ABA in Health, Sport, and Fitness? YES! Now, where do I start?

ABA in Health, Sport, and Fitness? YES! Now, where do I start?

Are you a student of applied behavior analysis or maybe a certified behavior analyst looking to provide Health, Sport, and Fitness (HSF) services? You are not alone! 

One of the most common questions that the Behavior Analysis in Health, Sport, and Fitness Special Interest Group (HSF SIG) receives involves a variation of the question, “where do I start?”

Like many questions in the behavior change and academic world, our response will probably be, “it depends”. 

  • What population are you looking to serve? 
  • What are your state’s guidelines regarding different scopes of practice? 
  • How are you looking to get reimbursed for services? Do you currently qualify as a provider of those services?
  • Are you looking to join another company or start your own practice? 
  • Can you define the specific area of Health, Sport, and Fitness that you want to support? 
  • Are there additional degrees, certifications, or supervised hours that are either required or best practice? 
  • How much time and/or financial resources do you devote to continuing your education in this area?
  • Have you identified someone or an organization that can support you, provide learning opportunities, and/or builds your competency in this new area?
  • Which certification are you leading with? Have you reviewed the ethical standards associated with each of the certifications?

Until you have properly identified and trained for providing specific HSF services to a specific population, you should not be practicing independently. 

Many practitioners in this space have been in the position where you might find yourself now. You are fascinated by the science of functional behavior change and can see the need for bringing that science into the health, sport, and fitness realm. That’s fantastic! But please take note of your potential blind spots. 

  • Is it really as simple as setting up a simple behavioral contingency to change a lifetime of eating habits? 
  • Is my recommended fitness behavior plan achievable for my client’s time and/or other priorities? 
  • Can I refer to the evidence-based practices (research, client values, and practitioner expertise) when recommending sport-specific training? 
  • How are other related fields approaching this behavior change? Do they have any words of caution against implementing specific procedures with a certain population? 

In short, context and the three pillars of evidence-based practice matter!

This information is not intended to dissuade you from following this path. Far from it! The field (and the world) need behavior-analytic approaches to challenges in the health, sport, and fitness world. If anything, the last few years have exasperated that need. 

What this information intends to do is to make sure that the behavior analytic field is producing QUALITY providers who feel confident in their practice and their ability to make meaningful changes with their clients.

So again, where do you start? Look for the trailblazers, required education, and ethical guidelines to keep you in your proverbial (and legal) lane! 

First, check out the Resources page on the HSF SIG website. (Better yet, become a member!) If you’re on social media, the HSF SIG’s Facebook Group is active and has a treasure trove of resources, articles, practitioner networks, and continuing education opportunities. 

For other resources, the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) lists subspeciality resources and Recommendations for Respecializing in a New ABA Practice Area. For those looking to start with a few good articles, check out this publication about practice and ethical considerations or this article on behavior analysis and health coaching. Relevant resources related to Acceptance and Commitment Training (ACT) and Health, Sport, and Human Performance can be found on the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science website.

While it is outside the scope of this article to specifically endorse any individuals or groups, we can remind you to review the questions above to see that potential supervisors or continuing education instructors have the type of background that qualifies them to be teaching you about this new application of behavior analysis. 

One last recommendation would be to get comfortable looking at journals and articles outside of what is provided through your BACB certification. While the expanded database is commendable, you will come across relevant research that practitioners not actively involved in university databases will not have free access to. Reach out to the authors and look for training in research methods found in other disciplines so that you can better understand the data.

This is an exciting time to be furthering the discipline of behavior analysis! Your fellow practitioners and future clients look forward to your contribution. Good luck!

DISCLAIMER: The Behavior Analysis in Health, Sport, and Fitness Special Interest Group (HSF SIG) does not sponsor, approve, or endorse Lauren Kline, her personal views or opinions, the information, materials, or advice identified herein. 

Interested in contributing to the HSF SIG by being a guest blog author? Have an interesting idea for another blog post? Reach out to the Communications Manager at communications@hsfsig.org

Do you have a favorite resource to share with those new to the behavior analytic HSF field? Please share below! 

Lauren C. Kline (she/her) is the current Communications Manager of the Health, Sport, and Fitness Special Interest Group. She works with the early learner autistic population full-time. She owns her own business, Zeta Wellness LLC, where she works with predominantly female teens and adults looking to make healthy behavior changes in nutrition and systems of health. Lauren is a licensed Board Certified Behavior Analyst in Arizona and Texas and a certified nutritionist through Precision Nutrition. If you are reading this post during any weekend of the 2022 Men’s World Cup, there is a 99% chance that Lauren will be watching at least three matches that day.

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