The Role of Social Reinforcement in CoachingAn Observation of SFSU Swimming Coach: Diane DavisKin 504: Sport and Excersise PsychologyDECEMBER 3, 2011
Introduction: Swimming can be traced back almost as far as the oldest records of humans on this earth;from prehistoric paintings immortalized in stone to timeless stories recorded in texts such as TheIliad and the Bible. In the time that has passed from then to now, swimming has increased inboth significance and purpose. In society today, swimming has become far more than just ameans of transportation or bathing, as was the case in prehistoric times. It is now considered asport, an outlet for recreation and exercise, as well as a necessary skill required in manyoccupations including lifeguarding to the toughest challenge the military can offer in the navyseals. Along with its evolution as a skill, the concerns for safety for the participants have as well,which is why the swim coach has come to play a crucial role in the growth and development of anew generation of swimmers. In order to better understand the crucial role of the swim coach, Diane Davis, theswimming instructor for SFSU and former head coach of various swimming teams, will beobserved instructing her beginner and intermediate classes. Each of the classes being observedhad a mixture of men and women who ranged in age from early to mid 20’s. According to coachDavis, 65% of the swimmers in her beginner class have had absolutely zero experience withswimming before taking the course, which made it necessary for an assistant to be in the waterwith the participants at all times to help with demonstrations,as well as for safety reasons. Theintermediate class was quite the opposite of the beginning class, in that allof the students in theclass have had experience in swimming either on a team or a club in the past. The most advancedswimmers in the intermediate class used the middle lanes for practice while the others swam inthe outer lanes, making it easier for the coach to guide them and provide feedback. In contrast,the entire beginning class operated at a pace that was controlled by the coach. There were threeobservers conducting this study; two of them with swimming experience, having been a memberof their respective teams in high school. However, only the female out of the group has alsotaken the intermediate class with Coach Davis at SFSU twice before. The last member has onlyhad experience with swimming in a recreation setting, and has never practiced in a classroom orteam setting. The observation was taken in the middle of the front row of the spectator stands,which is a very close fans perspective of the class. In the beginners class, coach Davis would often coach the class all at the same time,
having them do a swimming drill then stopping them to get unified attention, and thendemonstrating (outside of the water) some common mistakes and how to correct them. She gavethe slower swimmers a lot more attention and let her assistant aid the rest of the students ininstances when she was giving specific instruction. Another behavior she often reverted to wasrandomly asking quiz questions to keep the class alert, and to see if they remembered propertechnique and procedures. The beginner’s class had a few more instances in which Coach Davishad to regulate the control (stop any foolishness) in the water. The Coachs behavior changedquite a bit with the intermediate class. There was no need to organization as much as thebeginning class because the students knew exactly what to do. The drills were very wellorganized and written out on a big sign for the whole class to see before they got into the water.Unlike the beginner’s class, she did not walk the class through a specific warm up routine. As aresult, this class was able to spend more time in the water. The observer who has had noexperience on the team recorded that Coach Davis seemed as if she was allowing for morerecreation in this class, while the other two participants (who have had swim team experience)noted that the coach’sfocus was more specifically directed to the certain individuals that neededimprovement. Observations and experiences were compared by each group member, which ledto the belief that coaching behaviors have a direct correlation with a participant’s skill level andnot just the class in general.Methods: A group of three San Francisco State University students observed two swimmingclasses;one dedicated to beginnerswimmers and the other to intermediate swimmers. Thebeginning class included students with very little to no experience with swimming, while amajority of the students in the intermediate class were currently, or had previously been on aswim team in the past. On October 25, 2011 from 8:00 to 11:00a, the observers used a modifiedversion of the CBAS (Coaching Behavior Modification System) in order to study the SFSUswimming instructor’s reinforcement behaviors in a group setting. The CBAS is divided intoeight behavior categories: specific positive reinforcement, general positive reinforcement,specific negative reinforcement, general negative reinforcement, specific technical instruction,general technical instruction, keeping control, and organization. The students were instructed tomake a tally under the appropriate category as each behavior occurred during the scheduled class
