Developing Fluent, Efficient, and Automatic Repertoires of Athletic Performance

  • Brian K. Martens
  • Scott R. Collier


Some years back, the first author was conversing with a catcher for a minor league baseball team and asked the naïve question, “So what do you think about when deciding where to throw the ball to make a play?” The catcher immediately replied, “There’s no time to think, I just react automatically. If you have to think, then it’s already too late.” This statement captures the essence of much of the research reviewed in this chapter. Namely, accomplished athletes in a variety of domains (e.g., fast ball sports, team sports, martial arts) are able to execute complex chains of behavior so accurately and quickly in response to changing situations that their performance appears both effortless and automatic. In interactive sports, master athletes seem at times to move in unison with their opponents as if in a coordinated dance, rather than in response to the other’s actions (Ueshiba, 1987). In individual sports such as golf, elite players are known for their ability to consistently execute difficult shots under seemingly impossible conditions (e.g., Phil Mickelson’s 200+ yard shot from behind a tree on pine straw during the 2010 Masters Tournament that landed only feet away from the 13th pin).


Discriminative Stimulus Athletic Performance Deliberate Practice Master Athlete Component Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Abernethy, B. (1991). Visual search strategies and decision-making in sport. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 22, 189–210.Google Scholar
  2. Alberto, P. A., & Troutman, A. C. (2003). Applied behavior analysis for teachers (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Baker, J., Cote, J., & Abernethy, B. (2003). Sport-specific practice and the development of expert decision making in team ball sports. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 12–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell, J. J., & Hardy, J. (2009). Effects of attentional focus on skilled performance in golf. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21, 163–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Binder, C. (1996). Behavioral fluency: Evolution of a new paradigm. The Behavior Analyst, 19, 163–197.Google Scholar
  6. Brobst, B., & Ward, P. (2002). Effects of posting, goal setting, and oral feedback on the skills of female soccer players. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 247–257.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Clark, B. C., Collier, S. R., Manini, T. M., & Ploutz-Snyder, L. L. (2005). Sex differences in muscle fatigability and activation patterns of the human quadriceps femoris. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 94(1–2), 196–206.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Collier, S. R., Kanaley, J. A., Carhart, R., Jr., Frechette, V., Tobin, M. M., Hall, A. K., et al. (2008). Effect of 4 weeks of aerobic or resistance exercise training on arterial stiffness, blood flow and blood pressure in pre- and stage-1 hypertensives. Journal of Human Hypertension, 22(10), 678–686.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Daly, E. J., Martens, B. K., Barnett, D., Witt, J. D., & Olson, S. C. (2007). Varying intervention delivery in response to intervention: Confronting and resolving challenges with measurement, instruction, and intensity. School Psychology Review, 36, 562–581.Google Scholar
  10. Daly, E. J., III, Martens, B. K., Skinner, C. H., & Noell, G. H. (2009). Contributions of applied behavior analysis. In T. B. Gutkin & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), The handbook of school psychology (4th ed., pp. 84–106). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  11. Driskell, J. E., Willis, R. P., & Copper, C. (1992). Effect of overlearning on retention. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77, 615–622.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dudley, G. A., & Djamil, R. (1985). Incompatibility of endurance- and strength-training modes of exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 59(5), 1446–1451.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. Th., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Floyer-Lea, A., & Matthews, P. M. (2004). Changing brain networks for visuomotor control with increased movement automaticity. Journal of Neurophysiology, 92, 2405–2412.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Friden, J., Sjostrom, M., & Ekblom, B. (1984). Muscle fibre type characteristics in endurance trained and untrained individuals. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 52(3), 266–271.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Galvao, D. A., & Taaffe, D. R. (2004). Single- vs. multiple-set resistance training: Recent developments in the controversy. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 18(3), 660–667.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Guertin, P. A., & Steuer, I. (2009). Key central pattern generators of the spinal cord. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 87(11), 2399–2405.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Harding, J. W., Wacker, D. P., Berg, W., Rick, G., & Lee, J. F. (2004). Promoting response variability and stimulus generalization in martial arts training. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 185–195.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Haring, N. G., Lovitt, T. C., Eaton, M. D., & Hansen, C. L. (1978). The fourth R: Research in the classroom. Columbus, OH: Merrill.Google Scholar
  21. Hart, L. (2005). Effect of stretching on sport injury risk: A review. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine, 15(2), 113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Helsen, W. F., Starkes, J. L., & Hodges, N. J. (1998). Team sports and the theory of deliberate practice. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 12–34.Google Scholar
  23. Henneman, E. (1957). Relation between size of neurons and their susceptibility to discharge. Science, 126(3287), 1345–1347.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Henneman, E., Somjen, G., & Carpenter, D. O. (1965). Functional significance of cell size in spinal motoneurons. Journal of Neurophysiology, 28, 560–580.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Hodge, T., & Deakin, J. M. (1998). Deliberate practice and expertise in the martial arts: The role of context in motor recall. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 20, 260–279.Google Scholar
  26. Hoppeler, H., Howald, H., Conley, K., Lindstedt, S. L., Claassen, H., Vock, P., et al. (1985). Endurance training in humans: Aerobic capacity and structure of skeletal muscle. Journal of Applied Physiology, 59(2), 320–327.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Hudlicka, O. (1990). The response of muscle to enhanced and reduced activity. Baillieres Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 4(3), 417–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Johnson, K. R., & Layng, T. V. J. (1996). On terms and procedures: Fluency. The Behavior Analyst, 19, 281–288.Google Scholar
