A Guide on Athletes Aggression in Sport

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رحاب حسن الحسيني
1/15/2012 8:48:20 PM

The relationship between sport and aggression has been studied extensively for decades, yet investigators still have only an incomplete understanding of the link between the two. That there is a link seems certain, and researchers in various disciplines continue trying to refine their understanding of it in ways that will illuminate both sport and society. In the first half of the 20th century,many psychologists assumed that participation in sports might allow individuals to vent their aggressive tendencies. Generally, these assumptions arose from the view that aggression is an internal drive based on frustration and/or instinct.

However, more recent research shows the opposite-participation in sports is likely to increase an individual s aggression. Sport psychologists distinguish between hostile and instrumental aggression. The primary purpose of hostile aggression is to inflict physical or psychological injury on another; the main aim of instrumental aggression is to attain an approved goal, such as winning a game. These two forms of aggression can be distinguished clearly in most sport situations, although not necessarily in extreme contact sports such as boxing and ice hockey. Recent research suggests that instrumental aggression in sport may spill over into hostile aggression outside of sport, for example, male athletes involved in sexual assault against women.

History Historically,some argued that sport developed as a constraint on aggression, or at least as a means to channel aggression into culturally acceptable forms. Others have contended that sports do not necessarily increase aggression, but rather reflect and enhance the dominant values and attitudes of the broader culture. Yet another school of thought has proposed that sport creates a separate moral sphere, distinct from the real world, in which the goal of winning is more important than the rules of the game. Others consider that when athletes are overly aggressive; they are overconforming to what they see as acceptable within the sport.

Display of machismo, playing with pain, or intentionally injuring an opponent may be "grounded in athletes uncritical acceptance of and commitment to what they have been told by important people in their lives ever since they began participating in competitive programs.Where winning is valued above all else, athletes may use aggression to show their total commitment to sport or to winning in sport.

Aggression and the Individual Individuals who participate in sports seem to exhibit higher levels of aggression than those who do not. However, this may be because sports attract people who are naturally more aggressive than nonathletes. Some sports are more likely to be associated with violence and inappropriate aggression. When provoked, for example, participants in contact sports reveal much higher levels of aggression than those in noncontact sports.Research also shows that aggression may give players an edge when used early in a contest, or they may show aggression if they fail in the sport. Other factors also influence aggression during sports events. For example, the presence of officials in organized sports increases the number of fouls since the athletes assume it is the referees job to control inappropriate aggression.

Studies of martial arts suggest that sport participation does not necessarily promote aggression. For example, one study showed that among 13-to-17-yearold delinquents, the group that was taught the philosophical elements of Tae Kwon Do-respect for others, maintaining a sense of responsibility, for example-along with the physical component lowered their aggression levels, compared to those who were not taught the philosophy or engaged in activities other than Tae Kwon Do.

Aggression and the Group Some scholars have argued that games are models of culturally relevant activities and provide the greatest opportunity to practice and to learn these activities. American football is an unmistakable model of warfare, for example, with its "men in the trenches" (offensive and defensive linemen), "field generals" (quarterbacks), efforts by teams to move the ball into "enemy territory" and, ultimately, scoring by "invading" the opponent s end zone. Cross-cultural studies too show a positive association between the existence of combative sports and the prevalence of warfare in particular cultures.Not all sports fit this model, though. Baseball, in contrast, cannot be so directly linked with any single culturally relevant activity, although running, clubbing, and missile throwing were all important activities in human evolutionary history.

Aggression is appropriate, even essential for success in war, but what happens to individuals with heightened levels of aggression in peacetime or when there is no active war in which to channel their aggression? Recently, this question-still controversial-has been raised about violence toward women. Several studies indicate that athletes are disproportionately represented among rapists and others who abuse women physically. Other investigators suggest that sports contribute to male dominance by linking maleness with acceptable aggression while belittling women and their activities. Some researchers believe that athletes are unfairly stereotyped because they are more visible and are typically held to higher standards.

Aggression and Fan Violence Violence by sport spectators or fans has become an issue of considerable concern. Soccer (association football) hooliganism in Great Britain has received much attention as have violent confrontations between European soccer fans. What is it about sports that excites spectators to violent aggression? One theory is that it directly results from observing athletes aggression; another links it to fans desire to establish their own social identity; a third proposes that spectator violence is a kind of ritual. Drugs, especially alcohol, are another common element in spectator aggression.During the 1995 U.S.National Football League season, a national audience was treated to a game-long spectacle of fans throwing snowballs and ice at players, coaches, and officials on the field, as well as at each other, during a game between the New York Giants and the San Diego Chargers. Alcoholic beverages were subsequently banned from Giants Stadium for the next home game to be played there. Drugs have also been implicated in aggressiveness by players. In particular, steroids, usually taken surreptitiously by athletes, appear to heighten aggressiveness.

Aggression, Sport, and Mass Media Instant replays have brought an interesting but chilling phenomenon in modern sport spectatorship. Scoring plays or other exciting or exceptional plays are commonly replayed. But also commonly replayed are tactics that involve exceptional aggressiveness, such as a "good hit" or a particularly devastating down-field block in American football. This replaying occurs even when the violent moves have little apparent effect on the outcome of the game or the particular play.Aggressive acts that lead to actual violence-fights among players-are frequently replayed or rebroadcast on sports shows. Spectators seem to enjoy exhibitions of aggression and even violence, while players in many sports believe that aggressive play is instrumental in winning.

Precisely how sports and aggression are linked is unclear, but that they are linked seems certain. Sports may be one way to teach young people how and when to use violent forms of aggressive behavior.Young athletes observe the behavior of role models and learn from interactions with coaches, parents, and others. This may well have long-lasting consequences for individuals and for society. Can there be sport without increased aggression? Studies suggest that sport could be reformed so that it would not necessarily lead to increases in aggression. Spectators and players both would experience sport in a different way. Nevertheless, it seems likely that sport could be enjoyed without the promotion of inappropriate aggression.

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