Athletics Weekly - - Performance -

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.

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