We have ‘recess day’/ variability day when training has been long term & consistent.
Introducing drills in warm-up that are externally focused and involve unpredictability for change of direction, drop step, crossover, and multidirectional movements (more videos to follow) are great ways to teach skills with play, laughing, jokes and fun. There is a lot of laughter during these videos.
Drill: Wall Ball Reaction Drill
3 x week sessions usually involve: Day 1: Strength day Day 2: variability: “Recess day” to explore different movement strategies Day 3: volume day
The use of passive constraints to manipulate a task: External objects are used to assist in finding certain references and muscles.
* The dumbbell behind the foot is used to find heels and hamstrings. The ball between the knees is used to find adductors. The weight in the hand is used to find abs and close a space. The weight of the cable can be used to reach and feel a scapula move.
* Training Principle: Proximal structure position influences movement of distal structures * Focused Attention: Heels. Opening a side of the thorax and closing the opposite side. * Guided Experience: Initiate questions before providing feedback. What was that like? How did that feel?
Creating an exercise to match intent. The intent of the exercise is to transition from leg to leg working on frontal plane mechanics.
* The chop will assist in centering over a leg: stacking the nose over the zipper line, over the knee, over the big toe.
* Training Principle: All athletic skill acquisition includes the ability to transition from leg to leg; gait, skating, throwing a ball, or changing direction (push mechanics).
* Guided Experience: What was that like? How did that feel? Where do you feel your weight? Why do you think this is important?
* Focused Attention: Arch of the foot.
* Client accomplished a personal record weight in the Trap Bar Deadlift 💪 which was an externally focused activity. To finish the session, we turned to thinking about the body and feeling muscles in specific areas, which was an internally focused activity.
Most people just need to gain muscle mass, lose body fat, and accumulate volume.
The idea of ‘fixing’ a fitness client or using some of your new continuing education catch words to tell people they are something that needs to be fixed is a lack of understanding of the end game and the big picture.
* “You shouldn’t deadlift because your thorax is narrow”
* “You’re so jacked up, I’m surprised you haven’t gotten hurt back squatting yet”
* “You don’t ‘manage pressure’ well in your pelvis so you shouldn’t squat” Can you even explain what pressure management means?
* “You need to do these specific exercises because ‘you’re extended’”
These are all promoting mindsets of ‘there is something wrong with me’. We sometimes like to prove our value and spit out some new knowledge we learned at a con edu event but lose sight of fitness.
At the end of the day you need to just expose people to different experiences, strategies, loading, velocities, durations, positions, patterns, stances to ultimately IMPROVE fitness (allow to accumulate more and more volume). Exposure is variability.
Be careful with your words. Show them something else without taking something from them or making them feel like they are something that needs to be fixed. * How about “let’s try doing it this way” * How about “let’s work on this strategy” * This is what I am seeing with this assessments so our strategy will be X to assist in your goals… I love to learn. You may too. Absorb it, filter it, but don’t let it suck you in to only staring at the bark of a tree instead of seeing the whole forest.
“It is far better to render beings in your care competent then to protect them. And even if it were possible to permanently protect them and banish everything threatening, everything dangerous, and therefore everything challenging and interesting, that would mean only that another danger would emerge” – Dr. Jordan Peterson
Gym Partners, Group Classes, Semi-Private Training, Tribes.
Each of these satisfy the human need for relatedness through socialization.
As humans we have a fundamental need to be connected with or able to relate to other humans. Relatedness, how connected and secure we feel in our environment, is dictated by our personal relationships and past experiences to help to regulate and guide our behavior. So, if we lack the sense of connection and security to our environment, we as humans may lose our motivation to act and dysregulated behavior may ensue.1 This can take form as an elevation in heart rate, poor sleep quality, reduced work efficiency, or even social seclusion. We have to have strategies to help us self-regulate.
