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The reinforcement (positive and negative) in the sports field

The reinforcement (positive and negative) in the sports field

October 2, 2023

Currently in most games of any sports discipline we often hear a lot of indications that may have a positive or negative, on the part of coaches, family members and even the public.

These are external variables that, although they may seem innocuous, may influence the performance of athletes.

The concept of reinforcement and punishment

The reinforcement is what increases the likelihood that a particular action or behavior will be carried out more frequently or strengthened . These are forms of reward that can consist of prizes, such as winning a trophy, receiving a salary at the end of the month or any certification; there are also other kinds of rewards that are not tangible, such as the coach's congratulations or public applause (social reinforcements).

On the other hand, we have the verbal punishments that are probably the ones with the most negative consequences, and knowing how to fit them will be fundamental to having a good mental health within any professional sports field. A good example would be the criticism of the press or any criticism made by the public for your performance.

Taking into account the above, some examples would be: "Very good!", "You have made it perfect" when a player manages to score a goal or perform a good attack action. Or "that mistake can cost us the game" before a failure.

It is necessary to correctly manage the reinforcers

In this common way, all those people who surround any sport discipline usually react. The role of a coach, sports psychologist or even the athlete is to know how to manage those reinforcements or punishments in an always positive way, to get the most out of it. Praise and criticism are two kinds of reinforcement in sport, and have different consequences for the athlete .

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

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

Analyzing the reinforcement

The concept of reinforcement in the sports field is extremely important, since, it comes to influence certain intrinsic variables such as self-confidence, which is essential to be able to deploy all the resources available to any athlete.

A positive reinforcement on the part of the coach, in a key moment of the game, can make the difference between getting a good result or not . Therefore, each coach is aware that one of their most important objectives is to effectively teach a set of skills necessary to succeed both individually and collectively using several strategies including: reinforcements.

Positive reinforcement improves the performances

It has been shown in numerous investigations that positive reinforcement is any consequence that increases the likelihood of subsequent response . Therefore, a prize applied after an action implies that the individual has acted correctly, thereby helping to consolidate the action or response and, consequently, to achieve an improvement in performance and performances.

This is the main objective of positive reinforcements or rewards.

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

  • The degree to which they are interpreted as rewards by those people to whom they are granted.
  • The degree to which the appearance of reinforcements is contingent on the desired action.

Having said that, it is important to know that in sports practice the reinforcements most used are social reinforcements . However, it is not conclusive, since there are players who find reinforcing a compliment in the presence of others, however, others would find this situation uncomfortable. This is why it is essential to know the preferences of each athlete to be able to administer the reinforcements in a productive way.


In summary, the management of reinforcements has a major influence on the development and performance of a professional athlete .

One of the great virtues that high performance athletes have is to manage both the reinforcements and the criticisms that may affect them. That is, to achieve an ideal balance before these external variables; taking advantage of those reinforcements that contribute something to their game and discarding those that do not. With this strategy they get the maximum performance in any circumstance.

Positive and Negative Feedback Zach & Lewis (October 2023).

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