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The term behavioral coaching has been used inconsistently in and outside the field of behavior analysis. In the sports literature, the term has been used to describe various intervention strategies, and in the organizational behavior management literature it has been used to describe an approach to training management personnel and staff. This inconsistency is problematic in terms of the replication of behavioral coaching across studies and aligning with Baer, Wolf, and Risley's (1968) technological dimension of applied behavior analysis. The current paper will outline and critique the discrepancies in the use of the term and suggest how Martin and Hrycaiko's (1983) characteristics of behavioral coaching in sports may be used to bring us closer to establishing a consistent definition of the term. In addition, we will suggest how these characteristics can also be applicable to the use of the term behavioral coaching in other domains of behavior analysis.
On Terms
Behavioral Coaching
Holly A. Seniuk, Benjamin N. Witts, W. Larry Williams, and
Patrick M. Ghezzi
University of Nevada, Reno
The term behavioral coaching has been used inconsistently in and outside the field of behavior
analysis. In the sports literature, the term has been used to describe various intervention
strategies, and in the organizational behavior management literature it has been used to describe
an approach to training management personnel and staff. This inconsistency is problematic in
terms of the replication of behavioral coaching across studies and aligning with Baer, Wolf, and
Risley’s (1968) technological dimension of applied behavior analysis. The current paper will
outline and critique the discrepancies in the use of the term and suggest how Martin and
Hrycaiko’s (1983) characteristics of behavioral coaching in sports may be used to bring us closer
to establishing a consistent definition of the term. In addition, we will suggest how these
characteristics can also be applicable to the use of the term behavioral coaching in other domains
of behavior analysis.
Key words: behavioral coaching, on terms, technology, replication
The term coaching refers to ‘‘the
process of training somebody to play
a sport, to do a job better or to
improve a skill’’ (Oxford Advanced
Learner’s Dictionary, 2011). Al-
though there is no clear definition
of behavioral coaching, the term
suggests a behavioral approach to
accomplishing the goals of coaching
(e.g., Komaki & Barnett, 1977; Sha-
piro & Shapiro, 1985). In recent
years, this term has gained popularity
in the behavior-analytic literature.
However, given the lack of a clear
definition, it has been and is current-
ly being used inconsistently. In the
behavioral sports literature, the term
has been used as a general procedure
for training athletes as well as a type
of intervention (e.g., Stokes, Luiselli,
& Reed, 2010; Stokes, Luiselli, Reed,
& Fleming, 2010, respectively). In the
business world, the term is frequently
used to describe an approach to
managing employees within an orga-
nization (see Continuous Learning
Group, 2013a; Daniels, 2013). The
inconsistent use of the term presents
a problem for the science of behavior.
From a behavior-analytic viewpoint,
when there are multiple interpreta-
tions of definitions and procedures
we lose the technological dimension
(Baer, Wolf, & Risley, 1968), which
in turn presents difficulties for repli-
cation and consistency both in re-
search and in practice.
The concept of a behavioral ap-
proach to coaching athletes was first
introduced to the behavioral sports
literature in Komaki and Barnett
(1977). Their intervention was de-
signed for coaches to improve the
execution of three specific plays by
providing players a description of
each play, feedback on the accuracy
of the play during practice, and
modeling correct performance that
was faded contingent on success. The
authors found that this method of
coaching was superior to traditional
methods (e.g., verbal description and
feedback that focused primarily on
incorrect responses). Since then, the
Correspondence concerning this article
should be addressed to Holly A. Seniuk,
Department of Psychology, Mail Stop 296,
University of Nevada, Reno, Reno, Nevada
89557 (e-mail:
The Behavior Analyst 2013, 36, 167–172 No. 1 (Spring)
term behavioral coaching has been
used to describe this sort of approach.
Of all the articles pertaining to
sports in behavior-analytic journals,
only four directly refer to behavioral
coaching as a type of intervention. For
example, the term behavioral coaching
as an intervention strategy was first
used by Allison and Ayllon (1980) in
a study on football, gymnastics, and
tennis. Their behavioral coaching in-
tervention package, building on the
concept used by Komaki and Barnett
(1977), consisted of five components:
(a) instruction, (b) judging the re-
sponse, (c) feedback, (d) modeling,
and (e) imitation. This multicompo-
nent intervention package was dem-
the correct execution of skills for
participants in all three sports.