A logical first step in regulating behavior in a new environment is to develop relationships to allow any threat perceived to be dampened. Coaches are positioned to have a pivotal role in helping regulate their clients behavior. However, it requires well-developed soft skills (communication, listening, empathy, etc) so that a coach can be ‘socially agile”. Social agility is the ability to recognize the differences between people and knowing how to adapt in every situation.2 This ensures coaches provide a secure environment that fosters learning, enhanced experiences, as well as high achievement.
Some form of specific achievement is often the initial driver (external motivation) for a client attending a gym regularly, but they tend to have high levels of uncertainty in their approach causing them to struggle to accomplishment their goals. Uncertainty can be extremely stressful on the human system. This stressed system becomes rigid and lacks control because of forebrain (neocortex) inhibition.3 This means decision making becomes increasingly difficult as forebrain inhibition shifts decision making to the reptilian and limbic brains (this is the Jacksonian-Dissolution Theory in a nutshell).4 This level of the human operating system is built on making predictions based on the stored memories of past experiences and helps to shape our future behaviors. But if there are few to no past experiences to pull from, our brain makes a decision and then retrospectively analyzes the result. This can quickly lead to a dysregulated system. Dysregulation, in this sense, tends to bias the human system towards increased sympathetic activity making behavioral decision-making even more difficult (more reptilian).3
By clouding the decision making process, the brain becomes uncertain about how to ensure organism safety.3 This is evident in clients who lack “relatedness” or gym (social) relationships. These individuals tend to seek peer-imitation as safe-to-fail experiments during their workouts. This is inefficient and dangerous as well as a clear indicator that they WANT help but may not know it yet. When help is needed there becomes an innate desire to seek out comfort, assistance, and support of close friends and family. This concept of relatedness is rooted in our biology.
From infancy, humans learn to securely attach to caregivers.5 A secure attachment fosters intrinsic motivation to use exploratory behavior in order to connect with the environment.4 However, given an infant cannot navigate the environment, they have to use nonverbal social cues such as: facial expressions, vocalizations, feeding, etc; to communicate needs. 6 In comparison, new clients tend to struggle navigating their environments and create a similar need response, but their nonverbal social cues manifest as alterations in body language. Both examples use the social engagement system (SES) as a means to convey this NEED message. The purpose of the SES is to close a physical distance between two beings so they can relate. 4,6 The only difference between these two examples is context.
So what context has changed from infancy to adulthood? When distressed, the infant has learned to send a need signal to their secure base: parent/caregiver. This keeps them socially rooted. The adult, on the other hand, is more likely to use body language to create an impermeable boundary to prevent others from knowing of their insecurities. As a result, they turn inwards, reducing social engagement. This is because the human nervous system has emerged with specific features that react to distress aimed to maintain visceral homeostasis (regulated physiology to promote health growth and restoration).4 Letting others perceive vulnerability would be a threat to survival and results in a signal to stay away. This comes at a cost because these reactions will limit sensory awareness, motor behaviors, and cognitive potentials.4 The resolution to this matter appears to rely on our ability to develop relationships (build a tribe), as the socialization process needs to be bidirectionally regulated.
Socialization is a part of who we are as humans and we need to be socially engaged. We used to form tribes to help decipher between friend and foe, danger and safety, as well as create modes of communication to ensure survival and a sense of belonging.7 Our tribes were, and still are, built on shared beliefs, attitudes, and intentions in life. We, humans, are social-seeking animals.8
So underlying a client’s quest to achieve their goals is their desire to belong to a tribe and have well-developed relationships that work to co-regulate each other’s systems when in distress. A coach’s role is to help make this a reality by creating an environment that supports learning to allow for improved impulse control, facilitate role acceptance, and establish meaning amongst members.9
The ability to self-regulate and express conscious control of decision-making allows one to begin to succeed with process-oriented goals. Initially a client will rely solely on a coach’s decision-making for their programming, but as they grow and adopt the beliefs and customs of their tribe they will begin to be able to make their own decisions. For example, a coach programs a squat, but the client is competent enough to select the variation. By becoming a part of the process the client can develop a level of autonomy in their own health and wellness as well as help others grow within the tribe. Furthermore, by emphasizing “a process” it teaches delayed gratification and mandates impulse control.9 Clients come in with expectations that are often unrealistic and must be managed to ensure motivation is sustained long term. This is particularly important with regards to the result-laiden member. It must be known that results are not immediate, but there is power in consistent hard work. This shifts one’s mindset to the process rather than the end-game, allowing for principle learning and solidified behavior change.
