About Applied Behavior Analysis

Applied Behavior Analysis is a field, which originated from B.F Skinner’s science of behavior theory, which derived theories from some research, which was conducted originally in the early 1900s. Behavior analysis as a popular science, occurred in the early sixties with research and theory development related to why animals and humans act the way they do. Some terms for which you might be familiar with from our field include reinforcement, punishment, and motivation.

From the science of Behavior Analysis came Applied Behavior Analysis (1987), which uses the scientific principles from behavior analysis research to solve or mitigate social problems and change socially significant behavior. Socially significant behavior is behavior that is important to the client or others, which pertain to that client’s developments in goals and success in life. The most common application of ABA has been in areas of Autism to teach clients necessary life skills such as communication, social skills, and behavior management techniques. Behavior analysts also work with a number of clients who exhibit inappropriate problem behavior that interferes significantly with their life to teach them appropriate behaviors.

Applied Behavior Analysis has also been explored successfully in the following subject areas:

  • Sports Training
  • Gerontology
  • Foster care/ parent training
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Organizational behavior management
  • Animal training
  • Environmental sustainability

For more general information about Applied Behavior Analysis we recommend visiting the following websites:




ABA as Compared to Other Psychological Sciences

  • The key difference between ABA and other psychological sciences is that Behavior Analysts focus on the contingencies of the environment, which evoke or prevent a behavior from occurring. Therefore, while a psychologist looks at the mind and thoughts as causes of behavior and seek to change this, behavior analysts look at the environmental context.
  • Behavior Analysts therefore look at ways that an athletic trainer can change his/her own coaching behavior to produce positive changes with the athletes for which they train.
  • These coaching changes have been demonstrated through data based research to enhance performance in a variety of sports areas, with a variety of individuals.

Examples of Behavior Analysis in Everyday Life

  • Television shows such as SuperNanny and My Cat from Hell
  • Corporate sponsored health care incentives to lower an consultant’s heath care expense based on exercising, eating nutritional meals, taking health education classes and prevention methods e.g. annual physicals, screening tests
  • Reinforcement based procedures for appropriate behavior (i.e.: lower insurance rates for good driving, accident forgiveness, good student discounts).
  • Punishment procedures for inappropriate behavior (speeding tickets).
  • Altering motivational properties such as decreasing response effort to evoke a desired behavior (i.e.: texting a phone number to report unruly behavior at sporting events).
  • Altering the aversive properties of a punishing stimulus (i.e.: restaurants which offer half price wine deals during long waits for a table).

How a Behavior Analyst Changes Behavior

Behavior analysts modify behavior by

  • Conducting an assessment and analyzing environmental variables, which cause a behavior.
  • Reviewing and analyzing antecedents and consequences and based on their knowledge of evidence-based interventions, will select ones which are most appropriately suited to meet their client’s needs.
  • Behavior Analysis will work with the supports in the client’s environments to train them how to implement the intervention.
  • Ongoing data collection occurs in order to observe and analyze the changes in their client from an objective standpoint.

ABA Research & Sports

Here are some areas for which ABA research has been used to enhance sports performance. Please note, this is not in any way an exhaustive list. We will continue to update this list, but these are some examples.


Smith, R., E., Smoll, F., L. (1991). Behavioral research and intervention in youth sports. Behavior Therapy, 22(3), 329-344.

Martin, G. (2007). Applied Sport Psychology: Practical Guidelines from Behavior Analysis (3rd edition).Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada: Sport Science Press.

Oxley, D. (2009). How to Take the Fun Out of Sports. Behavior Analysis Digest, 21(1), 1-2.

Siedentop, D. (1980). The Management of Practice Behavior in Sport Psychology: An Analysis of Athletic Behavior. Ithaca, NY: Mouvement Publications.

Dickinson, J. (1977). A Behavioral Analysis of Sport. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Books.

Mertler, C., S. (1974). The use of behavior modification techniques in a sport environment (Doctoral Dissertation, The Ohio State University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 35A, 7105A-7106A).

Rushall, B., S. (1975). Applied behavior analysis for sports and physical education. International Journal of Sports Psychology, 6, 75-88.

Smith, R., E., Smoll, F., L., & Hunt, E., B. (1977). A system for the behavioral assessment of athletic coaches. The Research Quarterly, 48, 401-407.


Koop, S., & Martin, G. L. (1983). Evaluation of a coaching strategy to reduce swimming stroke errors with beginning age-group swimmers. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 16, 447-460.

Mckenzie, T. L., & Rushall, B. S. (1974). Effects of self-recording on attendance and performance in a competitive swimming training environment. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7, 199-206.

Cracklen, C. & Martin, G. L. (1983). Earning Fun with Correct Techniques. Swimming Technique, 20.

Hume, K.M., & Crossman, J. (1992). Musical reinforcement of practice behaviors among competitive swimmers, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 25.

Dowrick, P.W., & Dove, C. (1980). The use of self-modeling to improve the swimming performance of spina bifida children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13, 51-56.

