 2003.
20. Kal EC, van der Kamp J, Houdijk H. External attentional focus
enhances movement automatization: A comprehensive test of the constrained action hypothesis. Hum Mov Sci 32: 527–539, 2013.
21. Kugler F, Janshen L. Body position determines propulsive forces in accelerated running. J Biomech 43: 343–348, 2010.
22. Landin D. The role of verbal cues
in skill learning. Quest 46: 299–313, 1994.
23. Lawrence G, Kingston K, Gottwald V. Skill acquisition for coaches. In: Jones RL, Kingston K, eds. An Introduction to Sports Coaching
: Connecting Theory to Practice. Oxon, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2013. pp. 31–48.
24. Letzelter S. The development of velocity and acceleration in sprints: A comparison of elite and juvenile female sprinters. New Stud Athl 21: 15–22, 2006.
25. Lohse KR, Jones M, Healy AF, Sherwood DE. The role of attention in motor control. J Exp Psychol Gen 143: 1–19, 2013.
26. Lohse KR, Sherwood DE. Defining the focus of attention: Effects of attention on perceived exertion and fatigue. Front Psychol 2: 1–10, 2011.
27. Lohse KR, Sherwood DE. Thinking about muscles: Neuromuscular effects of attentional focus
on accuracy and fatigue. Acta Psychol 140: 236–245, 2012.
28. Lohse KR, Sherwood DE, Healy AF. How changing the focus of attention affects performance, kinematics, and electromyography in dart throwing. Hum Mov Sci 29: 542–555, 2010.
29. Lohse KR, Sherwood DE, Healy AF. On the advantage of an external focus of attention: A benefit to learning or performance? Hum Mov Sci 33: 120–134, 2014.
30. Majumdar AS, Robergs RA. The science of speed: Determinants of performance in the 100 m sprint. Sport Sci Coach 6: 479–493, 2011.
31. Makaruk H, Porter JM, Czaplicki A, Sadowski J, Sacewicz T. The role of attentional focus
in plyometric training. J Sport Med Phys Fit 52: 319–327, 2012.
32. Mallett CJ, Hanrahan SJ. Race modeling: An effective cognitive strategy for the 100 m sprinter? Sport Psychol 11: 72–85, 1997.
33. Mann RV. The Mechanics of Sprinting
and Hurdling. Lexington, KY: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
34. Marchant DC, Greig M, Bullough J, Hitchen D. Instructions
to adopt an external focus enhance muscular endurance. Res Q Exerc Sport 82: 466–473, 2011.
35. Marchant DC, Greig M, Scott C. Attentional focusing instructions
influence force production and muscular activity during isokinetic elbow flexions. J Strength Cond Res 23: 2358–2366, 2009.
36. Maxwell JP, Masters RSW. External versus internal focus instructions
: Is the learner paying attention?. Int J Appl Sport Sci 14: 70–88, 2002.
37. McNevin NH, Shea CH, Wulf G. Increasing the distance of an external focus of attention enhances learning. Psychol Res 67: 22–29, 2003.
38. Morin JB, Bourdin M, Edouard P, Peyrot N, Samozino P, Lacour JR. Mechanical determinants of 100-m sprint running performance. Eur J Appl Physiol 112: 3921–3930, 2012.
39. Morin JB, Edouard P, Samozino P. Technical ability of force application as a determinant factor of sprint performance. Med Sci Sport Exer 43: 1680–1688, 2011.
40. Neumann D, Brown J. The effect of attentional focus
strategy on physiological and motor performance during a sit-up exercise. J Psychophysiol 27: 7–15, 2013.
41. Neumann DL, Piercy A. The effect of different attentional strategies on physiological and psychological states during running. Aust Psychol 48: 329–337, 2013.
42. Neumann DL, Thomas PR. Cardiac and respiratory activity and golf putting performance under attentional focus instructions
. Psychol Sport Exerc 12: 451–459, 2011.
43. Ong N, Bowcock A, Hodges N. Manipulations to the timing and type of instructions
to examine motor skills performance under pressure. Front Psychol 1: 1–13, 2010.
44. Pfaff DA. Technical and skill aspects of sprinting
: Biomechanics, training theory and motor behavior. Presented at: USTFCCCA Convention; December 15–18, 2014; Phoenix, AZ.
45. Poolton JM, Maxwell JP, Masters RSW, Raab M. Benefits of an external focus of attention: Common coding or conscious processing? J Sports Sci 24: 89–99, 2006.
46. Porter JM, Anton PM, Wikoff NM, Ostrowski JB. Instructing skilled athletes to focus their attention externally at greater distances enhances jumping performance. J Strength Cond Res 27: 2073–2078, 2013.
47. Porter JM, Anton PM, Wu WF. Increasing the distance of an external focus of attention enhances standing long jump performance. J Strength Cond Res 26: 2389–2393, 2012.
48. Porter JM, Nolan RP, Ostrowski EJ, Wulf G. Directing attention externally enhances agility performance: A qualitative and quantitative analysis of the efficacy of using verbal instructions
to focus attention. Front Psychol 1: 1–7, 2010.
49. Porter JM, Ostrowski EJ, Nolan RP, Wu WF. Standing long-jump performance is enhanced when using an external focus of attention. J Strength Cond Res 24: 1746–1750, 2010.
50. Porter JM, Sims B. Altering focus of attention influences elite athletes sprinting
performance. Int J Coach Sci 8: 22–27, 2013.
