Research Article: The effects of combining focus of attention and autonomy support on shot accuracy in the penalty kick

Date Published: September 23, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Hubert Makaruk, Jared Marak Porter, Jerzy Sadowski, Anna Bodasińska, Janusz Zieliński, Tomasz Niźnikowski, Andrzej Mastalerz, Greg Wood.


The penalty kick is of great importance in the sport of soccer. Therefore, the aim of this study was to test predictions of the OPTIMAL theory and identify key attentional and motivational factors that impact the accuracy of the penalty kick. The following six groups of moderately skilled participants performed penalty kicks following instructions that directed their focus of attention or impacted their autonomy support: external focus with autonomy support (EF/AS), external focus alone (EF), internal focus with autonomy support (IF/AS), internal focus alone (IF), autonomy support alone (AS) and control (C) groups. The analysis showed that the EF/AS group demonstrated better kicking accuracy relatively to the IF/AS, IF and C groups, but there were no significant differences between the EF/AS and EF or AS groups. Interestingly, the EF/AS group showed higher self-efficacy compared to the EF, IF/AS, IF and C groups. The finding suggest that a combination of attentional and motivational factors may produce benefits in motor performance.

Partial Text

For two decades, research findings have consistently demonstrated that adopting an external focus of attention improves motor performance compared to attempts performed when using an internal focus of attention (for a review see [1]). Studies have also reported that granting the mover autonomy (e.g., self-control) over some aspect of practice also improves motor performance [2]. Recently, Wulf and Lewthwaite [2] proposed the Optimizing Performance Through Intrinsic Motivation and Attention for Learning (OPTIMAL) theory, which has been used to explain how practice effects such as attention and autonomy support influence motor performance and learning. This theory proposes that practice environments which encourage the mover to utilize an external focus of attention, promote autonomy support by way of self-controlled practice methods, and linking desired behavioral outcomes with motor skill production increases intrinsic motivation which then facilitates motor learning.

A power analysis conducted using pilot data indicated that a minimum of 12 participants per condition were needed. To ensure sufficient power, we recruited a sample of 120 male college aged students from a larger sample of 350 students who were completing a minimum of 60 hours of soccer coaching education classes as part of a university physical education program. As part of the coaching education coursework, participants practiced the penalty kick, were required to pass a penalty kick skill test, and practiced teaching the penalty kick to others. Additionally, volunteers had to meet the following criteria: have a minimum of one year experience on an amateur soccer team, and no orthopedic injury in the past 6 months. Volunteers (mean age = 21.7 years, s = 1.4 years) were considered moderately skilled in the penalty kick. There were a limited number of women in the potential participant pool that met the inclusion criteria. Moreover, no females volunteered for our study during our recruitment efforts. As a result, only males were tested in the present study. In the participant pool, 111 of volunteers were right-legged and nine were left-legged. Participants were asked to abstain from any strength and conditioning training for a minimum of three days prior to their involvement in the study. All participants signed an informed consent. The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Józef Piłsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw.

The aim of this study was to investigate if the combination of an external focus of attention and autonomy facilitated a motor performance advantage compared to conditions where both factors were used independently. In addition, we were interested in measuring if self-efficacy differed between the conditions as a result of practice conditions. We chose the penalty kick because it is one of the most profitable skills in sport [6].

The current study showed that an external focus of attention and autonomy support are associated with overall better motor performance. Combining an external focus of attention with autonomy support immediately enhanced penalty kick accuracy relative to participants that performed in the control condition and those that received a combination of an internal focus of attention with autonomy support and their yoked counterparts. Although we did not find additive advantages for motor performance comparing the external focus and autonomy support to external condition without a motivational manipulation. However, we did see that combining an external focus of attention with autonomy support did significantly improve self-efficacy compared to all other conditions. In summary, we confirmed that matching attentional and motivational factors optimized the performance of the penalty kick. The present results also suggest that self-control practice involving the selection of the desired target led to better accuracy during penalty kick performance relative to instructions which directed attention internally or a form of practice that combined an internal focus with autonomy support. In agreement with earlier findings and the OPTIMAL theory, the findings reported here support that attentional and motivational variables directly influence motor performance and self-efficacy in moderately skilled soccer players.




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