Rushall, B.S. and Pettinger, J. (1969). An evaluation of the effect of various reinforcers used as motivators in swimming. Research Quarterly, 40, 540-545.

Bell, K., F. (1974). Effects of self-monitoring and graded practice in interval training on performance in a competitive swimming environment. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Texas at Austin). Dissertation Abstracts International, 35, 2758A.

Rushall, B., S., & Siedentop, D. (1972). The modification of the quality and quantity of behavior categories in a swimming coach. Journal of Sports Psychology, 1, 138-150.


Osborne, K., Rudrud, E., & Zezoney, F. (1990). Improved curveball hitting through the enhancement of visual cues. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 23, 371-377.

Heward, W., L. (1978). Operant conditioning of a .300 hitter? The effects of reinforcement on the offensive efficiency of a barnstorming baseball team. Behavior Modification, 2, 25-39.


Quinn, M., Miltenberger, R., & Fogel, V. (2015). Using TAGteach to enhance proficiency in dance movements. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 48, 11-24.

Fitterling, J. M. & Ayllon, T. (1983). Behavioral coaching in classical ballet. Behavior Modification, 7.

Under Review:

Quinn, M., Miltenberger, R., Abreu, A., & James, T. An evaluation of auditory feedback for students of dance: Effects of giving and receiving feedback.

Quinn, M., Miltenberger, R., Abreu, A., & Narozanick, T. An evaluation of public posting and graphical feedback to enhance the performance of competitive dancers.


Allison, M.G., & Ayllon, T. (1980). Behavioral coaching in the development of skills in football, gymnastics, and tennis. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 13, 297-314.

Komaki, J., & Barnett F. T. (1977). A behavioral approach to coaching football: improving the play execution of the offensive backfield on a youth football team. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 10, 657-664.

Ward P., & Carnes, M. (2002). Effects of posting self-set goals on collegiate football players’ skill execution during practice and games. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 1-12.

Wyatt, J. (Ed.). (2009). If the Football Team Isn’t Good, Can Behavior Analysis Improve It? Behavior Analysis Digest, 21(1), 4.

Rock Climbing

Fleming, R., K., Horst, E., J. (2010). Behavior analysis and sports climbing. Journal of Behavioral Health and Medicine, 1(2), 143-154.

Figure Skating

Hume, K. M., Martin G. L., Gonzalez, P., Cracklen, C., & Genthon, S. (1985). A self-monitoring feedback package for improving freestyle figure skating practice behaviors, Journal of Sport Psychology, 7.


Ziegler, S., G. (1978). The effects of factual feedback and factual feedback with social reinforcement on a volleyball coach’s behavior (Doctoral dissertation, West Virginia University). Dissertation Abstracts International, 39, (3-A), 1424-1425.


Effects of public posting, goal setting, and oral feedback on the skills of female soccer players. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 35, 247-257.

Luyben, P., Hansen, R., Hardy, J., Leonard, T., & Romero, J., Behavioral athletics: Improving shooting accuracy on a college varsity women’s soccer team. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for Behavior Analysis, Dearborn, Michigan, May 1980.


Roane, H., S., Kelley, M., E., Trosclair, N., M., Hauer, L., S. (2004). Behavioral momentum in sports: A partial replication with women’s basketball. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37(3), 385-390.

Martial Arts

BenitezSantiago, A., & Miltenberger, R. (in press). Using video feedback to improve martial arts performance, Behavioral Interventions.

In Preparation:

Using Auditory Feedback to Improve the Performance of Judokas during Uchi Komi.


Fogel, V., Weil, T., M., & Burris, H. (2010). Teaching a golf swing through behavioral procedures: Evaluating the efficacy of TAGteach. Journal of Behavioral Health and Medicine, 1, 25-41.

Simek, T.C., & O’Brien, R.M. Total golf: A behavioral approach to lowering your score and getting more out of your game. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981.

Weight Lifting

Darden, E., & Madsen, C., H. (1972). Behavior modification for weightlifting room problems. College Student Journal, 6, 95-99.

In Preparation:

Mulqueen, D., Crosland, K., & Miltenberger. Using video modeling and video feedback to improve Olympic weightlifting technique.


Wack, S., Crosland, K., & Miltenberger, R. (2014). Using a goal-setting and feedback procedure to increase running distance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 47, 181-185.

Horseback Riding

Kelley, H., & Miltenberger, R. (2016). Using video feedback to improve horseback riding skills, Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis.


Buzas, H.P. & Ayllon, T. (1981). Differential Reinforcement in Coaching Tennis Skills. Behavior Modification, 5.


Boyer, E., Miltenberger, R. G., Batsche, C., & Fogel, V. (2009). Video modeling by experts with video feedback to enhance gymnastics skills. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42, 855-860.

Summary of ABA studies as applied to all different sports

Martin, G. L., Thompson, K., & Regehr, K. (2004). Studies using single-subject designs on sport psychology: 30 years of research. The Behavior Analyst, 27, 263-280.