Autonomy Supportive, Externally Focused Instructions Improve Children's Motor Learning in Physical Education


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Practice conditions that facilitate an external focus (EF) of attention and support learner autonomy (AS) have been shown to improve motor performance and learning. However, research has yet to examine how the delivery of EF instructions impacts motor learning (i.e., via autonomy supportive or controlling instructions). Therefore, the present study examined the effects of delivering EF instructions via autonomy supportive vs controlling instructional language. Twenty-four novice participants (10.30 ± 0.52yrs) practiced a land-based curling task under ASEF (EF instructions delivered via supportive language), AC-EF (EF instructions delivered via controlling language) or control conditions (EF instructions-only) before completing a same-day retention and transfer test (non-dominant hand). Participants were required to push a curling-stone from 5m towards a bullseye target. An EF was promoted
by instructing participants to “slide the stone smoothly to the centre of the target”. Task instructions included autonomy-supportive (i.e., provide choice or hints for successful task completion which could be adopted or rejected by the participant) or controlling language (i.e., prescribed how best for the participant to successfully complete the task) for the AS-EF and AC-EF groups respectively. Motor performance was measured via a points-based accuracy score (Max score = 10) and positive affect was measured post-practice on a 200-point continuous scale. ANOVA revealed the AS-EF group (Mean = 3.68 ± 2.00) outperformed the AC-EF (Mean = 1.23 ± 1.09; p = .002) and control (Mean = 1.52 ± 1.07; p = .007) groups on the retention test and reported higher positive affect after practice. The findings support predictions of the OPTIMAL theory and further evidence that EF and AS factors have additive effects on children’s motor learning. Moreover, results suggest that the detrimental effects of controlling instructional language can be offset by an EF, indicating that positive motivational interventions facilitate an optimal focus of attention through goal-action coupling mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2022
EventNorth American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Exercise -
Duration: 27 May 2022 → …


ConferenceNorth American Society for the Psychology of Sport and Exercise
Abbreviated titleNASPSPA
Period27/05/22 → …


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