Reinforcement (positive and negative) in sport

Nowadays, in most matches of any sport, we usually hear a lot of signals which may have a positive or negative tinge, from coaches, family members and even the public.

It is these external variables that, although seemingly harmless, can come to influence athlete performance.

The concept of reinforcement and punishment

What is reinforcement increases the likelihood that a particular action or behavior will be performed more frequently or reinforced. These are forms of rewards which may consist of prizes, such as winning a trophy, receiving a salary at the end of the month, or any certification; there is also another type of rewards that are not tangible, such as congratulations from the coach or applause from the audience (social reinforcements).

On the other hand, we have the verbal punishments which are probably the ones that cause the most negative consequences, and knowing how to fit in will be essential for having good sanity in any professional sports field. A good example would be criticism from the press or any public criticism for your performance.

Considering the above, some examples would be “Very good!”, “You made it perfect” when a player manages to score a goal or performs a good attacking action. Or “this mistake can cost us the game” in the face of failure.

Reinforcements must be managed properly

In this common way, all of those people around any sport generally react. The role of a coach, a sports psychologist or even the athlete himself is to know how to manage these reinforcements or punishments in a always positive way, to get the most out of them. Praise and criticism are two types of reinforcement in sport and have different consequences for the athlete.

One of the fundamental goals of the coach is to make his interaction with the players dynamic and fluid, so that they manage to consolidate certain patterns of behavior or desirable behaviors and to eliminate others which are not. Teach a skill set to make the most of the abilities of each of your players individually, and as a whole to the whole team.

So. In order to achieve the desired performance of each athlete, it is essential to have the greatest number of instruments available. One of them is the management of reinforcements, both positive and negative.

Reinforcement analysis

The notion of reinforcement in the field of sport is extremely important, because it influences certain intrinsic variables such as self-confidence, which is essential to be able to deploy all the resources available to any athlete.

Positive reinforcement of the coach, at a key moment in the match, it can make the difference between getting a good result or not. Therefore, every coach is aware that one of their most important goals is to effectively teach a set of skills necessary for success both individually and collectively using various strategies between them: reinforcements.

Positive reinforcement improves performance

Positive reinforcement has been shown in numerous studies to be any consequence that increases the likelihood of a subsequent response occurring. Thus, a reward applied after an action implies that the individual has acted correctly and therefore contributes to consolidating the action or the response and therefore to obtaining an improvement in performance and performance.

This is the main goal of positive reinforcements or rewards.

Two important considerations must be taken into account in relation to positive reinforcement

  • The extent to which they are interpreted as rewards by those to whom they are bestowed.
  • The extent to which the emergence of reinforcements depends on the desired action.

That said, it is important to know that in sports practice the most used reinforcements are social reinforcements. However, this is not at all conclusive, as some actors find praise that reinforces itself in the presence of others, while others would find this situation uncomfortable. This is why it is essential to know the preferences of each athlete in order to manage reinforcements productively.


To summarize, the management of reinforcement has a major influence on the development and performance of a professional athlete.

One of the great virtues of top athletes is to manage both the reinforcements and the criticisms that can affect them. In other words, to achieve an ideal balance in the face of these external variables; take advantage of those reinforcements which add something to your game and reject those who do not. With this strategy, they manage to make the most of any circumstance.

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