Sportopedia Glossary

Action and Action Situation

Action and Action Situation

The term ‘action’ has evolved into a key concept in psychology and sport psychology, as in other social and human sciences. It represents the central reference point for a theoretical perspective, the action theory perspective as it is elaborated with special emphasis to sport-related actions in sport psychology. The translation of the German ‘Handlung’ into the English ‘action’ is not absolutely fitting since ‘Handlung’ is not synonymous with ‘activity’ or ‘operation’ or ‘movement.’ A human action (Handlung) is understood to be the characteristic nature of human behavior, intentionally organized within a meaningful structured situational context (see e.g., Nitsch & Hackfort, 2016) and the fundamental entity for the analysis, explication, and intervention of mental processes regulating human behavior.

Actions are initiated to achieve a fundamental task, i.e., to overcome a misfit or maintain a fit in the present person-environment constellation (objective situation) as it is experienced by the human subject in regard to his or her intentions (subjective definition of the situation). In this definition, the personal significance (valence; see solid lines in Fig. A.1) and the controllability (competence; see dash lines in Fig. A.1) of the action situation are emphasized (Nitsch & Hackfort, 1981; see Fig. A.1).

Any action implies a quadruple function in varying accentuation: (1) exploration—in the sense of gathering new information and experiences, (2) construction—in the sense of an active optimization of the action situation, including the intentionally organized omission as a special type of action, (3) protection—in the sense of guarding against threats and disturbances, and (4) presentation— in the sense of demonstrating personal characteristics as a means of impression management. In various sports, each of these functions is emphasized differently as each sport is characterized by a typical action profile.

Similar profiles and/or special features in the profile are used to classify sports like adventure and risk sports, martial arts, or in building a group of sports in which the presentation function is accentuated like in figure skating and artistic gymnastics.

Characteristic for the action process, ‘acting’ is (1) the dynamic interrelation of the person and his or her environment, (2) the coordinated interplay of principally all intrapersonal functions, like cognitive, affective, motivational, and volitional processes, perception, and memory, as well as (3) the temporal and functional embedding within the action continuum with regard to the individual’s action biography and future perspective.

That is, the present action is at the same time the endpoint of the previous and the starting point of the upcoming development. Thus, variations in one of the features results in adaptive alterations in the state of the others. We act as physical, biological, mental, and social beings in a physically, biologically, mentally, and socially structured world (see also Wessel, 2015;
see Fig. A.1).

The focus in sport and sport psychology is given to the analysis and optimization of movement actions that are of structural equality with mental and social actions. For this purpose, it is essential to consider and specify
the role played by various psychological states and processes in movement actions. This implies that the particular psychological orientation, activation, and control function will be specified in regard to movement actions and, in consequence, a central task in sport psychology is to study how psychic processes regulate actions in sport and, vice versa, how movement actions regulate psychic processes. The functional approach with special emphasis of the reciprocal effects of affective, cognitive, and motor processes is of fundamental meaning for the development of sport psychology as well as for action psychology. Furthermore, the impact of the course and outcome of an action on the shortand long-term modification of psychological functions is to be taken into account as, for instance, illustrated by the potential interrelation of sport activity and mental fitness.

Nitsch, J. R., & Hackfort, D. (1981). Streß in Schule und
Hochschule – eine handlungspsychologische Funktionsanalyse
(Stress in school and university   An action psychology based
functional analysis). In J. R. Nitsch (Ed.), Stress (pp. 263 311).
Bern: Huber.

Nitsch, J. R., & Hackfort, D. (2016). Theoretical framework of
performance psychology: An action theory perspective. In M.
Raab, B. Lobinger, S. Hoffmann, A. Pizzera, & S. Laborde
(Eds.), Performance psychology. Perception, action, cognition,
and emotion (pp. 11 29). Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Wessel, K.-F. (2015). Der ganze Mensch. Eine Einfu¨hrung in
die Humanontogenetik (The entire human being. An introduction
to human-ontogenesis). Berlin: Logos.

***Contributed by R Dieter Hackfort & Jürgen R. Nitsch for Hackfort, D., Schinke, R. J., & Strauss, B. (Eds.). (2019). Dictionary of sport psychology: sport, exercise, and performing arts. Academic Press.