ERIC Identifier: ED316547
Publication Date: 1989-00-00
Author: Abdal-Haqq, Ismat
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education Washington DC.
Violence in Sports. ERIC Digest 1-89.
Sports violence can be defined as behavior which causes harm, occurs outside
of the rules of the sport, and is unrelated to the competitive objectives of the
sport (Terry and Jackson, p.2). Leonard (p. 165) identifies two forms of
aggression in sports. Instrumental aggression is non-emotional and
task-oriented. Reactive aggression has an underlying emotional component, with
harm as its goal. Violence is an outcome of reactive aggression.
An increase in both frequency and seriousness of acts of violence has been
well documented. Violence is most prevalent in team contact sports, such as ice
hockey, football, and rugby. While most occurrences of violence emanate from
players, others, including coaches, parents, fans, and the media, also
contribute to what has been described as an epidemic of violence in sports today
(Leonard, p. 166).
Considerable research has been done on spectator violence. A central issue is
whether fans incite player violence or reflect it (Debenedotte, p. 207). The
evidence is inconclusive. Spectators do take cues from players, coaches,
cheerleaders, and one another. Spectators often derive a sense of social
identity and self-esteem from a team. Emulation of favorite players is an
element of this identification. Group solidarity with players and coaches leads
to a view of opposing teams as enemies and fosters hostility towards the
"outgroup" and, by extension, its supporters, geographical locale, ethnic group,
and perceived social class (Lee, p. 45).
Mass media also contribute to the acceptability of sports. Leonard (p. 166)
maintains that the media occupies a paradoxical position. On the one hand it
affords ample exposure to sports-related violence via television, magazines,
newspapers, and radio, thus providing numerous examples to children who may
imitate such behavior. It glamorizes players, often the most controversial and
aggressive ones. Its commentary is laced with descriptions suggestive of combat,
linking excitement to violent action. On the other hand, the exposure given to
sports violence by the media has stimulated increased efforts to control and
prevent such behavior.
THEORETICAL EXPLANATIONS OF SPORTS VIOLENCE
There are three
major theories that seek to explain violent aggression in sports (Terry and
Jackson, p. 27; Leonard, pp. 170-71). The biological theory, proposed most
notably by Nobel prize winner Konrad Lorenz, sees aggression as a basic,
inherent human characteristic. Within this context, sports is seen as a socially
acceptable way to discharge built-up aggression, a safety valve.
The psychological theory states that aggression is caused by frustration; it
is situational. Frustration results when one's efforts to reach a particular
goal are blocked (Leonard, p. 170). In sports, frustration can be caused by
questionable calls by officials, failure to make a particular play, injuries
that interfere with optimum performance, heckling from spectators, or taunts by
coaches or players.
The social learning theory has received the most empirical verification
(Leonard, p. 171) and maintains that aggressive behavior is learned through
modeling and reinforced by rewards and punishments. Young athletes take sports
heroes as role models and imitate their behavior. Parents, coaches and teammates
are also models who may demonstrate support for an aggressive style of play.
According to Terry and Jackson (p. 30), reinforcement for acts of violence
may come from three sources: (a) the athlete's immediate reference
group--coaches, teammates, family, friends; (b) structure of the game and
implementation of rules by officials and governing bodies; (c) attitudes of
fans, media, courts, and society. Reinforcement may take the form of rewards,
such as praise, trophies, starting position, respect of friends and family.
Vicarious reinforcement may be derived from seeing professional players lionized
and paid huge salaries, in spite of, or because of, their aggressive style of
play (Leonard, p. 171). Players who don't display the desired degree of
aggressiveness may receive negative reinforcement through criticism from parents
and coaches, lack of playing time, harassment by teammates, opponents, or
These theories provide a basis for interventions that may curb excessive
aggression, especially among young athletes. Terry and Jackson (p. 35) suggest
that socialization forces, particularly reinforcement, offer the best focus for
intervention. In addition, psychological forces can be addressed by modifying or
controlling situations that produce frustration.
CHILDREN'S INVOLVEMENT IN SPORTS
participation in team sports should be fun, contribute to their physical
development and well-being, help to develop social skills, and promote a desire
for continued involvement with physical activity. The objective of physical
education in schools should be to encourage development of appropriate exercise
habits, with emphasis on the recreational aspects of physical activities
(Roskosz, p. 7).
Unfortunately, compelling evidence suggests that, for many children, the
pressures associated with sports produce low self-esteem, excessive anxiety, and
aggressive behavior. Children may eventually experience "sports burnout" and
develop a lifelong avoidance of physical activity (Hellstedt, p. 60, 62).
