As we discussed in chapter 1, some scientists believe that it is important not to think about the movement while executing it (e.g., Masters, 1992; Maxwell, Masters, & Eves, 2000; Singer, 1985, 1988). For example, Singer suggested that the performer go though the motion mentally before actually performing the movement (step 2 of his Five-Step Approach). Subsequently, the performer is supposed to direct attention to an external cue in order to block out other thoughts; and during movement execution, the performer is instructed not to think about anything. Masters (1992) contends that conscious thought processes should be avoided altogether. Therefore, learners should be given as little instruction as possible. Otherwise, they may try to apply this knowledge and adopt a conscious mode of control, which is assumed to interfere with the automatic execution of the movement. For this reason, in their studies Masters and colleagues often have learners perform secondary tasks, such as random letter generation or tone counting, while practicing a motor skill (e.g., Masters, 1992; Maxwell, Masters, & Eves, 2000). This way, rules or explicit knowledge regarding the skill—which learners might develop if they were not distracted—is supposed to be reduced to a minimum.
Is it possible that the main advantage of adopting an external focus is that attention is not directed to the actual movement? In other words, is the only function of focusing on the movement effect that it blocks out other thoughts, or that it prevents individuals from gaining explicit knowledge about the movement? If this were the case, preventing learners from focusing on their movements by having them perform an attention-demanding secondary task might be just as effective as instructing them to focus on the movement effect. Yet, if there is an advantage to focusing on the movement effect, relative to focusing on another task, the former condition should lead to more effective learning.