Glimpsing the Impossible: How Artificially Enhanced Targets Improve Elite Performance

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology

Click name to view affiliation

Mark A. RobinsonLeeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom

Search for other papers by Mark A. Robinson in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
*
Restricted access

In 2009, elite swimming introduced polyurethane “supersuits,” which artificially enhanced performances and facilitated 43 world records at the World Championships, before being prohibited from 2010. This transient, artificial improvement spike created a natural experiment to examine the effect of “impossible” targets on subsequent performances. Analyses revealed that swimming speeds at global championships in the postsupersuit period (2011–2017) were substantially faster than predicted from the presupersuit period (2000–2007). These results suggest that the transient, artificially enhanced performances of the supersuit era recalibrated targets upward—acting as goals—and improved subsequent performances beyond previous trajectories (d = 0.64; 0.70%). Contributing to psychological goal-setting theory, the positive relationship between the size of the transient, artificial improvement (i.e., goal difficulty) and subsequent performance was curvilinear, increasing at a decreasing rate before improvements plateaued. Overall, the research demonstrates the potential for elite athletes to exceed perceived human limits after expectations have been recalibrated upward.

  • Collapse
  • Expand
  • Baron, R.A., Mueller, B.A., & Wolfe, M.T. (2016). Self-efficacy and entrepreneurs’ adoption of unattainable goals: The restraining effects of self-control. Journal of Business Venturing, 31(1), 5571. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusvent.2015.08.002

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bernerth, J.B., & Aguinis, H. (2016). A critical review and best-practice recommendations for control variable usage. Personnel Psychology, 69(1), 229283. https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12103

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bridgett, L.A., & Linthorne, N.P. (2006). Changes in long jump take-off technique with increasing run-up speed. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24(8), 889897. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640410500298040

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bueno, J., Weinberg, R.S., Fernández-Castro, J., & Capdevila, L. (2008). Emotional and motivational mechanisms mediating the influence of goal setting on endurance athletes’ performance. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9(6), 786799. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2007.11.003

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Burton, D., & Weiss, C. (2008). The fundamental goal concept: The path to process and performance success. In T.S. Horn (Ed.), Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 339375). Human Kinetics.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Burton, D., Naylor, S., & Holliday, B. (2001). Goal setting in sport: Investigating the goal effectiveness paradox. In R. Singer, H. Hausenblas, & C. Janelle (Eds.), Handbook of sport psychology (2nd ed., pp. 497528). Wiley.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Burton, D., Pickering, M., Weinberg, R., Yukelson, D., & Weigand, D. (2010). The competitive goal effectiveness paradox revisited: Examining the goal practices of prospective Olympic athletes. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 22(1), 7286. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200903403232

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Caine, M., Blair, K., & Vasquez, M. (2012). Materials and technology in sport. Nature Materials, 11(8), 655658. https://doi.org/10.1038/nmat3382

  • Chambliss, D.F. (1989). The mundanity of excellence: An ethnographic report on stratification and Olympic swimmers. Sociological Theory, 7(1), 7086. https://doi.org/10.2307/202063

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Cohen, J. (1992). A power primer. Psychological Bulletin, 112(1), 155159. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.112.1.155

  • Cortesi, M., Fantozzi, S., Di Michele, R., Zamparo, P., & Gatta, G. (2014). Passive drag reduction using full-body swimsuits: The role of body position. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(11), 31643171. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000000508

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Craig, P., Katikireddi, S.V., Leyland, A., & Popham, F. (2017). Natural experiments: An overview of methods, approaches, and contributions to public health intervention research. Annual Review of Public Health, 38(1), 3956. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031816-044327

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • de Jesus, K., de Jesus, K., Abraldes, J.A., Medeiros, A.I.A., Fernandes, R.J., & Vilas-Boas, J.P. (2016). Are the new starting block facilities beneficial for backstroke start performance? Journal of Sports Sciences, 34(9), 871877. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2015.1076166

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Edwards, J.R. (2002). Alternatives to difference scores: Polynomial regression analysis and response surface methodology. In F. Drasgow & N. Schmitt (Eds.), Measuring and analyzing behavior in organizations: Advances in measurement and data analysis (pp. 350400). Wiley.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Edwards, J.R. (n.d.). Response surface Excel macro. http://public.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/faculty/edwardsj/downloads.htm

  • Field, A.P. (2013). Discovering statistics using SPSS (4th ed.). Sage.

  • FINA. (2010). Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA): FINA requirements for swimwear approval. http://www.zimaquatics.co.zw/pdfs/SWIMWE∼1.PDF

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FINA. (2017). Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA): FINA facilities rules. https://www.fina.org/sites/default/files/finafacilities_rules.pdf

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • FINA. (2019). Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA): Results from the swimming events at the Olympic Games and FINA World Championships. http://www.fina.org/latest-results

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Foster, L., James, D., & Haake, S. (2012). Influence of full body swimsuits on competitive performance. Procedia Engineering, 34, 712717. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.proeng.2012.04.121

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hall, H.K., Weinberg, M.S., & Jackson, A. (1987). Effects of goal specificity, goal difficulty, and information feedback on endurance performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 9(1), 4354.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Honda, K.E., Sinclair, P.J., Mason, B.R., & Pease, D.L. (2010). A biomechanical comparison of elite swimmers’ start performance using the traditional track start and the new kick start. In XIth International Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming (Vol. 11, pp. 9496). Norwegian School of Sport Sciences.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Issurin, V.B. (2017). Evidence-based prerequisites and precursors of athletic talent: A review. Sports Medicine, 47(10), 19932010. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0740-0.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jeong, Y.H., Healy, L.C., & McEwan, D. (2021). The application of Goal Setting Theory to goal setting interventions in sport: A systematic review. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/1750984X.2021.1901298

