Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Behavioral Coaching - precision training

Interestingly, I am about as prepared about my future career as an incoming Fresher, partly because I am looking to do a year of Masters/buffer year to think about the impending 'real world'. The Masters itself has nothing to do with either side of my joint degree, so it is safer to make a projection about a side hobby that I will most probably taken on later, alongside a 'real' job. I have taught handball to beginners and teams mixed experience, now coaching the Women's team at Warwick, and I look forward to spending time doing the same at community clubs or schools.

With most teams sports that involve a ball, the entry basics are always passing and shooting; simple yet essential skills that even the top players in the sport need constant adjustment and perfection. The only way to build up the necessary muscle memory for the perfect pass is by repetition. The intrinsic satisfaction of success and the ensuing praise from teammates and the coach, plus team success during an in-game situation, is an example of a simple operant conditioning: successful pass/shot (target behavior) leading to positive feeling and attention (positive reinforcement). It has been shown to work across a host of situations, like teaching mentally retarded children to use crutches (Horner, 1971) or a normal preschool child walking longitudinally through a ladder (Hardiman, Goetz, Reuter, and Le Blanc, 1975) and indeed, it's a fairly instinctive choice of encouragement.

Developing this method further, Allison and Ayllon (1980) have successfully identified a collection of complementary techniques that could boost the effects of operant conditioning to new highs.
"This coaching method combined the following components: (1) systematic use
of verbal instructions and feedback, (2) positive and negative reinforcement, (3) positive
practice, and (4) time out."

Relating to my coaching method, it could be something as simple as 1) telling my players to "raise your arm straight" when they don't extend their limbs enough to draw maximum power into their throw, 2) ask them to freeze in their position when I blow the whistle, so I can point out what needs changing in their posture, 3) modeling the correct position myself and saying aloud each of my steps and 4) let the exercise resume, verbally describing the way in which it was performed correctly. An additional feature would be, after a good amount of practice time, implement a negative reinforcer, like "five push-ups for every shot that misses the target", which not only associates bad shots with more work-out, but the work out itself is great muscle training for a powerful, and controlled, shot. 

In Allison and Ayllon, behavioral coaching was immediately effective in increasing the correct execution of complex skills in the experiment. Gains of up to 10 times the baseline performance were achieved in each sport. In football, behavioral coaching resulted in an increase in correct blocking performance from a baseline average of 5 % to 51.3 %.

Qi Peng Wang


  • Allison, M. G., & Ayllon, T. (1980), Behavioral coaching in the development of skills in football, gymnastics and tennis, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 1980 Summer; 13(2): 297–314
  • Hardiman S. A., Goetz E. M., Reuter K. E., Leblanc J. M., Primes, contingent attention, and training: effects on a child's motor behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 1975 Winter;8(4):399–409.
  • Horner RD. Establishing use of crutches by a mentally retarded spina bifida child. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 1971 Fall;4(3):183–189.

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