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An introduction to the issue of violence in sports and aggressive behaviours in people

While these respective articles have presented dissenting views on the nature and prevention of aggression and violence in sport, the present paper proposes that much of the apparent disagreement is semantic in nature. Thus, this paper begins by clarifying some definitional issues before specifying both areas of agreement and continued dissention among recent authors. Major emphases in this paper include the importance of adopting preventative rather than reactive measures to reduce the dangers associated with aggression and violence in sport, as well as the manner in which adult sport norms affect youth sport environments.

In addition, several broader issues, which have emerged from these recent published debates, are presented for future consideration.

The present paper, however, proposes that there is also a good deal of agreement, which has been masked largely by semantic differences, among the authors on both sides of these recent debates. The purposes of this article are: Before addressing these aims, however, a few comments regarding possible misrepresentations and misinterpretations of recent published arguments are warranted, as is a brief discussion of definitional and semantic issues. The latter authors had also implied that Kerr 1999 had fashioned unfair and somewhat careless criticisms of the original PS Tenenbaum et al.

One consequence of airing a debate in a public forum such as the one provided by The Sport Psychologist is that any arguments put forward are subject to the personal opinions and reactions of the audience. Thus, the author carries the burden of crafting a clear argument, yet yields the right of interpreting the published ideas to the reader. The preceding discussion notwithstanding, there is one purported misinterpretation identified by Kerr 2002 that we would like to clarify.

Towards the closing of their reply, Tenenbaum et al. The point that Tenenbaum et al. If one recognizes the operational definition of aggression provided by the PS i. Such an action would be considered assertive, as the term is used by Tenenbaum et al. Readers will note that one need not endorse an operational definition in order to recognize the manner in which a term is used.

Kerr 2002 questions whether viewers would describe the type of intense physical contact exhibited in the Super Bowl of American football as assertive rather than aggressive actions. In the context of discussing such behaviors as a sports fan, Kerr may be correct.

Nevertheless, we remain confident that readers of The Sport Psychologist will consider arguments presented in its articles in light of the definitions provided and supported by the authors. We do believe, however, that the foregoing discussion regarding definitional issues has highlighted a topic worthy of further consideration thus, it is addressed specifically in a later section of this paper. Namely, when a similar term is ascribed an introduction to the issue of violence in sports and aggressive behaviours in people meanings by sport psychologists than by spectators, players, and coaches, potential problems exist.

A laudable goal would be to arrive at an agreement on terms that capture both what Tenenbaum et al. We agree with this statement, yet we also hold that if these definitional issues could be resolved, we might find that much though perhaps not all of the opposing arguments presented in past publications have been more a reflection of an introduction to the issue of violence in sports and aggressive behaviours in people in semantics, rather than in actual viewpoints.

Foul play, Kerr explains, is not sanctioned by the rules and is not justified. We agree that in a variety of contact sports, including both individual and team events, the distinction between what Brink has called fair play and foul play is often difficult to discern. In fact, these popular phrases capture the distinction between assertive and aggressive acts, as the terms were employed in the original PS, based upon their usage in the scientific literature.

In contrast, we agree that intense, physical contact — whether termed fair play, assertiveness, or sanctioned aggression — is an integral part of many sports. We further believe that steps should be taken to allow athletes to engage and, indeed, to revel in such behaviors without concern that others in the sport environment will react with intent to harm.

As Tenenbaum et al. This is the rationale that leads us to support the spirit of the PS recommendations. Realizing that there is a fine line between acceptable and unacceptable acts in contact sports, we support strict enforcement of the rules in order to protect those who play hard while deterring participants from crossing that line. Of course, judging where that line falls is a difficult task: Their role in minimizing aggressive behaviors is discussed in a later section.

It is our interpretation that while Kerr objects to using the term aggression to characterize such actions in sport contexts, he does not support behaviors performed with the intent to harm. Given his extensive experience playing and coaching rugby union, Kerr 2002 may, in fact, be in a position to predict how this particular community of coaches, players, and administrators would react to any set of recommendations. According to Kerr 19992002 the culture of Rugby Union in Australia eventually changed as a result of declining audiences, who were frustrated with the aggression, violence, and foul play in the sport.