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2007). A framework of mental toughness in the world’s best performers. The Sport Psychologist, 21(2), 243264. https://doi.org/10.1123/tsp.21.2.243

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kaufmann, C. (n.d.). Database of athletes. Swim Rankings. https://www.swimrankings.net

  • Krüger, A. (2006). Training theory and why Roger Bannister was the first four-minute miler. Sport in History, 26(2), 305324. https://doi.org/10.1080/17460260600786955

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kyllo, L.B., & Landers, D.M. (1995). Goal setting in sport and exercise: A research synthesis to resolve the controversy. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 17(2), 117137. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.17.2.117

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Latham, G.P., Seijts, G., & Crim, D. (2008). The effects of learning goal difficulty level and cognitive ability on performance. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 40(4), 220229. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0013114

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A. (1966). The relationship of intentions to level of performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 50(1), 6066. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0022937

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3(2), 157189. https://doi.org/10.1016/0030-5073(68)90004-4

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A. (1994). Comments on Weinberg and Weigand. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 16(2), 212215. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.16.2.212

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A., & Bryan, J.F. (1966). Cognitive aspects of psychomotor performance: The effects of performance goals on level of performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 50(4), 286291. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0023550

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (1985). The application of goal setting to sports. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 7(3), 205222.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35-year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57(9), 705717. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.57.9.705

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265268. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00449.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A., & Latham, G.P. (2019). The development of goal setting theory: A half century retrospective. Motivation Science, 5(2), 93105. https://doi.org/10.1037/mot0000127

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Locke, E.A., Shaw, K.N., Saari, L.M., & Latham, G.P. (1981). Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980. Psychological Bulletin, 90(1), 125152. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.90.1.125

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lord, C. (2019, July 21). Adam Peaty smashes own world record as first man to break 57 seconds. The Times.

  • Maglischo, E.W. (2003). Swimming fastest. Human Kinetics.

  • McLean, S.P., Havriluk, R., & Brandt, S. (2008). Effect of adding a dolphin kick to a breaststroke pullout. Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise, 40(5), S377. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000322610.27400.b6

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Omega. (2019). Omega Live Timing: Results of the FINA World Championships (2003–2017). http://www.omegatiming.com

  • Papoti, M., Martins, L.E., Cunha, S.A., Zagatto, A.M., & Gobatto, C.A. (2007). Effects of taper on swimming force and swimmer performance after an experimental ten-week training program. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(2), 538542.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reuters. (2005). FINA changes rules after Athens controversy. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2005-07-23/fina-changes-rules-after-athens-controversy/2064972

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Sachs, M.L. (2020). One hour at a time. In M.L. Sachs, L.S. Tashman, & S. Razon (Eds.), Performance excellence (pp. 4143). Rowman & Littlefield.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Slater, M. (2009). Swimming’s great leap backwards. BBC Sport. https://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/mattslater/2009/12/swimmings_great_leap_backwards.html

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • St. Clair, T., Cook, T.D., & Hallberg, K. (2014). Examining the internal validity and statistical precision of the comparative interrupted time-series design by comparison with a randomized experiment. American Journal of Evaluation, 35(3), 311327.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Swann, C., Schweickle, M.J., Peoples, G.E., Goddard, S.G., Stevens, C., & Vella, S.A. (2022). The potential benefits of nonspecific goals in physical activity promotion: Comparing open, do-your-best, and as-well-as-possible goals in a walking task. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 34(2), 384408. https://doi.org/10.1080/10413200.2020.1815100

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Taylor, J. (2021, March 2). Super shoes: Explaining athletics’ new technological arms race. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/super-shoes-explaining-athletics-new-technological-arms-race-156265

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • UCLA. (n.d.). How can I run a piecewise regression in SPSS? University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Statistical Consulting. https://stats.idre.ucla.edu/spss/faq/how-can-i-run-a-piecewise-regression-in-spss/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • USA Swimming. (n.d.). World/US record progression. https://www.usaswimming.org/times/data-hub/record-progressions

  • Wagner, A.K., Soumerai, S.B., Zhang, F., & Ross-Degnan, D. (2002). Segmented regression analysis of interrupted time series studies in medication use research. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 27(4), 299309. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2710.2002.00430.x

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weinberg, R.S., & Weigand, D.A. (1996). Let the discussions continue: A reaction to Locke’s comments on Weinberg and Weigand. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 18(1), 8993. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.18.1.89

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weinberg, R., & Butt, J. (2014). Goal setting and sport performance: Research findings and practical applications. In A.G. Papaioannou & D. Hackfort (Eds.), Routledge companion to sport and exercise psychology (pp. 343355). Routledge.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weinberg, R., Bruya, L., & Jackson, A. (1985). The effects of goal proximity and goal specificity on endurance performance. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 7(3), 296305.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Weinberg, R., Bruya, L., Jackson, A., & Garland, H. (1987). Goal difficulty and endurance performance: A challenge to the goal attainability assumption. Journal of Sport Behavior, 10(2), 8292.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • World Athletics. (2020). Progression of world athletics records. World Athletics. https://media.aws.iaaf.org/misc/eBook/index.html#page=1

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 2027 2027 266
Full Text Views 47 47 8
PDF Downloads 56 56 15