Background: This study examines the effects of adopting external and internal focus of attention on learning a static balance skill in children with mild mental retardation.
Methods: The participants included 45 children with mild mental retardation in three groups: external focus, internal focus, and control. Motor tasks were used for the static balance, and the time children performed the skills without error was considered as the dependent variable. The students performed the pretest, the acquisition phase (including five 3-minute practice blocks), and posttest. In each exercise block, the children in the external focus group were instructed to focus on a red marker on the ground, while children in the internal focus group focused on their feet.
Results: Descriptive findings showed that the age means of the participants in external focus, internal focus, and control groups were 14.29, 14.62, and 13.84 years, respectively. And the means of their BMI were 21.27, 23.52, and 23.51 kg/m2, respectively. The results showed that external focus could improve motor learning. However, there was no significant difference between mean scores of the internal focus and control groups. Furthermore, children in the external focus group reported that they focused more on the external sign (red marker) rather than the internal sign (body part) when performing the skills, while the opposite was true for those in the internal focus group.
Conclusion: The results show that children with mental retardation benefited from adopting an external focus of attention to learn a static balance. This finding may indicate that these children have mechanisms such as goal-action coupling, which are needed to learn new motor skills through external focus of attention.