time, and draw conclusions from the results and percentage of occurrence after both sessionswere completed. Two separate observation sheets were used for the two separate classes forcomparison later, and each of the three students tallied and recorded their own findings. Amajority of the observed data came in the form of both general and specific technical instruction,which was made evident by the results of the group’s tallies. After adding up the total of talliesin each category, a percentage was calculated and displayed in the form of a bar graph to expressthe results.Results: Beginners Class Robert Laura Jonathan Behavior Categories Specific Positive Reinforcement (SPR) 7 5 5 General Positive Reinforcement (GPR) 5 3 4 Specific Negative Reinforcement (SNR) 0 0 0 General Negative Reinforcement (GNR) 0 0 0 Specific Technical Instruction (STI) 11 9 7 General Technical Instruction (GTI) 12 12 14 Keeping Control (KC) 3 2 1 Organization (O) 8 10 13Figure 1: Results of the three group members after observing the beginners class Intermediate Class Robert Laura Jonathan Behavior Categories Specific Positive Reinforcement (SPR) 3 6 4 General Positive Reinforcement (GPR) 5 4 5 Specific Negative Reinforcement (SNR) 0 0 0 General Negative Reinforcement (GNR) 0 0 1
Specific Technical Instruction (STI) 14 17 26General Technical Instruction (GTI) 5 11 16Keeping Control (KC) 1 1 1 Organization (O) 3 3 4Figure 2: Results of the three group members after observing the intermediate class 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 Robert 0 Laura JonathanFigure 3: Observed reinforcement patterns for the Beginners Class. The positive to negativereinforcement ratio is 29:0, and the specific to general reinforcement ratio is 3:4.22.
30 25 20 15 10 Robert 5 Laura 0 JonathanFigure 4: Bar graph displaying the differences in observed reinforcement patterns for theintermediate class. The positive to negative reinforcement ratio is 27:1, and the specific togeneral reinforcement ratio is 7.125:4.
Discussion: The behavioral category that received the most tallies in the beginner’s class was generaltechnical instruction with 38 counts, equating to 29% of total coaching behaviors. A noticeablesimilarity occurred with the intermediate class in that there were more positive reinforcementbehaviors than any other category; however, it came in the form of specific technical instructionwith 57 tallies, totaling 44%. For the beginner’s class, Coach Davis would always show a properand detailed demonstration (outside of the water) before sending the students to do an activity. Ajournal titled What a Teacher Can Learn From a Coach describes Stevens and Rosenshine’s(1981) conclusion that “the most efficient process for teaching a clearly defined skill involvesthree steps: 1) a demonstration of the skill or rule; 2) practice of each component of the skill withthe teacher providing guidance; 3) independent practice.” As the beginners pie chart clearlyshows, the second most observed behavior was organization.Coach Davis often organized theclass so she could clearly demonstrate the next exercise/drill, then she would monitor theswimmers performing while providing specific feedback or technical instruction where needed.This appeared to be an effective way to engage the students, especially because these studentswere very inexperienced and had no idea how to go about practicing the skill otherwise. Coach Davis’s avenue of approach was different with the intermediate class in that shegave more specific instruction to her students. This instruction often occurred on the side lanes ofthe pool where the slower swimmers (compared to the most advanced) were practicing. Her
advice often was directed towards the swimmers’ stroke technique and coordination during theirpractice withbreast stroke. If she saw someone whose form could be improved she would followthat swimmer as he/she made their way to the end of the lane, and provide them instruction whenthey reached the wall. She would follow them again as they made their way to the other end ofthe pool to make sure they were correcting their mistakes. According to the results of a study oncoaching strategies for swimmers, each swimmers’performance improvements were specific tothe stroke being trained (Koop & Martin 1983). Coach Davis used more specific reinforcementfor the intermediate class due to the fact thatall of the students were already experiencedswimmers. Her goal for these students was to make them more proficient at the skill. Accordingto Coach Davis, “You don’t want to give too much advice at first to beginners