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Mechanisms underpinning competition: The science behind winning (Ref: SF20/SER/HETTINGA2)

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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Prof F Hettinga Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Sport is an ideal scenario to explore psychological as well as (neuro) physiological mechanisms underpinning competition. In middle distance and endurance sports such as athletics, rowing, cycling or speed skating, an athlete’s pacing strategy is widely recognized as an essential determinant for performance. Distribution of available energy resources and management of physical and mental fatigue, as well as the interaction among competitors have been shown to be crucial elements in in-race decision-making and tactics. With eye-tracking studies, we started exploring attention-related aspects of motivation in different competitive cycling scenarios using our VeloTron laboratory, and we explored the role of other competitors, beliefs and (social) placebos.

For this particular project, we aim to find an answer to the question how different athletes respond to different competitive scenario’s, how these scenarios impact on their motivation, and how they develop their pacing and in-race decision-making skills throughout their athletic careers. There is the potential to also include more extensive neuropsychological measures, such as NIRS, TMS, EEG and additional physiological, psychological and behavioural measures to further explore the neuroscience and psychology behind winning. Students with an interest in sport science, human movement science, psychology, physiology, social sciences, biomedical science, neuroscience or behavioural sciences are invited to apply.

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g., SF20/…) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: Open
Start Date: October 2020 or March 2021

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

Please direct enquiries to Prof Florentina Hettinga ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Please note, this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend; the studentship is available to Students Worldwide. Fee bands are available at . A relevant fee band will be discussed at interview based on project running costs.


M. Konings, T. Foulsham, D. Micklewright, F. Hettinga. Athlete-opponent interdependency alters pacing and information-seeking behaviour. MSSE (in press). doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002101

Arran Davis, Florentina Hettinga, Chris Beedie. You don't need to administer a placebo to elicit a placebo effect: Social factors trigger neurobiological pathways to enhance sports performance. EJSS (in press).

S. G.P. Menting, D. Hendry, L. Schiphof-Godart, M.T. Elferink-Gemser. Perspective: Optimal development of youth athletes towards elite IAAF performance: how to coach drive and motivation to perform, plan training exercise and pace your race. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 1 (2019) 14. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2019.00014

F.J. Hettinga, A. M. Edwards, B. Hanley. The Science Behind Competition and Winning in Athletics: Using World-Level Competition Data to Explore Pacing and Tactics. Frontiers in Sports and Active Living. 1 (2019) 11. doi: 10.3389/fspor.2019.00011.

Brian Hanley, Trent Stellingwerff, Florentina J Hettinga. Successful pacing profiles of Olympic and IAAF World Championship middle-distance runners across qualifying rounds and finals. IJSPP 14(7) (2019) 894-901.

Paulo Estevão Franco, Cayque Brietzke, Raul Canestri, Márcio Goethel, Florentina Hettinga, Tony Meireles Santos, Flávio Oliveira Pires. Caffeine Improved Cycling Trial Performance in Mentally Fatigued Cyclists, Despite Unchanged Prefrontal Cortex Activation. Physiology and Behavior 204 (2019) 41-48.

L. Schiphof, B. Roelands, F.J. Hettinga. Drive in sports: How mental fatigue affects endurance performance. Frontiers in Psychology 9: 1383 (2018)

Christopher Beedie, Fabrizio Benedetti, Diletta Barbiani, Eleanora Camerone, Emma Cohen, Damian Coleman, Arran Davis, Charlotte Edelsten, Elliott Flowers, Abby Foad, Simon Harvey, Florentina Hettinga, Philip Hurst, Andrew Lane, Jacob Lindheimer, John Raglin, Bart Roelands, Lieke Schiphof-Godart, Attila Szabo. Consensus Statement on Placebo Effects in Sports & Exercise: Neuro-psychobiological Mechanisms. EJSS 18(10) (2018) 1383-1389.

M. Konings, F.J. Hettinga. The impact of different competitive environments on pacing and performance. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform 13(6) (2018) 701-708. DOI:10.1123/ijspp.2017-0407.

M.J. Konings, F.J. Hettinga. Pacing decision-making in sport and the effects of interpersonal competition: A critical review. Sports Med. 48(8) (2018) 1829-1843.

M. Konings, J. Parkinson, C.A.T. Zijdewind, F.J. Hettinga. Racing against an opponent improves 4-km time trial performance, alters pacing and force declines, but does not affect RPE. Int. J. Sports Physiol. Perform 13(3) (2018) 283-289.

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