Fitterling and Ayllon (1983) and
Shapiro and Shapiro (1985) used the
same components outlined by Allison
and Ayllon (1980) to compare the
behavioral coaching approach to stan-
dard coaching in ballet and track,
respectively. These studies found that
behavioral coaching was superior to
standard coaching in teaching target
skills to athletes. Both Fitterling and
Ayllon and Shapiro and Shapiro used
included in Fitterling & Ayllon) across
three skills to demonstrate that indi-
viduals performed more trials correctly
in the behavioral coaching conditions.
Although these three studies (Alli-
son & Ayllon, 1980; Fitterling &
Ayllon, 1983; Shapiro & Shapiro,
1985) used the same components in
their behavioral coaching interven-
tion, other studies have effectively
used different strategies in what they
call a behavioral coaching interven-
tion. For example, Stokes, Luiselli,
Reed, and Fleming (2010) compared
descriptive feedback with and with-
out video and teaching with acousti-
cal guidance (TAG). The authors
found that descriptive feedback with
video as well as TAG were more
effective than descriptive feedback
alone in improving offensive line
pass-blocking skills with high school
and varsity football players.
Furthermore, Stokes and Luiselli
(2010) found that a functional anal-
ysis was an important component
in the development of a behavioral
coaching technique to improve tack-
ling that involved delayed written
feedback on performance. They con-
ducted a functional analysis with a
high school football player to deter-
mine that escape from coach feed-
back was capable of maintaining
correct responding. These results
were then used in the development
of an intervention in which the coach
provided written feedback after the
practice. This intervention resulted in
improved tackling in both practice
and game settings.
A review of the articles using a
behavioral approach to improving
athlete behavior revealed that numer-
ous studies either used some compo-
nents of the behavioral coaching
intervention described above (e.g.,
feedback, modeling, and imitation)
or other coaching methods of a
behavioral nature, but did not refer
to the intervention as behavioral
coaching. For example, Stokes, Lui-
selli, and Reed (2010) used a behav-
ioral intervention to teach tackling
skills to high school football players.
Coaches were trained to refrain from
making negative comments for incor-
rect performance and to provide
positive reinforcement for correct
performance in the form of stickers
on the players’ helmets. The authors
found this coaching approach to be
effective in improving tackling skills.
Still other studies used components
of the behavioral coaching interven-
tion package described by Allison
and Ayllon (1980) and Fitterling and
Ayllon (1983). For example, in the
behavioral literature on interventions
in sport behavior, 13 articles included
feedback as a component of the
intervention, and others cited instruc-
tion (n51), modeling (n52), or
prompting (n51) as part of the
intervention. For example, Boyer,
168 HOLLY A. SENIUK et al.
Miltenberger, Batsche, and Fogel
(2009) used a combination of video
modeling and feedback to improve
the execution of skills of four female
Overall, the behavior-analytic lit-
erature pertaining to sports indicates
that a behavioral approach to teach-
ing athletic skills can be effective.
However, the review also suggests the
need for a consensus on what behav-
ioral coaching is and how it can be
used to improve athletic behavior.
Organizational Behavior
Management (OBM)
The term coaching was first used in
OBM in the 1980s as a metaphor for
the behavior of team leaders, execu-
tives, and managers, with respect to
how they interacted with their employ-
ees or subordinates (Brown, 2001).
Brown identified language as an im-
portant factor in connecting behavior
analysis with businesses. Thus, he
explains how early in his career he
began using the term coaching to
break the cultural barrier between
these two institutions (Brown, 2001).
Stern (2004) provides a definition
of an executive coach as someone
who provides individualized consul-
tation to help a leader achieve long-
and short-term goals in organization-
al settings. Goldsmith (2000) suggests
that the process of behavioral coach-
ing involves the ongoing collection
of feedback regarding the manager’s
behavior, analyzing it, and developing
appropriate behavior-change plans
for managers to improve interactions
with their staff. In addition, numer-
ous books (e.g., Skiffington & Zeus,
2003) and companies (e.g., Behavioral
Coaching Institute) have provided in-
formation and strategies for behavioral
coaching in organizational settings.
