The science of racing against opponents: Affordance competition and the regulation of exercise intensity in head-to-head competition

Florentina J. Hettinga*, Marco J. Konings, Gert Jan Pepping

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Athlete-environment interactions are crucial factors in understanding the regulation of exercise intensity in head-to-head competitions. Previously, we have proposed a framework based on the interdependence of perception and action, which allows us to explore athletic behavior in the more complex pacing situations occurring when athletes need to respond to actions of their opponents. In the present perspective we will further explore whether opponents, crucial external factors in competitive sports, could indeed be perceived as social invitations for action. Decisions regarding how to expend energy over the race are based on internal factors such as the physiological/biomechanical capacity of the athlete in relation to external factors such as those presented by opponents. For example: Is the athlete able to overtake competitors, or not? We present several experimental studies that demonstrate that athletes regulate their exercise intensity differently in head-to-head competition compared to time-trial exercises: Relational athlete-environment aspects seem to outweigh benefits of the individual optimal energy distribution. Also, the behavior of the opponents has been shown to influence pacing strategies of competing athletes, again demonstrating the importance of relational athlete-environment aspects in addition to strictly internal factors. An ecological perspective is presented in which opponents are proposed to present social affordances, and decision-making is conceptualized as a resultant of affordance-competition. This approach will provide novel insights in tactical decision-making and pacing behavior in head-to-head competitions. Future research should not only focus on the athlete's internal state, but also try to understand opponents in the context of the social affordances they provide.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118
Number of pages7
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


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