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Pacing Decision Making in Sport and the Effects of Interpersonal Competition: A Critical Review


An athlete’s pacing strategy is widely recognised as an essential determinant for performance during individual events. Previous research focussed on the importance of internal bodily state feedback, revealed optimal pacing strategies in time-trial exercise, and explored concepts such as teleoanticipation and template formation. Recently, human–environment interactions have additionally been emphasized as a crucial determinant for pacing, yet how they affect pacing is not well understood. Therefore, this literature review focussed on exploring one of the most important human–environment interactions in sport competitions: the interaction among competitors. The existing literature regarding the regulation of exercise intensity and the effect of competition on pacing and performance is critically reviewed in this paper. The PubMed, CINAHL and Web of Science electronic databases were searched for studies about pacing in sports and (interpersonal) competition between January 2000 to October 2017, using the following combination of terms: (1) Sports AND (2) Pacing, resulting in 75 included papers. The behaviour of opponents was shown to be an essential determinant in the regulation of exercise intensity, based on both observational (N = 59) and experimental (N = 16) studies. However, adjustment in the pacing response related to other competitors appears to depend on the competitive situation and the current internal state of the athlete. The findings of this review emphasize the importance of what is happening around the athlete for the outcome of the decision-making process involved in pacing, and highlight the necessity to incorporate human–environment interactions into models that attempt to explain the regulation of exercise intensity in sports and exercise.

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Correspondence to Florentina J. Hettinga.

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Marco J. Konings, and Florentina J. Hettinga declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


No financial support was received for the conduct of this study or preparation of this manuscript.

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Konings, M.J., Hettinga, F.J. Pacing Decision Making in Sport and the Effects of Interpersonal Competition: A Critical Review. Sports Med 48, 1829–1843 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-018-0937-x

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