because they arejust trying to survive. As they get in better shape, I can start to give them a lot more instructionbecause they’ll know what I’m talking about.” Her views on developing swimmers goes hand inhand with the previously mentioned study because she too believes after a person becomes moreadvanced as a swimmer, the coaching approach must focus on improving the individualstechnique for a certain stroke rather than focusing on basic aspects of swimming that the studentshave already mastered. From looking at the data, it is obvious what type of leadership style Coach Davispractices seeing as she executed virtually no negative reinforcement behaviors (Jonathan’s onetally being the only exception). The beginners’ charts seen above indicated a 29:0 ratio ofpositive to negative reinforcement while the intermediate class observation results showed a 27:1positive to negative ratio. These numbers represent Coach Davis as someone who values positivereinforcement, along with good instruction. Positive reinforcement (both specific and general)accounted for 22% of the behavioral patterns in the beginning class, and 21% of the behaviorobserved in the intermediate class. Many of Coach Davis’ positive reinforcement behaviors werepresented in statements such as: “Good job,” “I like what I see,” “There we go,” and “Verygood! Just like that.” These statements, along with specific feedback given to certain individuals,served to enhance confidence. This generally leads to more intrinsic motivation, which is theultimate goal of any activity. However, one thing that was observed and not displayed on thecharts above is that when Coach Davis was providing these positive reinforcement statements,she often referred to the student by their name, which implies that she has spent the time to get toknow these students. “From a practical standpoint, it would be wise for coaches to make
conscious efforts to improve their interpersonal relationships with their players, as well as learnhow to identify signals of high cognitive anxiety in their athletes. Creating positive coach-athleterelations and learning how to employ simple relaxation/confidence-building techniques shouldbe the first steps in creating more receptive and positive coach-athlete interactions” (Kenow,Laura, Williams, Jean 1999). The reason that Coach Davis may have so much success with thesestudents is that she has taken the time to build their confidence as well as a coach-studentrelationship with them. When she would talk or address the students it was apparent that thestudents always gave her undivided attention. Before the observation of the class, an interviewwas done with the coach where she addressed the fact that while over half of the beginning classhad no experience in the water, she wasproud to say that each of them was at the very least ableto swim across the pool. There is no doubt that Coach Davis is successful with the coaching styleshe utilizes. The changes she’s made in her students is visible, and while those changes are oftenhabits that take practice to do so, she is always there on the side of the lane to keep them ontrack.Recommendations: While there is not much to criticism to give Coach Davis, one improvement she couldmake to her coaching style in the intermediate class is to create more of a challenge for the moreadvanced swimmers in the middle lanes. It almost seemed like they were taking the class morefor recreation rather than taking it for instruction. This is due to the fact that Coach Davis spendsmuch of her class time giving STI to the less advanced intermediate swimmers. However, shecould perhaps make it more challenging for the advanced swimmers by having them time theirlaps (using her TA to time them of course) so that it would create more of a task orientation andmotivation to be in the class. According to the Achievement Goal Theory, people participate andadhere to a certain task because they like the challenge, and are able to use their talent to meetthat challenge with persistence. Therefore, it would help to keep those more advancedparticipants interested by challenging themselves in every class, especially because these swimclasses only meets twice a week. Also, because the class time is roughly 50 minutes, it would be ideal if the beginningclass could organize their own warm-ups, similarly to the intermediate class (which essentially
