Health - Physical Fitness
By: - at June 28, 2013

Aggression in Sports

What is Aggression?
Aggression in sports footballAggression is any form of behavior toward the goal of harming or injuring another living person who is motivated to avoid such treatment.

Hostile Aggression
Hostile aggression is any form of aggression aimed purely at hurting another individual and where the primary reinforcement is seeing pain or injury inflicted upon another person. This sort of vindictive behavior often occurs in sports such as rugby when players become frustrated with negative results and feel the need to resort to violence to resolve such a matter. Joey Barton, a notoriously aggressive football player, for example, often resorts to hostile aggression as a means of expressing his frustration.

Instrumental Aggression
Instrumental aggression, unlike hostile aggression, is not purely vindictive. It is, instead, a means to an end. This type of aggressive behavior is executed in order to reach a specific goal like victory or praise or tangible rewards such as trophies or money. This type of behavior occurs in many sports but is extremely common in the world of figure skating, especially amongst the ladies. Skaters often abuse competitors before a competition. They destroy skates or dresses or run into them during the warm up or practice session in order to intimidate or unnerve them and gain the upper hand in the hopes of winning.

Assertive Behavior
Hockey fightAssertive behavior, the final type of aggressive behavior, is, like instrumental aggression, utilized in the hopes of achieving a specific goal for the athlete. Athletes exhibiting assertive behavior use legal physical or verbal force which, beyond sport could be deemed as violent or aggressive. This type of aggression is predominantly used in contact sports such as rugby and ice hockey. Strong tackles, for example, are performed often in both sports and although they are on the brink of being considered aggression, they are, in fact, adhering to the rules of the sport. Football players in the German Bundesliga are taught to push the boundaries of aggression without violating any of the agreed structures of sport, resulting in the development of powerful, skillful and exciting way to play football that has a growing fan base around the world.

Causes for Aggression
One postulation about the cause of aggression comes in the form of the Instinct Theory. This hypothesis was formulated using Darwin’s evolutionary theory as a basis and views aggression as inherent within human beings, an instinct maintained even as humans evolved. In the struggle for survival, aggression is viewed as inevitable. Those who adhere to this theory, also espouse the idea of catharsis. The appellation, originally a Greek term used by Aristotle to denote the idea of a sort of emotional release through drama, has a similar meaning here. Instinct theorists view sports as a form of ‘cathartic release,’ a place where one can channel their aggressive urges into more socially acceptable behavior. If this theory is, in fact correct, then those athletes who exhibit hostile aggression are likely to be the only individuals that it applies to. These athletes have specific goals for which they are being aggressive and it is plausible that they are merely exhibiting their more primal instincts within the sport in the hopes of achieving a cathartic release. Players such as Joey Barton, perhaps, resort to their basic instincts of aggression which were once necessary for survival and channel it into their sports, resulting in violent behavior for seemingly petty reasons.

Frustrated figure skaterAnother theory used by some to explain the causes of aggressive behavior is the Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis. According to this theory, frustration always leads to aggression which, in turn, is always the result of frustration. Following this view, an athlete’s drive to achieve a goal will often be impeded by some sort of obstacle which then leads to frustration and again, subsequently, aggression. If this aggression is successful then the athlete will experience feelings of catharsis. If, however, it is not, the athlete will become increasingly frustrated and have a progressive need to be the aggressor. This hypothesis best explains instrumental aggression as well as assertive behavior. Both of these types of aggression are directed at achieving a certain goal and an athlete’s frustration with any obstacle could indeed be the cause of their aggression. Evgeni Plushenko, a renowned Russian figure skater, and Winter Olympic gold and sliver medalist, is an excellent example of this theory in action. During training, if other skaters get in his way, he becomes extremely frustrated and often yells or storms off the ice. In this way, this hypothesis is an extremely plausible explanation for the causes of aggressive behavior in sport.

One hypothesis stems from Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. Albert Bandura, a renowned psychologist, developed the Social Learning Theory in order to explain the behavior of individuals. According to his theory, ‘role models’ are extremely important in the development of children’s behavior or behavioral change in certain environments. Bandura postulated that children tend to mimic the behavior of their models (i.e. their parents, guardians or other leading figures in their lives) and that social reinforcement or the feedback they receive from their behavior further influences their actions. Children, or any individual who receives positive feedback from their behavior, will be in turn more likely to act in this manner again. In the same way, if negative feedback is given to an individual, it is probable that they will attempt to stop whatever behavior attracted the negative response. This theory applies equally to all three different categories of aggression within sport. In sport, athletes observe the behavior of those they admire, such as their coaches or old players, and attempt to emulate their actions which, they perceive, have led to success.





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