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Aggression in Sports. What is the Role of Aggression in Sports?. Intimidation? Getting an edge? Part of the game / part of competition? At what point does it become “too aggressive?”. Definitions. AGGRESSION: a forceful action or procedure, especially when intended to dominate or master

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What is the Role of Aggression in Sports?

  • Intimidation?
  • Getting an edge?
  • Part of the game / part of competition?
  • At what point does it become “too aggressive?”



a forceful action or procedure, especially when intended to dominate or master

Etymology: from aggredi -- “to attack”

Must be aimed at another human being with the goal of inflicting physical or psychological harm


Hostile aggression, instrumental aggression or sport assertiveness...

How to determine...

It is clear that it depends on the intent of the action...

instinct theory
Instinct Theory
  • Aggression viewed as an inborn drive
    • Freudian theory
    • Ethological viewpoint: Animals, including humans, are innately aggressive
      • Konrad Lorenz (1966) -- “The main function of sports lies in the cathartic discharge of aggressive urge.”
    • Catharsis -- sports seen as a socially acceptable way to discharge aggression
is athletic participation cathartic
Is athletic participation “cathartic?”

Does hitting someone hard release “pent-up” aggressive urges?

  • Research generally does NOT support the catharsis theory
    • aggression increases over the course of a game
    • watching violence is not cathartic (e.g., t.v. violence)
    • aggression begets aggression
frustration aggression theory
Frustration-Aggression Theory
  • Aggression viewed as a response to frustration
    • A variation of the catharsis theory
    • Frustration can lead to a variety of responses (e.g., aggression, increased effort, quitting)
    • Anger + Stress physiology (positive feedback loop)
social learning theory
Social Learning Theory
  • Aggression viewed as a learned behavior
    • Modeling in sports (e.g., young athletes watching aggressive play)
    • Strong learning occurs when aggressive play is seen as successful and portrayed as justifiable
    • Aggressive play is reinforced (receiving praise from coaches, parents, peers)
sport specific factors
Sport-Specific factors
  • Aggression influenced by:
    • Reciprocity (we respond to being “attacked”)
    • Rivalries (“territorial?”) and “Protection” of teammates
    • Drug use (e.g., steroids, alcohol)
    • Sports equipment as “weapon” (e.g., hockey stick, helmets)
    • Athletic environment (e.g., a crowded, noisy, hot gym; obnoxious fans)
      • Study of hit batters and temperature
sport specific factors15
Sport-Specific factors
  • Aggression influenced by:
    • Taunting
    • Nature of the game (contact)
    • Inconsistent officiating (leading to frustration)
    • Media effects
      • Does the sports media glorify / exaggerate violence?
      • What do fans want to see? (e.g., ESPN highlights)
reducing excessive aggression and violence
Reducing Excessive Aggression and Violence
  • Punishments for overly aggressive/violent play must have greater punitive value
  • Emphasize fair play code-of-conduct
  • Athletes/coaches should agree on what is ok and what is not -- heavy penalties should be imposed when inappropriate behavior occurs
  • Media must place in proper perspective the isolated incidents of aggression rather than making them highlights
reducing aggression and violence in sports
Reducing Aggression and Violence in Sports
  • Coaches and referees should be encouraged to attend in-service workshops for dealing with aggression/violence on the part of players
  • Reduce (ban?) use of alcoholic beverages at sporting events