Roles are structural components of groups and represent the patterns of behavior expected of an individual within a specific social context.9 The development of role acceptance is the first step in gaining competence and autonomy, the two other fundamental human needs.1 The ability to demonstrate behavioral competence and autonomy in an environment will immediately enhance the experience, drive motivation, and increase behavioral adherence. This will optimize not only learning, but results.
All humans must develop sources of meaning to provide structure to guide behavior and allow an individual to discover what is important, what is to be valued, and what is to be lived for.9 Initially, most clients are extrinsically motivated and have arbitrary extrinsic goals. Extrinsic motivation tends to be regulated through the use of incentives, consequences, and rewards, but lacks true meaning and value associated with achievement.1 Without a “why”, purposeful action cannot be sustained. Humans are only truly motivated for activities that hold intrinsic interest by having the appeal of novelty, challenge, or present with an aesthetic value.7 As coaches we aim to cultivate a culture that moves a client towards intrinsic motivation in order to better self-regulate within the environment.
Although coaches strive for socialization through impulse control, role acceptance, and added meaning; caution is warranted in not creating a dependent environment in the process. A dependent culture lacks accountability and responsibility for clients making it difficult for them to move into a more intrinsically and self-regulated state. Coaches must create a social atmosphere, but in the end, it is essential to practice the principles of “detached caring.” “Detached caring” promotes client learning by allowing them to take responsibility for their actions and apply the principles and processes taught, while respecting the environmental boundaries.As coaches, we have the compulsion to overcorrect and hyper-analyze our clients’ movements, but this is ineffective and demeaning to our clients.2 We have to respect our clients’ abilities and trust our coaching process to ensure we are empowering our clients towards their goals. Without this aspect of detached caring from a coach, the process of socialization will never be solidified and growth of the tribe will become increasingly difficult.
A tribe is only as good as the sum of its part. The collective will move together, but requires each member to adhere to their role. The more developed each individual becomes, the stronger the tribe becomes. In turn, the Coach’s goal should be to guide each individual to gain strength through competence and autonomy to allow the tribe to become more resilient as a whole.
In conclusion, the importance of our ability to socialize with others has been strongly depicted throughout our evolutionary history, and it is not by chance that tribes continue to be formed. It is our human nature to be connected to others whom we can relate to and communicate with on a regular basis because socialization is a part of who we are. In the end, in order to create an experience worth sharing and developing, coaches must detach themselves and allow their clients to grow into their own as they pursue their personal “why.”
About The Author
Keaton Worland is a Doctor of Physical Therapy as well as a performance coach in Saint Louis, MO. He has a special interest in human behavior as it relates to pain, learning, and human performance. To learn more about Keaton you can follow him on Instagram @keaton.worland.dpt
O’Connor, E. (2018). The Psychology of Performance: How To Be Your Best In Life. https://thegreatcourses.com.
Bartholomew B. Conscious Coaching, The Art and Science of Building Buy-In. 2017.
Collins NL, Feeney BC. A safe haven: an attachment theory perspective on support seeking and caregiving in intimate relationships. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000;78(6):1053-73.
Porges SW. The polyvagal theory: phylogenetic substrates of a social nervous system. Int J Psychophysiol. 2001;42(2):123-46.
Hong YR, Park JS. Impact of attachment, temperament and parenting on human development. Korean J Pediatr. 2012;55(12):449-54.
Porges, Stephen. (2003). Social Engagement and Attachment. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1008. 31-47. 10.1196/annals.1301.004.
Ryan RM, Deci EL. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. Am Psychol. 2000;55(1):68-78.
Clear J. Atomic Habits, An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Avery; 2018.
