Health and Sports Psychology Review

Psych 635

February 9, 2015 Health and Sports Psychology Review


The foundation of sports psychology centers on helping players maximize their performance and strengthen motor learning skills, by learning techniques to overcome mental blocks. The first publication of sports psychology focused on how spectators influence athletes competing in competitive bicycling (Brown & Mahoney, 1984). Health and sports psychology focuses on the influences of athletics and the psychological and physiological impact it has on humans. A sports psychologist assists athletes through the application of shaping and chaining, reinforcement schedules, and one-trial learning techniques in teaching new technical skills.

Shaping and Chaining

As a sports psychologist, one must comprehend the concepts of shaping and chaining when teaching and implementing unfamiliar technical skills to athletes. Before a behavior arises, an athlete cannot associate his or her skills and performance to a behavior, therefore shaping is only useful when linking behaviors that can help athletes perform adequately and comprehensively. “The basic operant conditioning method of behavioral change is shaping, or differential reinforcement of successive approximations to the desired form or rate of behavior” (Schunk, 2012). The process of shaping identifies behaviors not yet present, and assists athletes retrieve a specific behavior, mindset, and skill expansion. The process of shaping in sports psychology consists of the identification of the current abilities of an athlete, identification of a behavior, identification of possible reinforcement within an athlete’s environment, dividing the goal into smaller goals, and ultimately, guide the athlete to his or her desired behavior through the use of reinforcements (Schunk, 2012). For instance, when an athlete complains of weak leg muscles, he or she can begin with leg muscle development that fosters strength, stamina, and confidence. Once an athlete works toward a desired behavior, he or she will need to continue to reinforce the behavior until the desired results are achieved. A good example of this is hurdles.

Hurdles is a type of sports activity that requires athletes to run and leap over a bar at pre-determined intervals thus building leg muscles, strength and increasing versatility. An athlete accomplishing a hurdles race builds confidence and physical strength. By receiving corrective feedback, an athlete can achieve his or her desired goal. A sports psychological can assist an athlete by monitoring speed, versatility, and strength and encouraging an athlete to do more, go faster, and untimely achieve their goal.

According to B.F. Skinner, “Chaining is the process of producing or altering some of the variables that serve as stimuli for future responses” (Schunk, 2012, p. 99). Chaining identifies when an athlete desired skill acquisition without reinforcement of successful elements of monitor behavior an athlete cannot improve or achieve higher performance (Greene, 2012). “The operant principle of chaining has been widely researched and implemented with motor skill acquisition and improvement, therefore, in order to ensure proper motor learning, reinforcement of specific behaviors must occur” (Greene, 2012, p.1). Every step offers a signal of action for the next step; a chain is a sequence of cues and behaviors, therefore when one’s behavior in a chain of reactive step generates another signal for the next course of action. Chaining is very useful for sports psychologists when assisting athletes enhance performance and achieve their goals. For example, when an athlete is struggling while training for an event, or merely has a desire to improve his or her performance, a sports psychologist can develop a plan for the athlete to follow on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. When an athlete follows these guidelines, he or she is creating a chain. Many times athletes develop psychological hindrances that prevent them from performing at an optimal level, therefore a sport psychologist can analyze those factors and examine methods of motivation, enhancing, or eliminating self-esteem issues and offer encouragement throughout stages of progress. Shaping and chaining is a useful tool for sport psychologists in assisting athletes by focusing on the psychological and physiological factors athletes need to succeed.

Reinforcement Schedules

Primarily known for his theory of operant conditioning, B.F. Skinner believed behaviors were dependent on the after-effect of a response called operant behavior. In operant conditioning, scheduling reinforcements are crucial components of learning. There are two types of reinforcement schedules: continuous and partial reinforcement. The schedule of frequency for behavioral reinforcement has a significant impact on the intensity and timeline of the desired response. Continuous reinforcement is more effective during the initial stages of learning to develop a solid connection of the behavior and response. This occurs through the presentation of reinforcement every time an undesired or desired behavior appears. Partial reinforcement is the response of reinforcement only part of the time rather than continuously. Reinforcement schedules can help athletes learn new technical skills through reward or punishment. These schedules help ensure an athlete’s dedication and focus toward his or her goals. When an individual suffers from a psychological or physiological issue, positive reinforcement is pure joy such as an enjoyable evening with friends or a day without working out, therefore the experience is pleasurable and desirable. The negative reinforcement and punishment stage is when the joy is taken away or controlled (consequence). For example, an extra workout, or additional laps around the track or denial of participating in an upcoming event. Although it is important for sports psychologists to provide a positive and encouraging environment for their clients, it is also important to use negative reinforcement to motivate athletes to improve perform.

One-Trial Learning Techniques

The one-trial learning technique involves learning by a single paired response and stimulus, not repetitive responses. If a child places his or her hand on a hot stove and burns it, the child will most likely not do so again fearing the pain from the first experience. Sports psychologists can use one-trial learning techniques to teach athletes the type of mistakes not to make more than once, therefore avoiding time and health consuming hindrances. Many times injuries can happen to athletes causing financial, physiological, and psychological setbacks. When an athlete heals, he or she learns from that one-time error, to avoid such a task or move. Many times athletes over-exert themselves and the one-trial learning technique teaches them to realize and respect their limitations. For example, when long-distance runners decide to push themselves to beat their current time or a competitor’s, they may be doing more good than harm, therefore if they pull a ligament or become sore or unable to run on schedule, they will have learned from this learning technique.


According to Division 47 of the American Psychological Association (2013),

Sports psychology, includes a range of topics that include motivation to continue and achieve, psychological considerations in sport injury and rehabilitation, counseling techniques with athletes, assessing talent, exercise adherence and well-being, self-perceptions related to achieving, expertise in sport, youth sport and performance enhancement and self-regulation techniques (para.1).

Health and sports psychology focuses on an extensive spectrum of clinical, scientific, and adapted subject matter regarding exercise and sports. This field of science focuses on the psychological vision of applying motivation and performance improvement and the comprehension of improving mental and physical health. Among these applied techniques are shaping and chaining, reinforcement schedules, and one-trail learning techniques to assist athletes achieving optimal psychological and physiological health.


















American Psychological Association. (2013). Purpose and goals. Retrieved from html

Browne, M. A., & Mahoney, M. J. (1984). Sport psychology. Annual Review of Psychology,

35(1), 605.

Greene, L. M. (2012). Mastery chaining and modeling to improve dart throwing skill acquisition. (Order No. 3549416, Hofstra University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 85. Retrieved from (1283383949).

Schunk, D. H. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

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