Unfortunately, despite recommendations to enact proactive changes, for the culture of some sports to change, tragedy must occur. Two examples will illustrate this point. The first concerns amateur wrestlers and their long-held practice of rapid weight loss through severe dehydration and other potentially harmful methods. Department of Health and Human Services, 1998.

I believe a version of our NCAA rules will eventually be used in every state for high school wrestling too. Horpel, personal communication, August 8, 2002.

Though safety specialists had been recommending the mandatory use of this system for some time, and though other deaths had occurred which might possibly have been prevented, it took the death of a high profile athlete to effect serious change to require all participants to protect themselves, despite their willingness not to reduce the risks inherent in their sport. In short, while we agree with Kerr 2002 that the PS, in its present form, may be ignored by some of the very groups at which it is aimed, this, in itself, is not an indictment of the recommendations.

Perhaps the culture of some team contact sports will not take steps to curtail aggression, as it has been defined in the PS, until such behaviors cause a serious enough tragedy to occur. Perhaps if the much-publicized aggressive act committed by professional hockey player Marty McSorley see Kerr, 2002pp.

In the Rainey and Hardy study, 5. Having restated these findings, we will leave it to the reader to judge whether these percentages provide cause for concern.

  1. For example, if the norms in professional ice hockey make it permissible for one player to provoke a fight with another, then such behavior is acceptable — at least legally.
  2. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Their role in minimizing aggressive behaviors is discussed in a later section.
  3. An ISSP position stand. These anecdotal accounts are supported by a vast body of scientific literature demonstrating the saliency of learning through observing others, and several studies are cited by Tenenbaum et al.
  4. Your child gets a lesson in sportsmanship, whether you like it or not.
  5. Webster SR, Weltman R.

In fairness, Kerr 2002 did not focus on youth sports in his most recent paper. We should note, however, that debating the prevalence of assaults on officials might be counterproductive for two reasons. First, at present, as Kerr 2002 points out, those who have done the research concluded that many questions remain.

Second, this debate about aggressive acts targeted at officials diverts attention from the question of how much influence officials actually have in reducing aggression in general. According to Brust, Roberts, and Leonard 1996rule enforcement is especially important in contact sports. Brust, Leonard, Pheley, and Roberts 1992 found that for 29 injuries resulting from tactics judged illegal in hockey, only four penalties were assessed.

Studying catastrophic injuries, Tator, Edmonds, and Lapezak 1991 noted that rules were frequently not enforced and hockey players were injured as a result of illegal play. As mentioned above, the line between hard play and foul play can be difficult to discern, though doing so is an important challenge for officials, especially those overseeing contact sports. It is worth noting that, in this study, the term used to query participants on this matter was unsanctioned aggression.

Encouraging sportsmanship has become an increasingly popular topic in these publications during recent years. Another recent article in Referee magazine Arehart, 2002 presents the view that poor sportsmanship at the professional level has led to similar problems among high school athletes. This reference to the vicarious learning effects of watching adult sport relates to another area of ongoing disagreement.

Effects of Observing Aggression and Violence in Sport Specific behaviors identified in the Arehart 2002 article that were first noticed at the professional level and then in youth sports include the throat slashing gesture in American football and headbutting in basketball. Your child gets a lesson in sportsmanship, whether you like it or not. In a well-publicized incident that resulted in the death of a hockey parent, the conflict reportedly began with overly violent play among young athletes during a scrimmage.

These anecdotal accounts are supported by a vast body of scientific literature demonstrating the saliency of learning through observing others, and several studies are cited by Tenenbaum et al. Kerr 2002 appears skeptical of this literature and criticizes the PS and Tenenbaum et al.

He also points out that not all psychologists are convinced of the saliency of learning aggressive behavior from models. While perhaps it is unscientific to make definite conclusions about any phenomenon, we believe that findings regarding learning through observation are among the most consistent in the psychological literature.

This may be especially harmful if the viewer is young. In summary, both scientific research and logical inferences based upon anecdotal reports present an extremely strong case that individuals are more likely to behave aggressively in a sport context after viewing aggressive acts by other athletes.

