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Self-focus theories

The premise of self-focus theories centres on skill development processes and the level of cognitive input required by individuals (Masters & Maxwell, 2008). When acquiring a skill, an individual will pass through a set of developmental stages (cognitive, associative and autonomous) identified by Fitts and Posner (1967). Select each one to reveal what each of these stages are:

Attention to understand what must move to produce a specific result. Large parts of the movement are controlled consciously. Practice sessions are more performance focused and less variable, and incorporate a clear mental image (technical/visual).

Some parts of the movement are controlled consciously, some automatically. Practice sessions link performance and results; conditions can be varied. Clear mental image <-----> accurate performance.

Movement is largely controlled automatically. Attention can be focused on tactical choices. Practice sessions are more results orientated. Focus is on greater range of motion, speed, acceleration and use of skills in a novel situation.

Each stage of the process can be differentiated by the type of knowledge the individual requires and the control available to guide performance (Anderson, 1982). During the early stages of skill acquisition (i.e. the cognitive stage), the knowledge is explicit (knowledge that is rule based, verbalised and available to consciousness), very slow and effortful to complete. When the individual practises the skill, the movement will become faster, smoother and more efficient and the processing will be more covert and require little working memory to execute (i.e. associative phase). Therefore, the performance becomes more automatic or implicit (knowledge that is abstract, unavailable to consciousness and non-verbalised) and requires little or no resources of the working memory to execute (i.e. autonomous phase). This process is of particular importance for understanding the self-focus theories associated with the anxiety-performance relationship.

So, if we think about the different physical skills required for the different performance environment discussed throughout the units, such as athletes, soldiers or surgeons, there are a range of physical skills that these professionals will spend lots of time focusing on to develop their skills. Achieving an autonomous stage is often referred to as achieving 'expert status'. This has led some people to discuss how much time it takes to achieve this autonomous level, with the most common time frame being identified as being 10,000 hours (Gladwell, 2008). An example of this can be seen in an interview with Arsenal fullback Hector Bellerin:

Hector Bellerin - 10,000 hours

"Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness ..." Malcolm Gladwell

View Hector Bellerin - 10,000 hours video transcript

Think about a skill you have been doing that you think is in the autonomous stage - how easy is it for you to do this skill? For instance, for those of you who drive, how much cognitive effort do you exert when you are driving?