In Hellstedt's opinion (p. 62), these negative outcomes of sports involvement
are caused by adults, particularly parents and coaches. Lip-service is paid to
sportsmanship and having fun, but rewards are reserved for winning. Often,
encouragement to pursue victory is accompanied by direct and indirect signals
that aggressive behavior is acceptable to achieve it. Hellstedt also suggests
that anxiety about winning impedes performance and makes players more
susceptible to injury. Physicians have noticed an increase in sports-related
injuries in children (Hellstedt, p. 59).
WHAT CAN COACHES AND PHYSICAL EDUCATORS DO TO CURB VIOLENCE IN
Physical educators and coaches are in a key position to lay the
groundwork for positive attitudes in sports. Guidelines for teaching children to
shun violent behavior in sports include:
(a) Put sports in perspective. Coaches should not emphasize winning at all
cost. Enjoyment and the development of individual skills should be the
objective. Coaches should be alert to and praise improvement. Athletic
performance should not be equated with personal worth (Coakley, p. 106). Players
should not be encouraged or allowed to play when injured or ill, as a
demonstration of stoic virtue.
(b) Stress participation. Hellstedt (p.70) cites studies which show that many
children 9-14 drop out of sports because they spend too much time on the bench
and not enough on the field. They perceive themselves as unsuccessful because
their level of performance doesn't earn them more playing time. A study of young
male athletes indicated that 90% would rather have an opportunity to play on a
losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team.
(c) Present positive role models. Sports violence is most prevalent in
professional sports. Coaches should avoid symbolic associations with
professional teams--e.g. names, logos. They should not model their own coaching
techniques on those of professional coaches (Coakley, pp. 107-8). Weiser and
Love (p. 5) recommend that school coaches implement strategies to foster
feelings of team ownership among players, replacing the traditional
hierarchy--authoritarian coach, submissive players--that governs the
coach-player relationship in professional sports. Encourage input, permit
participation in decision-making, and listen to player feedback. Feelings of
team ownership foster team cohesiveness, which in turn leads to better
(d) Integrate values-oriented intervention strategies into the curriculum.
Waldzilak cites a number of intervention strategies, utilizing Kohlberg's moral
development model and social learning theories, which have been shown to produce
improvement or modification of behavior, moral reasoning and perceptions of
sportsmanship (Wandzilak et al., p. 14). Teachers and coaches should commit
themselves to actively teaching positive sports-related values, and devise
curricula that do so.
(e) Involve parents. As the earliest and potentially the most influential
role models, parents can have a critical impact on a child's attitudes towards
sports. Physical educators and coaches should inform parents of curricular
activities and goals, alert them to signs of anxiety or aggressive behavior,
encourage positive attitudes toward competition and physical activity, and
promote realistic expectations for performance (Hellstedt, pp. 69-70).
Those references identified with an EJ number
have been abstracted and are in the ERIC data base. Journal articles should be
available at most research libraries. For a list of ERIC collections in your
area or for information on submitting documents to ERIC, contact the ERIC
Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, One Dupont Circle, NW, Suite 610,
Washington, DC 20036, (202) 293-2450. (References identified with an asterisk
had not been assigned EJ numbers at the time of publication of this digest.)
Coakley, Jay J. (1982) Sport in Society, Issues and Controversies (Second
Edition). St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Company.
Debendotte, Valerie. (1988, March) Spectator Violence at Sports Events: What
Keeps Enthusiastic Fans in Bounds? The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4)
203-11. EJ 372 800.
Hellstedt, Jon C. (1988, April) Kids, Parents and Sport: Some Questions and
Answers. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4) 59-71. EJ 376 620.
Lee, Martin J. (1985) From Rivalry to Hostility Among Sports Fans. Quest, 37
Leonard, Wilbert Marcellus. (1988) A Sociological Perspective of Sport (Third
Edition). New York, Macmillan Publishing Company.
Roskosz, Francis M. (1988, Late Winter) The Paradoxes of Play. The Physical
Educator, 45 (1) 5-13. EJ 371 284.
Terry, Peter C. and Jackson, John J. (1985) The Determinants and Control of
Violence in Sport. Quest, 37 (1) 27-37.
Wandzilak, Thomas (1985). Values Development Through Physical Education and
Athletics. Quest, 37 (2) 176-85.
Wandzilak, Thomas, et al. (1988, October). Values Development Through
Physical Activity: Promoting Sportsmanlike Behaviors. Perceptions and Moral
Reasoning. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 8 (1) 13-21.*
Weiser, Kathy and Love, Phyllis (1988, September-October). Who Owns Your
Team? Strategies, 2 (1) 5-8.