Summarizing OPTIMAL Framework

Our team at Core to Coeur recently came across some fantastic new research titled OPTIMAL by Rebecca Lewthwaite and Gabriel Wulf.

What is OPTIMAL? It stands for Optimizing Motivation and Attention for Motor Performance and Learning.

Here’s the idea — by directing our students’ focus on a target that is both measurable and external, we can boost their confidence (and by extension, performance) through positive feedback. OPTIMAL may help our clients remember past movement more efficiently during their next practice.

Here are the quick tips to remember.

Enhance Expectancies

Give your client positive feedback — in other words, give them proof of their strong performance. Confidence is a predictor of motor performance and retention of motor skills. Creating positive feelings during practice spikes the presence of dopamine on the brain, which helps to “stamp in” the task within the memory, so that the student is better able to recall how to perform well with their next golf swing, downward dog, or marathon.

Support Autonomy

Allow your client to feel like they have a “say” in what they’re doing — a small gesture that can have a significant impact. Research shows that something as simple as giving the client the choice of golf ball color evidenced positive results. To give your client more power, ask, “How many reps do you think you can do?” or “What do you want to do first — the hard work or the easy stuff?”. Having a choice, whether related to the task at hand or not, appears to improve motor performance and motor learning.

Direct Attention Externally

According to the research, words that directed the attention away from the body and onto something external were more effective (more accurate performance or greater force generated), and more efficient (reduced energy required to produce the task, more appropriate muscle firing patterns).

For golfers, this meant directing the attention towards the flag, not towards the golf ball or the body positions for the swing. What can we translate this information into other movement practices? Cueing the student to reach for something external like the floor or block rather than folding from the hips. In other words, take the focus out of the body and direct it somewhere external.

Want to learn more from the source? You can read the full OPTIMAL research here.

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