Aubrey Daniels International, a
leader in research and practice in
OBM, offers a program titled Coach-
ing for Rapid Change in which a
behavior specialist guides managers
through learning to use tools such as
planning, touchpoints (e.g., contact
with a consumer), and data collection
to improve staff performance (Da-
niels, 2013). The Continuous Learn-
ing Group provides another example
of an organization that uses the
science of behavior in OBM. This
organization considers applied be-
havioral science to be a teaching and
coaching approach used by managers
and other leaders in organizations.
Consultants within this organization
coach leaders of other organizations
in the use of applied behavioral
science to improve employee perfor-
mance (Continuous Learning Group,
For example, a case study from the
Continuous Learning Group report-
ed that their coaches were able to
assist the business unit of a major oil
company in both reducing costs as
well as increasing revenue through
increased production. In this exam-
ple, coaching referred to the process
of training leaders to set clear expec-
tations, hold people accountable for
their commitments, and provide feed-
back that is both positive and fre-
quent (Continuous Learning Group,
Although the term is frequently
used in OBM by organizations and
consultants, it is scarce within the
scientific literature, although numer-
ous studies report the use of coaching
strategies similar to those used in the
sports literature. For example, feed-
back is arguably one of the most
prominently used intervention strate-
gies in OBM (e.g., Emmert, 1978;
Goomas, Smith, & Ludwig, 2011;
Wittkopp, Rowan, & Poling, 1991).
The use of behavioral coaching in
practice and not in the literature can
be problematic, in that various orga-
nizations may promote variations of
behavioral coaching. Although the
various strategies that fall under the
umbrella of behavioral coaching have
been examined in the OBM literature,
the concept of behavioral coaching as
an intervention strategy has not
enjoyed the investigative resources
here that it did in the sport literature.
Defining Behavioral Coaching
A review of the literature in both
sports and OBM suggests that there
is an inconsistent use of the term
behavioral coaching. It appears to be
the case that in some instances the
term is used to describe a type of
intervention package, in others it is
used to describe any guidance or
teaching that is provided a by a leader;
there are also many instances in which
an intervention package is not de-
scribed as behavioral coaching but
very closely resembles other interven-
tion packages with that name.
Although many of the studies
reviewed here incorporate the term
behavioral coaching in their work, the
question remains: ‘‘What exactly is
behavioral coaching?’’ It could be
argued from these articles that any-
thing that a coach, broadly defined,
does that has a behavior-analytic
orientation could be classified as
behavioral coaching. This poses a
problem with respect to teaching
others what behavioral coaching is
and how to effectively execute it. In
addition, if we as a field continue to
describe behavioral coaching in idio-
syncratic ways, the empirical valida-
tion of behavioral coaching as an
effective strategy is nearly impossible,
especially when one considers that
one of the most important aspects of
science is replication (Cooper, Heron,
& Heward, 2007, p. 6; see also Baer,
Wolf, & Risley, 1987).
As an alternative to the above-
mentioned formulations of behavior-
al coaching, Martin and Hrycaiko
(1983) outlined what they thought to
be the characteristics of effective
behavioral coaching with respect to
athletic performance. Martin and
Hrycaiko developed these character-
istics based on the dimensions of
applied behavior analysis as de-
scribed by Baer et al. (1968). Accord-
ing to Martin and Hrycaiko, there
are six characteristics of effective
behavioral coaching.
The first characteristic is that the
coaching involves the emphasis on
measurement of athletic performance
that it is specific, detailed, and
frequent. Second, there is a clear
distinction between the development
and maintenance of behavior, and
positive procedures are emphasized
for accomplishing both. The third
characteristic suggests that the inter-
vention be focused on athletes’ im-
provement is measured against their
own performance. Thus, behavioral
coaching does not compare athletes
to each other but rather compares
each individual to him- or herself.