Arnett, Jeffrey. (1995). Broad and Narrow Socialization: The Family in the Context of a Cultural Theory. Journal of Marriage and the Family. 57. 617. 10.2307/353917.
There is no absolute way to execute an exercise, there are only strategies. – What is the intention of the exercise? – What strategies are you choosing to teach the client in how they perform the exercise to match the intention? – Do you execute those strategies appropriately? – What strategies do you value and why? – Are those strategies in the best interest of your client or are they the only ones that you know? – Are those strategies sustainable? – Do they provide long term learning opportunities or short term gains? – How many strategies are you providing for a specific task?
The choice of strategy and execution of that strategy for a desired outcome is what separates coaches in exercise selection.
The term “Strength and Conditioning” has long been associated with the idea of heavy barbells and running until one’s legs collapse. The strength coaches who exploit our social media pages are often shown yelling until their veins pop at an athlete performing a 700-pound squat. Unfortunately, this has skewed the public’s eye on what a strength coach should represent. Negative reinforcement, yelling, exercise punishment, and representing the villain who runs the team into the ground after the loss predominates the strength coach persona. However, as psychology and motor learning research enters the weight room, it becomes increasingly obvious that these traditional strength coach’s tendencies may hinder an athlete’s performance and psychological well-being. Therefore, it’s time we reexamine the words a strength coach uses and understand how much power one’s word choice can carry beyond barbells.
First, let’s cover some of the basics on feedback. In sport and the weight room, there are two types of feedback: Task-intrinsic feedback (sensory based) and Augment feedback, which is not inherent to the task. Augmented verbal feedback is going to be our focus today. The initial questions becomes, does all this talking we do as a coach even matter? Rest assured, research shows you still matter. A study in 2009 showed that video and verbal feedback combined improved performance more than a no-augmented feedback group in university athletes learning the Power Snatch.
My biggest pet peeve in the weight room is hearing coaches who use words with their clients that they can’t connect to and thus their augmented feedback is meaningless. It’s safe to assume that for words to change someone’s behavior those phrases must mean something to that person. Cues that don’t connect to any of the athlete’s previous knowledge, or schemas, won’t change much. One of my favorite ways to create meaning is to use analogies that innately relate to the athlete’s sport. We often deal with individuals who are attempting to become experts in their respective sport, so why not connect the weight room to movement they certainly understand? A classic study using youth athletes showed the power of analogies. The research found that moving with a position in space, a clock-face verbal label resulted in better remembering than a meaningless spatial direction.
Next, we need consider how and when we should deliver information to a client to reduce their reliance on our augmented verbal feedback. In other words, it should be the goal of any good coach for your client to eventually not be reliant on your words. We want to create self-sufficient athletes who can recognize and fix errors and perform movement without our help. We aren’t on the field yelling at them to not let their knees cave in as they cut, so we better create some independent athletes in the weight room. Remember that task-intrinsic feedback we talked about? That source of information is always there and it has been proven that experts exploit it more than novices. So our duty as coaches is to point our clients to task-intrinsic feedback vs. our often meaningless augmented feedback.
“Augmented feedback can become an essential part of the task and prevent learners from processing critical sources of task-intrinsic of from the essential planning process” – Skill Acquisition in Sport (2012)
So when does our feedback create an over reliance on our words? When our verbal statements are provided too quickly after a practice attempt, when they are given during the task performance and when that information is provided too frequently. Furthermore there are a number of ways coaches can reduce their athlete’s reliance on supplemented feedback. We can spread our feedback over trials, delay our verbal guidance until all sets are complete, allow the learners to self-select sets to receive coaching, and lastly by encouraging our athletes to estimate errors before we give our own advice.
