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Research suggests an external focus of attention (EFOA) promotes effective performance and learning compared to an internal focus of attention (IFOA), with explanations proposed by the constrained action hypothesis (CAH) and OPTIMAL theory of motor learning. Specifically, it is proposed that adopting an EFOA prevents the constraining of normally automatic control processes and subsequent performance decrements (typically observed when individuals adopt an IFOA) by simultaneously reducing self-focus strategies and enhancing goal-action coupling. The present study attempted to fill this research lacuna by examining the CAH and OPTIMAL theory in a complex, ecologically valid, motor task under both low and high-pressured conditions. In two separate experiments, novice (n = 23) and advanced (n = 21) surfers completed a surfing task in an artificial Wavegarden under either EFOA or IFOA instructions. Experimental phases included a pre-test, acquisition and competition transfer. Results revealed that advanced and novice surfing performance benefited from adopting an EFOA in both normal and competitive situations. These findings are discussed in terms of the theoretical implications for the CAH and OPTIMAL theory, in addition to the anxiety literature. Reference to applied implications when instructing and performing within ecologically valid surfing settings are also presented.


  • Coaching, Performance, Stress, Expertise
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-239
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Sport Science
Issue number2
Early online date31 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020

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