Sports Psychology
The Behavioral Model

    One of the most highly-debated models is the Behavioral Model, which proposes that personality and character are exhibited in our observable behaviors and the effects of our environment on our behaviors.  It is hard to describe this theory without asking you to think of laboratories full of white-coated scientists with clipboards, recording pages and pages of data.  The use of all this data is to explain our behaviors by showing that we have been conditioned by our environment to respond in a specific way when we are faced with difficulty.  In the beginning, Behaviorists considered our thoughts and feelings unknowable - part of the realm of our minds, where secret processes kept any outsiders from fully knowing what was going on.  Since Behaviorism is all about observable actions, the functioning of the mind was ruled "off limits".  As a result, some might argue that Behaviorism is the only true alternative to Psychodynamics (wherein the operations of the mind are primary), and that all other schools of thought are some combination of the two.

    Behaviorism began in the laboratories of Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, who were primarily interested in how their theories applied to the actions of animals.  Later, proponents such as John W. Watson, Dollard & Miller, Joseph Wolpe, and Albert Bandura applied the theory more closely to human behavior.  Bandura, especially, is prominent for his work as it applies to the education of young people.

    Common terms associated with the Behavioral model are: Environment, Conditioning (Classical and Operant), Shaping, Extinction, Stimulus, Response, Reinforcement (Positive and Negative), Punishment, Behavior Modification, and Modeling.

    Behaviorism likes measurable outcomes, so data from direct observation is highly valued, and no intervention can be considered successful unless there is an observable, measurable improvement.  Since all behaviors are considered to have been learned from our environment (parents, peers, teachers, experiences, etc.), it is assumed that they can also be unlearned if we are presented with appropriate experiences.  Learning is considered to be a change in behavior that occurs because of our experience.  We want to learn to substitute positive, rewarding behaviors for the ones we learned before that don't work.

    Ivan Pavlov worked with dogs.  He was testing the amount of saliva dogs produce while eating (it related to studies about digestion), and was becoming frustrated because the dogs were salivating too soon in the process for accurate measurements to be made.  He realized that the stimulus of hearing their bowls being prepared was causing the dogs to respond by salivating in anticipation of receiving food.  By doing numerous experiments (and keeping volumes of data), Pavlov showed that he could produce the response with almost any stimulus.  (The archetype is that ringing a bell caused the dogs to salivate, even if there was no food present at all!)  This process is called Classical Conditioning, and has proven to have many practical applications, as well as some humorous or annoying ones.  High school students routinely rise from their seats when a bell rings, no matter what is taking place in the class at the time.
    B.F. Skinner worked mainly with pigeons.  He sort of "flipped" Pavlov's stimulus-response process, claiming that animals would exhibit a certain behavior if they thought it would lead to some sort of reward.  His pigeons would peck on particular objects if that action resulted in their getting a treat.  In technical terms, his theory of Operant Conditioning was that through the use of Reinforcement and Punishment, and appropriate shaping, we could condition a subject to voluntarily behave the way we want them to behave.  Bandura later added the concept of Social Learning to this application, saying that subjects could learn the appropriate behaviors simply by observing other subjects receiving rewards or punishment.  Students are frequently social learners, quickly picking up on classroom actions that result in pleasing or aggravating their teachers.

    Behaviorism is used extensively in the world of sports for a variety of reasons (although it is often combined with other models).  It is excellent for goal-setting because measurable goals are easily set, can be monitored regularly, and can be "proven" to have been achieved or missed.  In fact, it is Behaviorism that has made goal-setting a standard practice, because so many of its clinical studies prove that goals help athletes achieve more.  The data-consiousness of this theory also leads to excellent case studies, since such a huge quantity of detailed information is collected.
    There are many Behavior Modification techniques used in sports.  Modeling, shaping, and extinction are regular tools for both coaches and athletes.  Therapists may use planned reinforcement techniques to reward or punish athletes for their level of progress in performance.  They might also use what are known as "exposure techniques" to help athletes overcome their fears of certain situations.  Athletes who have had small exposure to scary situations are less likely to panic during a large situation.  Therapists may also use "behavioral coaching" to help the athlete establish a routine to use when they expect to engage in an anxiety-producing activity.  One of the most successful of these techniques is the use of relaxation exercises, which we are likely to use in this course.

    Plenty of problems exist when we look at the applications of Behaviorism.  If we become aware that we are being classically conditioned, we have the mental and emotional power to override the stimulus-response process.  We can refuse to be conditioned, especially if we feel that the processes are turning us into "lab rats".  Skinner knew this, which is why he worked on voluntary behaviors.  Still, when working with humans, the reinforcement/punishment process is not foolproof either.  Those being reinforced may feel manipulated, or may feel that they are only performing to get the reward, and therefore not enjoying the experience itself.  Those being punished may become angry, focus on the negative rather than the positive, or save their bad behavior for times they will not be "caught".  It may turn a necessary activity into a punishment (like running sometimes seems in basketball), and in some cases, the subject feels that any attention is good attention, so bringing on punishment at least means they've gotten noticed.

    By now, you've probably recognized the characteristics of Behaviorism in many of the strategies your parents, teachers, and coaches have presented to you over the years.  As an athlete especially, it is to our advantage many times to ignore the feeling that we are being manipulated, and focus on the benefits we will derive from behaving as we are asked to.  Almost all practice really is behavior modification, when you think about it.  You come into a sport with a certain amount of physical talent for the elements of that sport, but it is essential every day to sharpen the specific skills that are necessary for exceptional success.  If you do 100 layups, 100 serves, or 100 tee-shots, you are bound to change your behavior.  This is the source of the "Practice makes permanent" statement of George Lehman - our behavior will change, one way or the other.  Positive, productive practice, using good techniques and a high level of enthusiasm will make us positive, productive, successful athletes

ASSIGNMENT 1 - choose one of the following, write a journal about your reactions to the questions, and put it in your notebook.
~   What parts of your environment might be working against you as you try to achieve success in athletics?  What parts of your environment seem to provoke a negative response from you?  Who or what in your environment is on "your side", helping you be successful and supporting your endeavors?
~   What behaviors do you have in your sport that you would like to "unlearn"?  What behaviors would you like to have that would replace those?  If you succeed in substituting these particular new behaviors for your old ones, what is likely to be the outcome?

ASSIGNMENT 2 - answer both of these questions in a journal, and add it to your notebook.
~   What is the difference between learning or conditioning a skill or thought process, and actually using that skill or thought process in a game situation?
~   How do you reward yourself when you succeed in improving behaviors you are working to change?

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