How we should deliver Feedback
How we should AVOID giving Feedback
Spread coaching over trails
Allow time to pass after a
set to give feedback
Don’t give corrections
until athlete completes all sets
Don’t provide guidance
while athlete is actually performing set or rep
Ask your athletes which
sets or reps they want your thoughts on
Don’t give coaching too
Allow clients to discuss or
guess their errors before we give our input
Let’s summarize what all this research means for us practical world coaches. I like to put it into one phrase: “we need to create problem solvers, not robots”. So how do we create movement detectives? We give our clients sometime to think for themselves. After a set, ask an athlete: what did they feel? What was good about that, what was bad? What reps were the best, why? Let the individual figure out for themselves what they should be feeling when, what is good and what is bad. We can do this by spreading our feedback out, not giving too much feedback and allowing learners to select feedback only when they are stuck.
What about the sensations our words create? Research on motor learning is emerging that shows that the emotions that words instill in our clients can have an affect on retention rates and transfer of movement patterns. The academia behind this effort mostly stems from Ryan and Deci’s Fundamental Psychological needs framework. To summarize Ryan and Deci claim: “psychological well-being and optimal functioning and learning in a broad range of domains appear to depend on support for the basic needs of competence, autonomy, and social relatedness.” Let’s explore how our words have the power to create competence and autonomy.
We will start with competence. One can’t look into the idea of competence and motor learning without searching through Gabriel Wulf’s work. In one study, Wulf found that feedback after “good” trials, compared with “poor” trials resulted in more effective retention and transfer in tasks. Additionally Wulf and colleagues found that participants show enhanced intrinsic motivation with feedback after good trials. Specifically, verbal language that displays errors may heighten concerns about self, which hamper learning. The classic technique of telling your athlete how poorly they performed to “motivate” them may not be the most effective tool to create learning. It appears that complementing our athletes “good” reps and reshaping how we point out errors probably will do a lot more for athlete’s motor learning in the long run.
Additionally, associating the strength and conditioning environment with positive compliments over negative punishments will impact an athlete’s psychological well-being in the facility. An individual who associates the gym with negative punishments, being negatively compared to their peers, and a constant exploitation of mistakes will develop destructive feelings towards fitness in general. I have seen athletes who head drops as soon as they walk through the weight room door. They have damaging thoughts surrounding what happens here. Not only will this hurt motivation, but it could leave a person with repercussions about fitness for the rest of their lives. It is constantly overlooked that an individual also develops a personal relationshipwith the gym. Choosing to point out progress and gains could cultivate this bond, while punishment could help ruin it.
A key idea behind competence is that individuals are always comparing themselves to their peers. We live a in society that is founded on competition. Athletes and clients determine whether or not they are “successful” at their sport based upon how they compare to others. Therefore, it is crucial that as coaches we are mindful about how our words encourage or discourage self-comparison. A study showed that “False – Positive normative feedback against peers causes better outcomes and automaticity in movement control.
To summarize, when a person believes they are better at a certain movement task than their colleagues, they tend to perform better in that specific skill. Recently being involved in a team setting I can recall countless experiences where I noticed an athlete was “embarrassed” by how they were performing against their peers in the weight room. It was obvious to me that these specific individuals had a poor relationship with strength training and did not enjoy their time in the gym. Consequently, I think this research does a really good job of revealing a situation a coach should ALWAYS avoid. We should NEVER use feedback that causes a client to feel as if they are “worse” than others at a specific movement. This negative comparison will undoubtedly cause feelings of irritation around the weight facility. Again, we clearly see how a coaches word could entice an athlete to have a negative relationship with fitness in general. This poor connotation around the facility will undoubtedly affect an individual’s motivation when working out with the team.
The cliché “Growth Mindset” has flooded our culture in pretty much all areas of human development. Countless literature from business and economics to psychological well-being praise its importance. But, could creating a growth mindset with our words actually help our athletes learn skills in the gym? Yes, a study showed that participants that were told a task represented a learnable (dynamic) skill showed greater self-efficacy, more positive affective self-reactions, expressed greater interest in the task, and greater improvement across trials vs. an inherent aptitude group. Additionally it was found that “instructions portraying the task as an acquirable skill resulted in more effective learning (retention) and automaticity of control vs. inherent capacity instructions.”
So how does this transfer to the weight room? People who believe abilities are fixed view negative feedback as a threat because it reveals less than optimal ability. On the flip side, athletes who believe skills are dynamic are more motivated, show greater performance and automaticity in movement, and learn more effectively. So yes, framing task success as changeable helps your athletes learn skills faster!
