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.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Big Sam ABA-rdyce

In my future career as a top flight football manager (give or take a few divisions) I could utilise Applied Behavioral Anaylysis (ABA) in securing silverware. ABA involves solving behavioral problems by providing antecedents and consequences or outcomes that can change behavioral patterns. 

An example of a problem behavior in football would be players fluffing their lines at important times in big games, not converting chances that they really should, perhaps in stoppage time with 3 points on the line:

However, the principles of reinforcement in ABA require that any attempt to modify a target behavior is immediately followed by a reinforcer (either positive or negative), and the laws of football often don't allow for such interventions. As much as Jose Mourinho enjoys incursions onto the field of play, any attempt to immediately provide an ABA-style consequence when Torres misses a glaring opportunity would prove a step too far, even for the Special One. Having said that, it didn't stop a certain Phil Brown, then Hull City (tigers?) manager from sitting his side down on the pitch for a good old fashioned finger-wagging after a dire 4-0 first half performance against Man City. Results from this study show no significant impact on the team's post-intervention performance as they went on to lose the game, Phil Brown lost his job, and Hull were relegated at the end of the season. 

Perhaps a move effective intervention would be to focus on finishing skills in training sessions, whereby managerial intervention can happen in a less pressurised environment. Allison and Ayllon (1980) looked at the coaching of tackling in 11 and 12 year old American football players. Instead of the inconsistent and negative coaching style they encountered initially (players were made to run laps instead of perfect a skill, told they were stupid) the researchers prescribed instead a method of behavioral coaching. 

This involved setting up a system whereby feedback was consistent, and if the target behavior did not match the coaches expectations the coach would intervene to ensure the player understood exactly what was being asked of them by modelling the desired behavior (correct tackling posture) and having the player imitate him and repeat the drill again. They found that correct tackle execution increased from 8.3% before the behavioral coaching to 48% after the intervention. Furthermore, using an ABAB experimental design, the researchers found that correct tackle execution dropped back to about 10% when reverted to normal coaching conditions, and increased to 60% when the intervention was reintroduced. 

Following from this, appropriate and consistent praise should be given on the training ground for footballers who put away chances well. For those who have trouble taking opportunities, an intervention whereby the manager halts the play and gives feedback on what went wrong ("you were leaning too far back", "you opened your body up too much") and makes the player repeat the chance from a similar position until they get it right may help to aid extinction of the problem behavior in a more effective way then telling them they can't finish for their dinner and telling them to run laps. 

Paul O'Connor - Blog 4


Allison, M. G., & Ayllon, T. (1980). Behavioral coaching in the development of skills in football, gymnastics, and tennis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis,13(2), 297-314.

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