Performance of a Gymnastics Skill Benefits from an External Focus of Attention

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The present study was designed to fill a gap in the literature on attentional focus and sports performance. Specifically, in contrast to most previous studies in which an external focus was directed at an implement, we used a gymnastics skill that did not involve the use of an implement. Furthermore, while most studies used only outcome measures of performance, we also assessed movement quality. Twelve-year-old gymnasts performed a maximum vertical jump with a 180-degree turn while airborne, with their hands crossing in front of their chest during the turn under three different focus conditions. Under the external focus condition, participants were asked to focus on the direction in which a tape marker, which was attached to their chest, was pointing after the turn. Under the internal focus condition, they were asked to focus on the direction in which their hands were pointing after the turn. Under the control condition, no focus instructions were given. The external focus condition resulted in both superior movement form and greater jump height than did the other two conditions, which produced comparable results. The present findings show that, similar to other tasks, the performance of form-based skills can be enhanced relatively easily by appropriate external focus instructions.