The strength and conditioning (S&C) coach spends a significant amount of his/ her time on the design of training programmes to optimise training adaptations. A central focus of S&C research relates to optimal programme design. However what coaches say in the S&C training environment can have a significant impact on the enhancement of the training adaptations that are targeted in the carefully constructed training plans. In particular, verbal instructions can be used to promote an internal, external or neutral focus of attention which in turn influences motor performance (Wulf, 2013). External verbal instructions direct an athlete’s attention to the effects that their movements have on the environment, while internal instructions direct the athlete’s attention to their body movements or to a specific body part (Makaruk et al., 2012). Neutral instructions do not aim to induce either an internal or external focus of attention and instead promote nonawareness (Makaruk et al., 2012).
While much of the attentional focus research is in the area of motor skill acquisition, recent publications have sought to research the effect of various attentional strategies on performance of key S&C exercises, such as sprinting, drop jumping and vertical jumping. In a recent review of the literature in this area, Brady et al. (2017) provide direction on the most effective attentional strategy to use when coaching and testing various aspects of S&C, such as maximum strength, speed and reactive strength. The key conclusion from this applied research paper was that verbal instructions that focus an athlete’s attention externally as opposed to internally are more effective in enhancing performance of these key aspects of S&C. A coach should consider using external cues, for example ‘Push the ground away when you sprint’, when testing and coaching in the S&C environment. S&C coaches need to consider not only what they will include in training plans but what they will say to the athlete when coaching and implementing these plans. A dual approach such as this will help to ensure that the training adaptations are maximised for the athletes.
- Brady, C, Comyns, T, Harrison, A, and Warrington, G. Focus of attention for diagnostic testing of the force-velocity curve. Strength Cond J 39: 57-70, 2017.
- Makaruk H, Porter JM, Czaplicki A, Sadowski J, and Sacewicz T. The role of attentional focus in plyometric training. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 52: 319-327, 2012.
- Wulf, G. Attentional focus and motor learning: A review of 15 years. Int Rev Sport Exerc Psychol 6: 77-104, 2013.
Dr. Tom Comyns is a Lecturer in Human Movement Science in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick. His research interests include all aspects of Human Movement Science with a particular focus on Strength and Conditioning (S&C). Contact Dr Comyns via email firstname.lastname@example.org view his research profile on Researchgate or follow Tom on Twitter