[Extracted from Rushall, B. S., & Siedentop, D. (1972). The development and control of behavior in sport and physical education. Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger. (pp. 148-152)]

This model applies to circumstances where the behavior exists in some form but needs to be modified in order to improve performance. It differs from the previous model in the planning stages and in the singular approach to changing one feature of the skill at a time. The model is:

  1. Recognize the features of the established movement pattern which need to be replaced. These should be listed.
  2. Determine and list the replacement patterns.
  3. Determine one or more significant reinforcers.
  4. Determine the steps for shaping. Since the individual will already perform a "comfortable" technique, these steps must be gradually introduced.
  5. Develop a program for changing one feature at a time so that this skill is systematically rebuilt.
  6. Determine methods for administering contingent reinforcement.
  7. Determine step reinforcement schedules.
  8. Determine terminal behavior reinforcement schedules.
  9. Let the individual know what is being done incorrectly in the skill. Motivate the performer to avoid the feature in question as the program is followed.
  10. Prime each feature as planned.
  11. Reinforce each step.
  12. Apply the terminal schedule.
  13. Appraise the skill and re-institute schedules or program sequences where necessary.
  14. Perform the activity in the actual or simulated environment.

An example of applying this model is discussed below.

Rushall (1970) illustrated the procedure for shaping a swimming technique. One of the principal concerns of coaching advanced swimmers is to individualize the mechanical principles which govern the techniques of swimming and to teach the swimmer to perform in a particular set pattern. The example cited related the steps concerned with changing a set form of a national AAU finalist in the 100-yard butterfly event to a markedly different pattern of movement.

Several decisions and procedures had to be formulated in order to maximize the efficiency of the coaching-teaching process. They were:

  1. Recognize the established pattern segments which were detracting from the stroke efficiency.
  2. Determine the patterns which should replace the inefficient segments so as to increase the efficiency of the stroke.
  3. Determine a significant reinforcer.
  4. Determine an increasingly more difficult set of criteria to shape the response.
  5. Apply a systematic schedule of reinforcement to develop the behavior to a consistent, high level of performance.

Inefficient Patterns. A list of the inefficiencies in the swimmer's movement pattern for swimming butterfly stroke was compiled. The inefficiencies were:

  1. The hands were too close together on the entry.
  2. A failure to push through at the end of the stroke.
  3. A failure to pronate the forearm and elbow at the start of the arm pull.
  4. The breathing action was too late in the recovery phase of the stroke.
  5. Both shoulders and hips undulated too much in the action.
  6. The kick dominance restricted the rate of the arm action.
  7. The arm recovery was too high.

This list clearly defined the segments of the total movement pattern which needed to be eliminated. It was not necessary to punish these behaviors to eliminate them because the technique was being changed. The new aspects of the technique were superimposed on those which already existed. This is usually the case when coaching sport skills. The procedures for suppressing or eliminating behaviors are relatively unimportant in shaping procedures. It was also necessary to explain the reasons for these segments being inefficient. The swimmer could then make attempts to avoid the inappropriate segments.

Efficient Patterns. The changes in technique that were deemed desirable were established.

  1. The hand entry was to be no less than shoulder width apart.
  2. A longer push back was needed.
  3. The arms were to be stretched forward for a wide hand entry.
  4. The forearms and elbows were to be pronated on contact with the water.
  5. The hips and shoulders were to be stabilized.
  6. A low, flat arm recovery with pronated hands was needed.
  7. The breathing action was to occur at the end of the effort phase of the stroke.

It was decided to superimpose the above features in the order listed. In doing this, the basic assumption was made that swimming techniques are unified patterns of behavior. This required that the total chained-operant was to be executed while attempting to change a segment of that total response.

A Significant Reinforcer. Once an athlete has achieved a certain degree of performance and motivation in a sport, it is often unnecessary to discover extrinsic reinforcers that are significant to the individual. Individuals are motivated to do the correct technique because of the consequential better performance that is derived and, therefore, knowledge of progress is able to reinforce behavior. Competitive success has usually become a strong secondary positive reinforcer. This is what allows knowledge of progress (improvement) to serve as a reinforcer. The use of contrived or material reinforcers could be necessary with very young performers, for tasks which require work-output, or for activities which have the threat of bodily harm. One of the most significant reinforcers for shaping techniques is knowledge of results (KR). KR needs to be continuous and complete to optimize skill acquisition. Changing the swimming mechanics of a single performer allowed these criteria to be met. A simple, adequate system for providing contingent KR was devised using a flashlight. It was established that when the light was not glowing, the new aspects of the technique were being correctly executed. Since the stroke was butterfly, it was possible to stand at the end of the pool and direct the light beam at the swimmer. KR was therefore available during the breathing phase of each stroke. No more than three continuous errors were tolerated in practice to avoid repetitious practice of an incorrect action.

Criteria. It was desirable to plan a system of changes from bad to good and to reinforce each of these changes with each of the new technique points. It is highly unlikely that an individual will be able to perform the new behavior perfectly on the first trial. Old movement patterns are extremely dominant and difficult to eliminate. If the steps of change are too large, then the established "good" feeling of the old pattern is upset. The new aspects might then acquire noxious qualities. The athlete feels so uncomfortable in doing new actions that the learning process is inhibited because the degree of discomfort serves as an aversive consequence. The consequences of a change in technique need to be mild so that they do not appear to be uncomfortable to the athlete. In this example, the hand entry was accordingly graded in width from 10 inches to 20 inches in approximately 2-inch increments and reinforced until performed correctly. Other new features were graded in a similar manner so that they could be introduced without discomforting the swimmer.

Schedule of Reinforcement. Once the behavior is attempted according to the strictest criterion (the terminal behavior is emitted), a schedule or reinforcement needs to be instituted to firmly establish the behavior. Continuous reinforcement in the initial trials and then a change to a VR/VI schedule were followed. After the first period of change, revisions and reappraisals of the new movement were made. In several instances, the "old" patterns recurred. Sessions of "booster" instruction were needed to finally establish the new patterns. Knowledge of results was used as the reinforcer throughout the whole shaping process.

A final aspect of shaping techniques for experienced athletes Should be considered. When an activity is performed under conditions of stress, behavior patterns tend to revert to the more established patterns. If an athlete is exhibiting a new technique at an easy level of performance, it is quite possible that the performer will revert to the old habit pattern under conditions of stress or fatigue. In such circumstances, it is necessary to give reinforcement under conditions of stress so that the behaviors will become dominant in those conditions.


Rushall, B. S. (1970). Some applications of psychology to swimming. Swimming Technique, 7, 71-82.

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