Improving Performance with External Focus

One of the most overlooked aspects of coaching is verbal cuing. Words that invoke pictures or images that inspire the athlete to increased levels of performance, while also creating clarity regarding how to best execute the task, can be extremely beneficial when working with younger athletes that may not fully understand the task. This could be the reason we see programs promoting insane vertical and speed gains with their athletes in only a few short weeks of training. A study in the NSCA’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Vol. 26 #9, Sept. 2012 pg 2389) recently showed that simply increasing the distance of the external focus during standing long jumps increased the distance of the jump.

“If we allow them to jump or sprint in a pre-test without first giving them a target or expectation, and then during a post-test give them a time or distance to beat, they will almost always perform better in the post-test.”

We see this all the time as we go through pre and post tests with our players. While this may work in some facilities, it doesn’t do us much good here, as our players will stay with us for 3-8 years. If we show huge improvements over the first season (3 months), the player will expect to see those same improvements over the next season (which is highly unlikely).

We like to wait about 2-3 weeks before running a ‘pre-test’ with our newer players. This allows the players to develop a comfort with the tasks, the movements and the coaching environment. Then we will cue them to hit targets achieved by the best players in their age group. We keep the same, consistent motivational encouragement in each testing session (as well as in each training session). This way we are doing our best to ensure that our results are due to actual improvements and not purely through better understanding of a particular skill, and being externally motivated to improve.

We suggest that coaches use this external motivation in each training session so that every sprint, every jump and every lift is performed at the highest level. We use lighted jump mats (Fusionsport Smartjump) when doing jump squats for this very reason. If a player knows that getting a green light means that they jumped high enough, and getting a read light means that they need to jump higher or reduce the weight, we seem to get much more effort in our weighted jump sessions. More effort, ideal loads and external motivation will lead to safe and progressive improvements in performance from season to season.

To read some of the recent blog posts on Testing at the AthleteFIT Training and Research Center click HERE, or go to the Training Ideas and Discussions tab at the top of the page and choose the category that best suits your area of interest.

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