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Positive and Negative Reinforcement in Coaching

by Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning-4th Edition With Web Resource
Kinetic Select May 2017

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Coaches can also benefit from understanding the concepts of positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment as they relate to motivation. Although coaches use a mixture of both reward and punishment, using rewards and a positive approach is arguably the best approach because it focuses on what athletes should do and what they did right.

The following is an exclusive excerpt from the book Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning-4th Edition With Web Resource, published by Human Kinetics. All text and images provided by Human Kinetics.

Coaches can also benefit from understanding the concepts of positive and negative reinforcement and positive and negative punishment as they relate to motivation (22). Positive reinforcement is the act of increasing the probability of occurrence of a given behavior (a target behavior, such as correct footwork in basketball, is termed an operant) by following it with a positive action, object, or event such as praise, decals on the helmet, or prizes and awards. Negative reinforcement also increases the probability of occurrence of a given operant, but it is accomplished through the removal of an act, object, or event that is typically aversive. For example, if the team showed great hustle in practice (i.e., the operant is enthusiasm and hustle), then the coach could announce that no wind sprints would be required at the session’s end. This coaching reinforcement style focuses attention on what the athlete is doing correctly.

Punishment, on the other hand, is designed to decrease the occurrence of a given operant, that is, negative behaviors such as mistakes or a lack of effort. Positive punishment is the presentation of an act, object, or event following a behavior that could decrease the behavior’s occurrence. An example is reprimanding a player after a mistake or making an athlete do push-ups or sprints after a fumble. Negative punishment, or the removal of something valued, could take the form of revoking privileges or playing time, as in benching. Although coaches use a mixture of both reward and punishment, reinforcement (i.e., reward), or a positive approach, is arguably better because it focuses on what athletes should do and what they did right (termed specific positive feedback). Reinforcement (both positive and negative) increases task-relevant focus rather than worry focus. A task-relevant focus facilitates reaction time and decision making. With reinforcement, athletes also build long-term memories of success, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and confidence. Successful experiences more likely color the athlete’s view of competition as desirable and as an opportunity to perform. Of course, coaches may punish unwarranted lack of effort, but it seems ineffective to punish athletes for mistakes if they are making the effort to perform correctly. 

Developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Fourth Edition, is the fundamental preparation text for the CSCS exam as well as a definitive reference that strength and conditioning professionals will consult in everyday practice. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.

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