Rushall, B. S. (1996). Some determinants in human competitive performances: A psychological perspective. In K-W Kim (Ed.), Human performance determinants in sport (pp. 1-24). Seoul, Korea: Korean Society for Sport Psychology.

"If an event is of long duration, it needs to be broken into segments. Those partitions or segments should be short enough for the athlete to totally concentrate on what needs to be thought of and done in that period. This assists focusing on the completion of successful competition elements. Structuring performances in this manner is called "segmenting." In the US Navy, a similar approach to combat missions is known as "compartmentalizing" (e.g., TOP GUN).

Segmenting originates from two sources. First, the goal-setting literature has shown that distant goals have less effect on performance than do more proximal goals (House, 1973). Short-term performance goals that focus on the processes needed for successful behavior enhance performance (Harackiewicz, Abrahams, & Wagerman, 1987). Second, individuals faced with extensive tasks usually break them down into more manageable segments (Heads, 1989, describing the across-Australia run by Tony Rafferty). Botterill (1977) noted successful young athletes spontaneously reconstructing an endurance strength-task into shorter performance segments each having its own goal or goals. A skier overcame difficulties with traversing a slope when attention was shifted to progress by parts of the task that eventually lead to completion of the total run (Syer & Connolly, 1984). World-champion target sportspersons have reported attempting to fire "one shot at a time" during extended shooting contests (Wiggers, Anderson, Whitaker, & Harmon, 1980). Performing artists have intuitively divided long performances into stages (e.g., acts and scenes, movements) so that performance quality can be maintained. Thus, theory and practice support the notion of segmenting extensive tasks for improved performance outcomes.

Manges (1990) and Wahl (1991) both tested the segmented versus total performance goal-orientation in runners. Using intrasubject research designs, the value of short-term process goals over terminal or distal goals was conclusively demonstrated. The performance differences could not be accounted for in terms of altered physiological functioning, a phenomenon noted long ago by Wilmore (1970). The effects of segmented running performances in the Ss of two studies are listed in Table 1.

Segmenting performances is a recommended procedure for performance strategy construction (Rushall, 1979, 1995a). It has recently been hypothesized that segments need to be shorter, the more intense the activity. The way segments are structured and their content is particularly individual (Rushall, 1995b). Differences in segmenting strategies and moderating factors need to be determined to understand this factor more clearly. The anecdotal and goal-theory literature at present is inadequate for fully explaining this phenomenon." (pp. 3-5)

Table 1. Performance Changes in Male Recreation Runners Under Segmented Task Conditions.

   STUDY             Ss       Task           Segments         % Change
   Manges (1990)     S1     3200 m run       8 x 400 m          2.1%
                     S2     3200 m run       8 x 400 m          2.7%
                     S3     3200 m run       8 x 400 m          2.0%
   Wahl (1991)       S1     1600 m run       4 x 400 m          5.4%
                     S2     1600 m run       4 x 400 m          6.5%
                     S3     1600 m run       4 x 400 m          1.2%
                     S4     3200 m run       8 x 400 m          1.1%
                     S5     3200 m run       8 x 400            4.1%
                     S6     3200 m run       8 x 400 m         -0.9%


  1. Botterill, C. (1977, September). Goal setting and performance on an endurance task. A paper presented at the Canadian Association of Sports Sciences Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
  2. Harackiewicz, J. M., Abrahams, S., & Wagerman, R. (1987). Performance evaluation and intrinsic motivation: the effects of evaluative focus, rewards, and achievement orientation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1015-1023.
  3. Heads, I. (1989). Winning starts on Monday: Yarns and inspirations from the Jack Gibson Collection. Melbourne, Australia: Lester-Townsend Publishing.
  4. House, W. C. (1973). Performance expectancies and affect associated with outcomes as a function of time perspective. Journal of Research in Personality, 7, 277-288.
  5. Manges, B. A. (1990). Effects of segmented task structures on performance. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.
  6. Rushall, B. S. (1979). Psyching in sport. London, England: Pelham.
  7. Rushall, B. S. (1995a). Mental skills training for sports (2nd ed.). Belconnen, ACT, Australia: Australian Coaching Council.
  8. Rushall, B. S. (1995b). Personal best. Glebe, NSW, Australia: NSW Swimming Association Inc.
  9. Syer, J., & Connolly, C. (1984). Sporting body, sporting mind. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  10. TOP GUN. United States Navy, Miramar Air Station, San Diego, California.
  11. Wahl, M. K. (1991). The effects of proximal and distal task goals on performance. Unpublished master's thesis, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA.
  12. Wiggers, L. W., Anderson, H. L. Whitaker, J. P., & Harmon, B. D. (1980) What makes a champion? In R. M. Suinn, (Ed.), Psychology in sports: Methods and applications. Minneapolis, MI: Burgess.
  13. Wilmore, J. (1970). Influence of motivation on physical work capacity and performance. In W. P. Morgan, (Ed.), Contemporary readings in sport psychology. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

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