Behavioral Modification Tips for the Instructor and Coach


If you are a coach, teacher, or trainer, you might consider the following. As you know, the goal of any coach, teacher, or trainer is to help our students set goals, acquire the necessary information related to those goals, and then modify the behaviors necessary to achieve those goals. However, the most challenging part seems to be fostering motivation to engage in any of that. But what if I told you that some of that is our fault?

Let me use something serious, such as firearms training, as an example. As you may or may not know, many firearm owners do not receive the appropriate training, and some who start training fail to complete their training for several reasons. However, I would imagine that fear, or perhaps a lack of trust, are likely culprits. No doubt, other situations of failure are going to echo such reasons. So, let us explore how we could turn this situation around.

What follows is an easy-to-follow coaching style and approach that will have your students trusting you, trusting themselves, and becoming hungry for more. It emphasizes behavior modification of the student’s performance through a specific coaching process. For this exercise and demonstration, I will continue with the firearms analogy, and we will use a simple pistol and stance coaching session as an example of a training session.

Each session boils down to just a few things. Regardless of what is being worked on, the coach will want to define exactly what is being done during the training session, clearly define the expected outcomes of the training session, and clearly define a solid definition of what is being sought (success or ultimate goal). From there, the coach must provide the appropriate feedback, necessary contrast, and tracking and help the student see what the coach sees. For example…

Day One Training Session

Activity or Target Skill – (What is being done)

Appropriate stance for firing a pistol.

Definition of Specific Target Behaviors – (What is being sought)

Simulate a fighting boxer stance with knees slightly bent and place more of your weight on your toes. Lean forward into the position in a nose-over-toes stance. Feet placement should have the non-shooting foot forward 8 to 10 inches from the other foot with your toes pointing toward the target. The shooting side foot should be canted roughly 45 degrees out. With a two-hand hold on the firearm, the firing arm should be broken but almost fully extended, and the non-firing arm should be bent slightly downward with the elbow at a 45-degree angle.

Expected Outcomes or Improvements During the Session – (What success looks like)

Improved shot and recoil control as well as a better foundation in which to improve trigger control and follow-through.

How to Do It

Recording the Behaviors

The coach should start with before correction photographs or videos. This will be followed up by during shoot photographs or videos.

Providing Meaningful Feedback

The coach should initially provide knowledge of performance but lean heavily on providing knowledge of results thereafter. Improved performance will be evident and should increase intrinsic motivation for further improvement. This will (or should) be supported by social reinforcement by the coach.

NOTE: The links provided will cover the terms used if you are unfamiliar.

Behavioral Modification & Individualized Plan

Indeed, there are plenty of approaches, examples, ideas, and insights regarding motivation and behavior modification regarding firearms training (or almost any other activity). However, from a coaching perspective that aims to build trust and engagement, one must remember that many behavior modification efforts (personal or otherwise) fail due to a lack of understanding of how behavior modification works. With that being said, I would like to offer a simple approach that is highly effective in a one-on-one setting. This technique uses a combination of behavior modification and cognitive behavior therapy.

First, have your student examine a practice checklist (that you make) of the individual things that need to be worked on during that practice session. Then, have the student imagine what achievement (success) looks like before the practice session begins. Give plenty of time for this part. The student must mentally see what success looks like to achieve it physically.

You can help paint that picture if necessary but try to allow the student to determine what success looks like for that day and allow them time to articulate what they see. Keep the expectation reasonable and ensure that the goal is an improvement, not necessarily perfection. Remember, those small improvements are still improvements and worthy of celebration. Celebrating those small victories keeps the student engaged and eager to meet the challenge.

During the session, the coach’s emphasis should be on targeted feedback – focused heavily on goals, rehearsal, prompts, cues, monitoring, and the appropriate reinforcement. Once the training session is completed, you and your student should review the performance together and critically reflect upon the practice session. In other words, what was learned and improved, what areas need more focus, and so on?

Rinse and repeat. You will take the notes provided during the practice session and develop the following session’s plan. Follow the process again and again.

This is an excellent example of an individualized plan that works well in a one-on-one coaching setting. Now, take a moment to think about what a presentation might look like from your student’s perspective. Would you look like a pro if you approached each coaching session in such a structured way?

I hope it helps you to improve your coaching technique. Even using only part of these recommendations will up your coaching game immensely. Ultimately, and arguably the best part, is that not only will you see improvement in your student’s performance, but you will also likely see an increase in referrals (due to the establishment of both trust and continued success).

NOTE: Remember that this technique can be used in almost any one-on-one coaching session where physical improvements are necessary.

Check out my article titled “Situational Awareness – Tips to Help Maximize Safety.