THEORY OF SUCCESS
PSYCHOLOGISTS from the University of Manchester are pointing to a little known theory as a key factor in improving sports performance.
According to Dr Warren Mansell, a researcher in clinical psychology, the Perceptual Control Theory can be applied to amateurs or elite athletes. It proposes that when trying to improve performance, teaching people what to do is less effective than teaching them how to picture the outcome.
“We commonly instruct people in terms of the physical actions they must carry out in order to perform any task,” Mansell says. “Our study – which we think is the first of its kind – tests the effect of describing how to perform a skill.”
Learning a sports technique is all about an internal sense of where it feels right, rather than obsessing on movements. “There is a physiological explanation to this: muscle groups interfere with each other by contracting against another when performing a variety of tasks,” Mansell says.
“So you may not be able to accurately instruct your limbs what to do, but creating a mental picture of the desired outcome gets around that in an efficient manner.”
Carla Brown-Ojeda, who also worked on the study, says the theory should be applied by coaches working with young athletes. “Different coaches in sport use a wide array of methods, some of which involve the coach directly instructing the learner how to move,” she says.
“Yet if our research generalises, then a simpler, purely ‘perceptual’, method might be developed.”
Their findings are reported in the Journal of Motor Behaviour.