Sewell, D. F. (1996). Attention-focusing instructions and training times in competitive youth swimmers. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 83, 915-920.

This investigation attempted to assess the effectiveness of one possible element of strategies which enable athletes to identify and focus attention on cues for effective performance. When attention is directed to relevant cues performance appears to improve. Several studies on highly skilled athletes have validated that assertion. This research attempted to assess if a focusing technique with task-related content would enhance training performances in age-group swimmers.

Under a counterbalanced experimental design, four conditions were compared for effects on average training times of 6 x 100 yd freestyle (25 yd pool) with 15 sec. rest between each repetition. Ss were instructed to perform at 75% of race pace. The four conditions were: (a) swim with normal thought and focus content, (b) count strokes on each length, (c) use positive imagery of swimming smoothly and powerfully, and (d) concentrate on a self-selected element of technique. Experimental trials occurred on four successive days. Ss were also asked to rate on a 1-10 scale their interest and perceived effort for each set on each day.

The positive imagery condition was superior to the technique and control conditions and the stroke count condition was superior to the control. There were no differences in interest or perceived effort across the four days. Six of the Ss accurately rated the best condition as being the one which also produced the fastest average time.

All swimmers produced faster times in the experimental conditions than the control condition. This suggests that in general, directed thoughts will slightly and possibly significantly enhance performance over thought processes that develop through training habituation. This is evidence that performance can be improved purely by psychological factors.

The positive imagery elicited general technical factors of smooth movements and the maintenance of power. That potentially is a stronger overall performance focus than an isolated self-selected technique feature. This could account for why the "technique" condition was inferior to the positive imagery condition.

Implication. Age-group swimmers can enhance performance by engaging in directed thinking that is task/performance related.

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