Limiting Discussion to Adult Team Contact Sports The possible effects of learning aggressive and violent behaviors by observing adult models in sport has important implications in recent debates, given that Kerr 2002 has restricted his comments largely to adult sport p. This stated limitation contrasts with the goals of the PS, Tenenbaum et al. If, in fact, adult sport were played in isolation from viewers, then it might be defensible to argue that competitors, as consenting adults, should be free to compete as they see fit.

However, if the evidence suggests that the actions of adult athletes influence youth sports as well and we strongly believe this is the casethen it seems rather irresponsible to address aggression and violence in adult sport without considering both the immediate and secondary impacts.

We are also somewhat surprised that Kerr 2002 has confined his comments to team contact sports.

  • Two examples will illustrate this point;
  • Department of Health and Human Services;
  • One consequence of airing a debate in a public forum such as the one provided by The Sport Psychologist is that any arguments put forward are subject to the personal opinions and reactions of the audience;
  • Another recent article in Referee magazine Arehart, 2002 presents the view that poor sportsmanship at the professional level has led to similar problems among high school athletes;
  • A rejoinder to the ISSP position stand.

While Kerr reports that his own playing and coaching experience is in a team sport, we are puzzled that he ignored individual contact sports. Certainly, many of the same issues that Kerr 19992002 has explored are relevant to these individual combat sports as well.

In summary, while Kerr prefers to limit his discussion to adult team-contact sports, there has been little controversy regarding the applicability of the PS to other sport contexts. As this dilemma is somewhat abstruse and philosophical, considering the number of injuries incurred by young athletes provides some concrete data.

MISREPRESENTING AND MISINTERPRETING PUBLISHED STATEMENTS

Since most youth hockey injuries result from body checking, the AAP recommended that hockey players, ages 15 and younger, should not check other players. While it is difficult to prove definitively that these injuries stem from the practices of professional sports, it is likely that the norms of the adult game are a contributing factor.

Notwithstanding these points, those who participate in, coach, and administer adult sports certainly possess the right to do so as they see fit.

At what point, then, should an organization such as the ISSP offer statements that would impede upon the will of those parties? It is not our purpose to resolve this question here, but rather to illustrate this issue as an overriding concern — one worthy of future consideration — that has emerged from recent debates on aggression and violence in sports.

Aggression and Violence in Sport: Moving Beyond the Debate

According to this premise, athletes who agree to participate in sports where competitors intentionally harm one another are, in fact, justified in doing so. For example, if the norms in professional ice hockey make it permissible for one player to provoke a fight with another, then such behavior is acceptable — at least legally. The same would hold true for athletes who accept the possibility of serious injury or death for the sake of the thrill in various high-risk sports. As for identifying the point at which respect for the culture of a sport conflicts with moral and ethical considerations: The Purpose of a Position Stand Another broader issue emerging from the recent debates concerns the original purpose for issuing a position stand.

While Kerr 19992002 has criticized the ISSP PS for its alleged lack of potency in effecting change, others might consider that one purpose of a position stand is to argue for the ideal, while making recommendations based upon sound research, experience, and, indeed, moral and ethical considerations.

Again, while Kerr may be correct that the PS may not lead to changes in certain sports, we maintain that an effective position stand should recommend proactive steps to effect change, rather than reactive changes that are so often the case. Problems with Professional Versus Popular Jargon An ongoing point of contention since the PS was issued concerns the definition of terms such as aggression, assertiveness, and violence. If there are lessons to be learned here, they involve paying vigilant attention to how psychological constructs are operationalized, as well as considering the context in which terms are to be used.

  1. The ISSP position stand revisited.
  2. First, at present, as Kerr 2002 points out, those who have done the research concluded that many questions remain.
  3. As mentioned above, the line between hard play and foul play can be difficult to discern, though doing so is an important challenge for officials, especially those overseeing contact sports. Food and water restriction in the wrestler.

The present authors recognize that the term aggression has various connotations in differing contexts. Perhaps this variability in usage necessitates that a document like the PS be presented in two versions: In doing so, we have found that despite some points of continued dissention, there are a number of issues upon which all authors agree.

It is our hope that the discussion has moved beyond the level of public debate and towards a forum that will prove useful to those concerned with aggression and violence in sport. NCAA football rules and interpretations. National Collegiate Athletic Association; 2002. American College Sports Medicine.