The fourth characteristic is that the
coaching utilizes specific behavioral
procedures that have been experi-
mentally demonstrated to be effec-
tive. In being specific, Martin and
Hrycaiko (1983) mean that the pro-
cedures can be replicated and effec-
tiveness can be evaluated through
data monitoring. This characteristic
subsumes the previous sport research
and aligns them under a general
framework. The fifth characteristic
places emphasis on the behavior of
the coach. Not only are behavior
techniques used to improve the per-
formance of the players but of the
coach as well. For example, video can
be used to provide feedback to
players on their behavior as well as
for coaches to evaluate their own
behavior toward the players. The
final characteristic deals with social
validity, in which measures are taken
to ensure that the techniques used
target behaviors that are important
to the players, parents, and others
involved in the program, that these
individuals find the intervention tech-
niques acceptable, and that they are
satisfied with the results.
Martin and Hrycaiko (1983) pres-
ent a sound, encompassing definition
of behavioral coaching. If we as a
field are going to promote behavioral
coaching as a performance improve-
ment strategy, we must first verify its
170 HOLLY A. SENIUK et al.
effectiveness. Much like the dimen-
sions of applied behavior analysis
outlined by Baer et al. (1968), the
characteristics developed by Martin
and Hrycaiko are precise enough to
allow identification of whether what
is being evaluated is behavioral
coaching or not, as well as to allow
replication. In addition, the charac-
teristics are appropriately broad
enough to include a variety of vali-
dated behavioral techniques.
The characteristics outlined by
Martin and Hrycaiko (1983) provide
a method by which to evaluate
behavioral coaching across the liter-
atures. Should it be found that
multiple studies meet these criteria,
it could be argued that the definition
permits replication and, thus, empir-
ical analysis of behavioral coaching.
These characteristics also allow tech-
nology to be used within and across
subdivisions of the field of behavior
analysis in a consistent manner, thus
enabling behavior analysts to move
forward with research on behavioral
coaching. Specifically, if one removes
the term athlete from Martin and
Hrycaiko’s six characteristics, then
their behavioral coaching strategy
can encompass both the sports liter-
ature and the improved performance
of managers. That is, in all cases, a
general framework that focuses on
frequent measurement of target be-
haviors of participants, development
and maintenance of target behaviors,
comparison of an individual’s im-
provement to the individual’s previous
performance, the consistent use of
behavioral procedures for which effec-
tiveness has been experimentally dem-
onstrated, self-monitoring and self-
evaluation by the coach, and a vigilant
assessment of social validity should be
applicable and useful in any subdo-
main of behavior analysis. Stated
simply, there is no aspect of Martin
and Hrycaiko’s six characteristics that
belong exclusively to athletics, and
thus can be used effectively in other
areas of research and application. Our
argument, then, is one that enables
more effective analysis within and
across domains when these strategies
are employed in a single packaged
Furthermore, the characteristics
outlined by Martin and Hrycaiko
(1983) allow better packaging and
dissemination of behavioral coach-
ing. Having a packaged framework
enables practitioners to implement
effective guidelines that address sev-
eral areas of concern. The results of
these interventions, if shared among
researchers, is more readily con-
sumed and integrated into the grow-
ing body of literature on this ap-
proach to performance improvement.
Behavioral Coaching versus
Alternative Strategies
Given the current lack of a con-
sensus on the term behavioral coach-
ing and what is encompassed by that
term, we suggest that a clear defini-
tion of the term be determined. We
suggest the use of the characteristics
of Martin and Hrycaiko (1983) as a
starting point. As mentioned above,
this would create a term that is broad
enough to encompass both sports
and OBM, yet be specific enough to
allow replication in each domain.
We recognize that a great amount
of work is being conducted that
involves guidance provided by a
behavior specialist, leader, or coach
in both sports and OBM. However,
this work does not always meet the
criteria set out by Martin and Hry-
caiko (1983) and therefore should not
be called behavioral coaching. This
work is valuable and should contin-
ue; however, it is recommended that
this sort of work be labeled some-
thing more appropriate, such as
behavior consultation (see Williams,
2000), or be analyzed based on the
components used (e.g., public posting
in sports). Maintaining a distinction
between behavioral coaching and
other intervention strategies is neces-
sary to advance our science. As
mentioned previously, for further
research to be conducted on behav-
ioral coaching, the first step is to
determine a clear definition to permit
replication. From there we can ex-
amine the effectiveness of behavioral
coaching in various settings. To date
the best conclusion that we can make
is that behavioral approaches in
sports and organizations are effec-
tive. However, the right to make
claims about the effectiveness of
behavioral coaching is not yet ours.
