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About us Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences Organization News PhD Defences BSS

Capturing complex processes of human performance

Insights from the domain of sports
PhD ceremony:dr. J.R. (Ruud) den Hartigh
When:April 16, 2015
Supervisors:dr. P.L.C. van Geert, prof. dr. C. Gernigon, prof. dr. N. (Nico) van Yperen
Co-supervisor:dr. R.F.A. (Ralf) Cox
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Behavioural and Social Sciences
Capturing complex processes of human performance

Human performance processes are complex and dynamic, which means that various psychological, physical, and environmental factors continuously interact and change over time. Therefore, it is difficult to identify which specific factors explain human performance processes. My dissertation has attempted to provide an understanding of how performance processes emerge out of the complex interplay between various factors.

For instance, how do athletes enter a positive or negative momentum? Often, this happens when athletes perceive that they progress or regress in relation to the victory, which elicits various psychological and motor changes. When teams of rowers were losing the advantage on the opponent, we found that the rowers’ coordination became relatively weak, and their exerted efforts decreased relatively rapidly, compared to a period in which the rowers came back from behind. Psychologically speaking, rowers developed a downward spiral relatively rapidly as soon as their position in the race deteriorated, whereas a positive momentum developed relatively slowly.  Besides, we found that rowers develop a negative spiral less rapidly during a race, after a history of successful races. Hence, momentum can also be transferred to future sport matches.

Looking at performance processes of athletes, musicians, or scientists over the years, we found that there is no ‘common road’ to the top. Each person has its own developmental pathway, which can be explained based on our model of excellence, in which various factors (support of parents, practice hours, motivation, etc.) change over time and influence each other in different ways for different individuals.