Purpose: A large pool of evidence supports the beneficial effect of an external focus of attention on motor skill performance in adults. In children, this effect has been studied less and results are inconclusive. Importantly, individual differences are often not taken into account. We investigated the role of working memory, conscious motor control, and task-specific focus preferences on performance with an internal and external focus of attention in children. Methods: Twenty-five children practiced a golf putting task in both an internal focus condition and external focus condition. Performance was defined as the average distance toward the hole in 3 blocks of 10 trials. Task-specific focus preference was determined by asking how much effort it took to apply the instruction in each condition. In addition, working memory capacity and conscious motor control were assessed. Results: Children improved performance in both the internal focus condition and external focus condition (ŋp 2 = .47), with no difference between conditions (ŋp 2 = .01). Task-specific focus preference was the only factor moderately related to the difference between performance with an internal focus and performance with an external focus (r = .56), indicating better performance for the preferred instruction in Block 3. Conclusion: Children can benefit from instruction with both an internal and external focus of attention to improve short-term motor performance. Individual, task-specific focus preference influenced the effect of the instructions, with children performing better with their preferred focus. The results highlight that individual differences are a key factor in the effectiveness in children’s motor performance. The precise mechanisms underpinning this effect warrant further research.
- cognitive control
- motor skill