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A number of experiments have demonstrated the considerable potential of behavior modification techniques for improving performance of beginners in sport and physical education. Several books have presented a consistent behavioral analysis of factors that influence the development and maintenance of athletic behavior. From these sources, an approach is beginning to emerge that might be called "effective behavioral coaching." This paper discusses six characteristics that appear to make this approach distinctive and potentially valuable for coaches.
Functional analysis (FA) is an experimental methodology for identifying the behavior-reinforcing effects of social and non-social consequences. The data produced from a FA are used to select intervention procedures. In this case study, we conducted a FA with a male high school football athlete by manipulating social contingencies within practice tackling drills. The FA suggested that the highest percentage of correct tackling occurred when the participant was able to “escape” interaction with the coach following drills. After demonstrating that the participant had a low percentage of correct tackling during a baseline (preintervention) phase, the coach provided him delayed written performance feedback after practice. This intervention was associated with a higher percentage of correct tackling. The participant also tackled proficiently during a postintervention in-game assessment. The advantages of conducting a FA when intervening with athletes are discussed.
The use of behavioral coaching to improve track skills with three high school runners was examined. Subjects were trained using verbal instruction, modeling, and prompting for the specific behaviors of conditioning, form, and starts. Behavioral coaching resulted in significant improvement in each skill area. Social validation of the improved track skills of the runner was evident in their reduced times on the lOOm and 200m dash. Implications for athletic coaching procedures are discussed.
A review of the literature indicates the usefulness of operant methods to develop or enhance sports skills. This study extended the use of this approach to the acquisition of correct ballet skills by four subjects in a ballet class. Using a single case design, behavioral coaching was compared to the ballet instructor's method. Four ballet barre exercises (degage, frappe, developpe, and grand battement) were selected as the dependent variables. Execution of all four ballet skills increased from an average of 13% under the ballet instructor's method to a performance of 88% under the behavioral coaching. These results indicate that behavioral procedures are applicable to modifying artistic and creative behaviors such as those found in the fine arts.
The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment package designed to improve machine set-up time in the extrusion department of a rubber manufacturing company. After the steps required for rapid and accurate set-ups were determined, subjects were instructed regarding these steps and were given detailed written and verbal feedback concerning whether or not the performed the steps a propriately. Videotapes of set-ups were use this in this process. After the initial intensive intervention, an attempt was made to maintain treatment gains by teachin supervisors how to provide information concerning set-up performance. Results, collected under a multiple baseline design, indicated that the average weekly set-up time for each machine waa significantly below the baseline level during the initial intervention an remained there over the course of the study.
For those who have charted a course as consultants to the business community, the stated mission is to enter those cultures with the express purpose of influencing and hopefully improving their cultural practices. When behaviorally oriented professionals are attempting to influence another culture, indeed another “tribe,” there are protocols, rules, procedures and practices which make the journey safer and more successful. Language is important. Measurements are important. Tools and technology are important. In this paper, recommendations for communicating the benefits of a behavioral approach are provided for each of these three areas. In addition, this paper encourages behavior analysts who seek to enter other cultures and bring about change to adopt the metaphor of coach: By using behavioral principles and techniques to teach behavioral principles and techniques, behavior analysts model the very behaviors that will help people in positions of leadership and influence.
The following represents efforts of first-line supervisors to affect a performance increase within a manufacturing area of a production facility. Effects of group feedback versus individual feedback were measured on four separate crews totaling 32 hourly employees. Feedback was provided graphically on the basis of a daily crew average during the first intervention, Individual feedback graphs were used during the second intervention. The data shows a performance increase during group feedback, and a more dramatic increase during the use of individualized feedback. Several complications were identified which may interfere with the pure application of the principles of behavior management employed in many industrial settings.