comes into class ready to get into the pool). 24% of the tallies in the beginner’s class werededicated to organizing the class for general instruction, and while this is necessary, it means lesstime practicing in the water for the beginners. Coach Davis may benefit her students in someways by organizing less, and having them focus more time on practicing one or two specificstrokes in each class to maximize the learning in the student’s short time in the water. However,these recommendations are a result of only one observation of the classes. It would take moreobservationto solidify these statements.Conclusions: Based on the observations on Coach Davis during the two classes, the group hasconcluded that the coach is very successful at what she does. Our hypothesis immediately afterthe observation was that her coaching behaviors were a direct result of the individual’s skilllevel, and in putting together the group’s collective data, that proved correct.It was very apparent(especially by the vast amount of STI’s she gave to the intermediate class) that she was focusingmore on individuals who needed the help, which is ideal because of the time constraints sheworks with. Also, along with using her time efficiently and effectively, Coach Davis seemed tohave very good control over what was going on in her class. When small incidents did occurwhere she was forced to get control of the class back, the situation was handled in a very goodmanner. She did not have to punish the students;just by simply saying their name,she restoredorder to get them back to the task at hand (a phenomenon perhaps due to the fact that she hasbuilt a rapport with these students). Also, when students were having difficulty with thetechniques she was teaching, she did not punish them or ever give them reason to want to give upon trying. The common belief is that in certain sports, “tough love” is sometimes necessary forthe progression of the player, and that may be the case. However in this society, that is soobsessed with winning and success, we often push athletes to a limit in which the activity is nolonger enjoyable for them.“As expected, coaches’ verbal aggression was negatively related toplayer motivation and player affection for their coaches. While some people believe that verballyaggressive messages are at times justified (Martin, Anderson, & Horvath, 1996), there is noevidence that being verbally aggressive is effective in motivating others” (Martin 2009). Thistype of behavior was never demonstrated by Coach Davis; her coaching style made students
want to participate, and want to succeed.There was a point in the beginning class in which astudent who was unable to participate because of an ankle injury, swam to the side of the pooland practiced his arm technique instead of getting out and not partaking in the lesson at all.When asked by the group members why he wasn’t just resting, his reply was that he didn’t wantto sit on the side and watch his classmates swim; he wanted to swim too. What was interestingabout this incident is that you could sense the motivation he had to learn the techniques beingtaught. Even while injured he was using imagery to continue practicing in his own corner of thepool, imitating the coach’sdemonstrated motions. The biggest limitation the group had in this study was time. Each class was about 50minutes long, which from a coaching standpoint, is very short. One cannot acquire or master askill as advanced as the ones being taught by Coach Davis in this short amount of time. Thismade it somewhat of a challenge to assess how successful the coach was. The group had to pickup on minor details such as the injured student, the lack of misbehavior by the students, and thefact that the coach had built a relationship with the students to determine that she was successful.By looking at Coach Davis’s use of reinforcement behaviors alone, it is easy to see that she reliesheavily on specific instruction in conjunction with positive reinforcement; two vitalreinforcement behaviors necessary for success. Another factor that could have altered our opinions of Coach Davis is the fact that we didnot get to observe her in a competitive setting where tension and pressure grows sometimes to afever pitch. It is these types of circumstances that sometimes bring out the true colors of anindividual. Observing the coach in competition would shed light on factors such as how thecoach would respond to success/failure, any unforeseen circumstance, and having to adapt to acertain athletes behavioral/situational responses. However, from what we were able to observe, itmust be concluded that Coach Davis’s extensive knowledge and passion for swimming translatesinto her abilities as a leader. She demonstrated admirable traits and techniques that any coachwould benefit from adopting.
References:Kenow, L., & Williams, J. M. (1999). Coach-Athlete Compatibility and Athletes Perception of Coaching Behaviors. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 22(2), 251.Koop, S., Martin, G. (1983).Evaluation of a Coaching Strategy to Reduce Swimming Stroke Errors With Begininng Age-Group Swimmers.Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 16, 447-460Martin, M. M., Rocca, K. A., Cayanus, J. L., & Weber, K. (2009). Relationship between Coaches use of Behavor Alteration Techniques and Verbal Aggression on Athletes Motivation and Affect.Journal Of Sport Behavior, 32(2), 227-241.Palmer, Jesse, Smith, Ben. (1990). What a Teacher Can Learn From a Coach.Education 00131172, Summer90, Vol. 110. Issue 4