  29. Kladopoulos, C. N., & McComas, J. J. (2001). The effects of form training on foul-shooting performance in members of a women’s college basketball team. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 34, 329–332.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Koop, S., & Martin, H. L. (1983). Evaluation of a coaching strategy to reduce swimming stroke errors with beginning age-group swimmers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16, 447–460.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kraemer, W. J., Adams, K., Cafarelli, E., Dudley, G. A., Dooly, C., Feigenbaum, M. S., et al. (2002). American college of sports medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(2), 364–380.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kraemer, W. J., Ratamess, N. A., & French, D. N. (2002). Resistance training for health and performance. Current Sports Medicine Report, 1(3), 165–171.Google Scholar
  33. Liao, W. (1990). Tai chi classics. Boston: Shambhala.Google Scholar
  34. Luyben, P. D., Funk, D. M., Morgan, J. K., Clark, K. A., & Delulio, D. W. (1986). Team sports for the severely retarded: Training a side-of-the-foot soccer pass using a maximum-to- minimum prompt reduction strategy. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19, 431–436.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. MacPherson, A. C., Collins, D., & Obhi, S. S. (2009). The importance of temporal structure and rhythm for the optimum performance of motor skills: A new focus for practitioners of sport psychology. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21(Suppl. 1), S48–S61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. MacPherson, A. C., Turner, A. P., & Collins, D. (2007). An investigation of the natural cadence between cyclists and non-cyclists. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 78, 396–400.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Martens, B. K., Daly, E. J., Begeny, J. C., & VanDerHeyden, A. (in press). Behavioral approaches to education. In W. Fisher, C. Piazza, & H. S. Roane (Eds.), Handbook of applied behavior analysis. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  38. Martens, B. K., Eckert, T. L., Begeny, J. C., Lewandowski, L. J., DiGennaro, F., Montarello, S., et al. (2007). Effects of a fluency-building program on the reading performance of low-achieving second and third grade students. Journal of Behavioral Education, 16, 39–54.Google Scholar
  39. Martens, B. K., & Witt, J. C. (2004). Competence, persistence, and success: The positive psychology of behavioral skill instruction. Psychology in the Schools, 41, 19–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. McCarthy, J. P., Pozniak, M. A., & Agre, J. C. (2002). Neuromuscular adaptations to concurrent strength and endurance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 34(3), 511–519.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Mechner, F. (1995). Learning and practicing skilled performance. Retrieved January 11, 2010, from
  42. Mechner, F. (2009). Analyzing variable behavioral contingencies: Are certain complex skills homologous with locomotion? Behavioural Processes, 81, 316–321.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mellalieu, S. D., Hanton, S., & O’Brien, M. (2006). The effects of goal setting on rugby performance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 257–261.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Morrow, J. R., Jr., & Hosler, W. W. (1981). Strength comparisons in untrained men and trained women athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 13(3), 194–197.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Noakes, T. D., St Clair Gibson, A., & Lambert, E. V. (2005). From catastrophe to complexity: A novel model of integrative central neural regulation of effort and fatigue during exercise in humans: Summary and conclusions. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(2), 120–124.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Peterson, M. D., Rhea, M. R., & Alvar, B. A. (2005). Applications of the dose-response for muscular strength development: A review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 19(4), 950–958.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Reynolds, G. S. (1975). A primer of operant conditioning. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Company.Google Scholar
  48. Sale, D. G., Jacobs, I., MacDougall, J. D., & Garner, S. (1990). Comparison of two regimens of concurrent strength and endurance training. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 22(3), 348–356.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Scott, D., Scott, L. M., & Goldwater, B. (1997). A performance improvement program for an international-level track and field athlete. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 30, 573–575.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Sherrington, C. (1910). Flexion Reflex of the limb, crossed extension reflex, and reflex stepping and standing. Journal of Physiology, 40, 28–121.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Simon, H. A., & Chase, W. (1973). Skill in chess. American Scientist, 61, 394–403.Google Scholar
  52. Skinner, B. F. (1987). Whatever happened to psychology as the science of behavior? American Psychologist, 42, 780–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Smith, S. L., & Ward, P. (2006). Behavioral interventions to improve performance in collegiate football. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 39, 385–391.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Southard, D., & Miracle, A. (1993). Rhythmicity, ritual, and motor performance: A study of free throw shooting in basketball. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 64, 284–290.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Starkey, D. B., Pollock, M. L., Ishida, Y., Welsch, M. A., Brechue, W. F., Graves, J. E., et al. (1996). Effect of resistance training volume on strength and muscle thickness. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 28(10), 1311–1320.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  56. Staron, R. S., Malicky, E. S., Leonardi, M. J., Falkel, J. E., Hagerman, F. C., & Dudley, G. A. (1990). Muscle hypertrophy and fast fiber type conversions in heavy resistance-trained women. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology, 60(1), 71–79.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Test, D. W., Spooner, F., Keul, P. K., & Grossi, T. (1990). Teaching adolescents with severe disabilities to use the public telephone. Behavior Modification, 14, 157–171.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ueshiba, K. (1987). The spirit of aikido. Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International.Google Scholar
  59. Ward, P., & Carnes, M. (2002). Effects of posting self-set goals on collegiate football players’ skill execution during practice and games. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 1–12.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ward, P., Hodges, N. J., Williams, A. M., & Starkes, J. L. (2004). Deliberate practice and expert performance: Defining the path to excellence. In A. M. Williams & N. J. Hodges (Eds.), Skill acquisition in sport: Research, theory and practice (pp. 232–258). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  61. Weissensteiner, J., Abernethy, B., & Farrow, D. (2009). Towards the development of a conceptual model of expertise in cricket batting: A grounded theory approach. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 21, 276–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySyracuse UniversitySyracuseUSA
  2. 2.College of Health SciencesAppalachian State UniversityBooneUSA

Personalised recommendations