Athlete’s autonomy has become a very hot topic recently, and for good reason. It appears that SOME-level of autonomy can be affective tool to enhance motivation. Research shows that giving the learner some control over the situation enhances motor control retention and transfer. Additionally, a self-controlled feedback group outperformed a control group when asked to transfer a task to a new situation. That being said, not everyone wants autonomy. We all know those clients who want to be told exactly what to do the whole hour they are in your facility. In other words, they come to lift, not to think. However, I would argue that for our type A high level athlete’s autonomy could prove useful. Allowing those high achieving and knowledgeable athletes some input could do wonders to enhance incentive.
Lastly, let’s talk about how essential our word choice is when an athlete is returning from injury. In my opinion, sending the proper verbal cues with an injured athlete is the most underappreciated aspect of feedback. Rob Gray, a motor control researcher at Arizona State conducted a fascinating study on baseball players and post injury focus. Gray found that injured baseball players demonstrated an increase ability to make judgments about their injured body part. Furthermore, this internal focus correlated with 27% less hits and %15 less strikes. To summarize, that natural tendency to think about your injured knee makes you a lot worse at your sport. So what do we do? To return that athlete to a high level of performance it’s critical that we break from the typical rehab model. In rehab we are constantly asking our athletes or clients how that injured area feels. This practice feeds into this negative cascade by shining extra attention on that injured body-part.
So what happens when we finally return to sport? All one can think about is that area since that’s all they have been asked about for the past 6 months. Therefore, as coaches it is crucial that in the ladder stages of rehab we are very careful with our words. Research consistently shows that experts of sport have an innate external focus when compared to novices who portray an internal focus. Therefore, it’s important that we are being safe but we must also encourage an external focus of attention to return to high performance. For example, ask the baseball pitcher where the location of their pitch was vs. how their elbow feels. Next time you have an injured athlete emphasize the external consequences of their movement rather than asking how their knee feels!
Words to Use
Words to Avoid
What was good about that? (specifics)
Those last two reps needs work.
What did you feel during those reps? (specifics)
You felt your legs right?
What reps were good and why?
Number 1 and 2 were good, 3 not so much.
Do you want feedback on that set?
Let me tell you everything I just saw.
Let’s work on one thing that we can do a little
There’s a lot we need to fix.
Do you see the difference when we do that?
How’s your knee, how’s your knee, how’s your knee?
What was the difference between that and the last set?
Yea that was better.
That last set was really good, do you notice the progress
you have made?
Not bad, still needs a bit of work though.
Don’t worry about it, you will get better at it, everybody
Yikes, not sure if that’s going to get better.
The … and … were really good! Let’s just work on one
Let’s just work on the mistakes.
What did you like about today,
didn’t like. Maybe we can add more of the stuff you liked.
This, this and this is what we are going to do next time.
Wow you’re a natural at that;
most people don’t get it too quickly.
Most people learn that a lot faster.
It’s time that the strength coach moves past his/her obsession with barbells. Weights are an essential part of the gym, but still just a component in a complex environment. Past the sets and reps there is an underlying relationship that an athlete cultivates with the weight room. A multifaceted relationship that we as coaches have a large affect on. I would argue this bond matters for more for performance than how in depth your periodization model is. There is no more potent way to enhance or destroy this connection than with your word choice. What you say matters, how you say it matters, when you say it matters. They may not be measured in kilograms, but they still have huge affects on performance.
About the Author
Jonah Rosner is the owner and founder of JAR Performance Science, located in Fairfield, Connecticut. Jonah graduated form Boston University in 2018 with coursework in physiology and finance. He plans to pursue a PhD is sports science. He has completed internships with Ranfone Training Systems (CT), Cressey Sports Performance (MA), and Northeastern University (MA). Jonah’s personal interest lay in all aspects of performance but specifically data science and statistics of sport, motor control and decision-making in sport and physics of exercise.
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