Perturbations created from the baseline in tennis: a test of barker’s behaviour setting theory

Adriano Carvalho *, João Carvalho */** and Duarte Araújo *

(*) CIPER, Faculdade de Motricidade Humana, Universidade de Lisboa, Estrada da Costa, Cruz Quebrada-Dafundo
(**) Escola Superior de Educação e Comunicação da Universidade do Algarve, Faro, Portugal


Carvalho, A., Carvalho, J., Araújo, D. (2022). Perturbations created from the baseline in tennis: a test of barker’s behaviour setting theory. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 53(1), 51-74. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2022.53.051


The purpose of this study was to characterise perturbations created from the baseline in men’s tennis following Barker’s ecological psychology approach. In selected rallies of expert level tennis matches we identified the shot responsible for this perturbation and characterised it using a sequential approach based on the positioning of the players in the court, the technical actions used by both players, and the displacements that each player forced on the opponent. Results reveal specific patterns of player behaviour and types of displacement in response to the opponent. Moreover, we found significant variability of the technical actions and action zones expressed during the perturbation processes. These results suggest that perturbation behaviours are constrained by the ‘behaviour setting’, which allows individuality during the search for effective solutions to achieve a specific goal. This test of Barker’s behaviour setting theory in sport offers a principled guidance for coaches embed psychology into task design for practice sessions.

Keywords: Action zones in tennis, Barker’s ecological psychology, Behaviour mapping, Perturbations in tennis; Sequential analysis