51. Porter JM, Wu WF, Partridge JA. Focus of attention and verbal instructions
: Strategies of elite track and field coaches and athletes. Sport Sci Rev 19: 77–89, 2010.
52. Porter JM, Wu WFW, Crossley RM, Knopp SW, Campbell OC. Adopting an external focus of attention improves sprinting
performance in low-skilled sprinters. J Strength Cond Res 29: 947–953, 2015.
53. Rabita G, Dorel S, Slawinski J, Sàez-de-Villarreal E, Couturier A, Samozino P, Morin JB. Sprint mechanics in world-class athletes: A new insight into the limits of human locomotion. Scand J Med Sci Spor 25: 583–594, 2015.
54. Radlo S, Steinberg G, Singer R, Barba D, Melnikov A. The influence of an attentional focus
strategy on alpha brain wave activity, heart rate and dart-throwing performance. Int J Sport Psychol 33: 205–217, 2002.
55. Ross A, Leveritt M. Long-term metabolic and skeletal muscle adaptations to short-sprint training: Implications for sprint training and tapering. Sports Med 31: 1063–1082, 2001.
56. Ross A, Leveritt M, Riek S. Neural influences on sprint running: Training adaptations and acute responses. Sports Med 31: 409–425, 2001.
57. Schücker L, Hagemann N, Strauss B, Volker K. The effect of attentional focus
on running economy. J Sports Sci 27: 1241–1248, 2009.
58. Seagrave L, Mouchbahani R, O'Donnell K. Neuro-biomechanics of maximum velocity sprinting
. New Stud Athl 24: 19–27, 2009.
59. Shea CH, Wulf G. Enhancing motor learning through external-focus instructions
. Hum Mov Sci 18: 553–571, 1999.
60. Sims BA. Focus of Attention Influences Elite Athletes Sprinting
Performance. Carbondale, IL: OpenSIUC: Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 2010.
61. Singer RN, Lidor R, Cauraugh JH. To be aware or not aware? What to think about while learning and performing a motor skill. Sport Psychol 7: 19–30, 1993.
62. Stoate I, Wulf G. Does the attentional focus
adopted by swimmers affect their performance? Sport Sci Coach 6: 99–108, 2011.
63. Vance J, Wulf G, Töllner T, McNevin N, Mercer J. EMG activity as a function of the performers' focus of attention. J Mot Behav 36: 450–459, 2004.
64. Weyand PG, Sandell RF, Prime DNL, Bundle MW. The biological limits to running speed are imposed from the ground up. J Appl Physiol (1985) 108: 950–961, 2010.
65. Weyand PG, Sternlight DB, Bellizzi MJ, Wright S. Faster top running speeds are achieved with greater ground forces not more rapid leg movements. J Appl Physiol (1985) 89: 1991–1999, 2000.
66. Williams AM, Ford P. Promoting a skills-based agenda in olympic sports: The role of skill-acquisition specialists. J Sports Sci 27: 1381–1392, 2009.
67. Wu WF, Porter JM, Brown LE. Effect of attentional focus
strategies on peak force and performance in the standing long jump. J Strength Cond Res 26: 1226–1231, 2012.
68. Wulf G. Attentional focus
effects in balance acrobats. Res Q Exerc Sport 79: 319–325, 2008.
69. Wulf G. Attentional focus
and motor learning: A review of 15 years. Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol 6: 77–104, 2013.
70. Wulf G, Chiviacowsky S, Schiller E, Avila LT. Frequent external-focus feedback
enhances motor learning. Front Psychol 1: 190, 2010.
71. Wulf G, Dufek JS. Increased jump height with an external focus due to enhanced lower extremity joint kinetics. J Mot Behav 41: 401–409, 2009.
72. Wulf G, Dufek JS, Lozano L, Pettigrew C. Increased jump height and reduced EMG activity with an external focus. Hum Mov Sci 29: 440–448, 2010.
73. Wulf G, Lauterbach B, Toole T. The learning advantages of an external focus of attention in golf. Res Q Exerc Sport 70: 120–126, 1999.
74. Wulf G, McConnel N, Gartner M, Schwarz A. Enhancing the learning of sport skills through external-focus feedback
. J Mot Behav 34: 171–182, 2002.
75. Wulf G, Prinz W, Höß M. Instructions
for motor learning: Differential effects of internal versus external focus of attention. J Mot Behav 30: 169–179, 1998.
76. Wulf G, Shea CH, Matschiner S. Frequent feedback
enhances complex motor skill learning. J Mot Behav 30: 180–204, 1998.
77. Wulf G, Su J. An external focus of attention enhances golf shot accuracy in beginners and experts. Res Q Exerc Sport 78: 384–389, 2007.
78. Wulf G, Weigelt M, Poulter D, McNevin N. Attentional focus
on suprapostural tasks affects balance learning. Q J Exp Psychol A 56: 1191–1211, 2003.
79. Wulf G, Zachry T, Granados C, Dufek J. Increases in jump-and-reach height through an external focus of attention. Sport Sci Coach 2: 275–284, 2007.
80. Zachry T, Wulf G, Mercer J, Bezodis N. Increased movement accuracy and reduced EMG activity as the result of adopting an external focus of attention. Brain Res Bull 67: 304–309, 2005.
81. Ziv G, Meckel Y, Lidor R, Rotstein A. The effects of external and internal focus of attention on physiological responses during running. J Hum Sport Exerc 7: 608–616, 2012.