George Churchill Aggression in Sport

Psychology Assessment

Aggression in sport can be caused by a number of factors. The most identifiable reasons are the rules of the game (level of physical contact), frustration, instinct, presence, arousal, environmental cues, self control and also the behaviour of those around. Other factors in aggression include personality, media involvement, coaching, role models and the society we live in. The following is an insight into the term aggression in sport, using the social learning theory and environmental cues theory I will explain examples of each theory and try and contrast them. Frustration is known to play a key role in aggression. It is the view that is innate and also something that is learned (aggression). It can occur in many different circumstances and one of those can be an athlete not achieving his or hers goal targets. Having a point disallowed or being fouled by an opponent on more then one occasion can lead to frustration. Dollard (1939) argues that aggression is innate and only occurs in a frustrating situation but Miller (1941) claimed to differ. He stated that it was frustration that made aggression more likely, he also stated that for one or more reasons athletes wont show this aggression in there profession. An example of this can be when a coach under uses a player, who out of professionalism or even out of respect for the coach won’t show aggression. However, this could effect the personal life of an athlete, where they keep all there aggression out of there profession and channel it into there social life. This is related to Freuds notion of displacement, where we want to do something we know is not acceptable for instance confront the coach, but for some reason keep it channelled. Violent behaviour can be seen as the intent to hurt or injure an opponent, whereas to others the use of aggression can merely be seen as the product of hard work and motivation hence the term passion being used by many people when they witness aggression. (Bredemeier, 1983) defined aggressive behaviour as “the intentional initiation of violent and or harmful behaviour. Violent means any physical, verbal or even non verbal offences (finger salutes), while harmful behaviours stand for any harmful intentions or actions (bad challenges or cursing). This also means that injuries caused by a bad challenge accidentally will not be considered as aggression,

George Churchill

Psychology Assessment

but would result from the opponent having inferior ability to perform a good legitimate challenge. Psychologists have distinguished two types of aggression in sport, hostile and instrumental. Hostile aggression is a participants purpose to solely harm someone physically, using there fist or elbow can fall into this category and a sporting example of this was shown in football by Ben Thatcher of Manchester City when he slammed his elbow into Pedro Mendes of Portsmouth. This can also be called reactive Instrumental aggression (sympathetic arousal) and is associated with anger.

aggression can be used to achieve a goal, which can be to tackle harder to gain possession of the ball i.e. rugby. It is also known as channelled aggression, the ability to turn it on and off and control there temperament and it is not associated with anger. Rules of games differ and what you would call emotion and energy in one sport can be seen as an assault in another, a full on tackle in American football would be seen as a sickening assault in basketball. Emotion and energy in a game within the rules though can be assertive behaviour. Hussman & Silva (1984) say this behaviour is goal directed (instrumental) that does not break rules of the game and although it isn’t intended to harm, it can still be seen as aggressive behaviour in a non sporting event. Social learning theory suggests that aggression is something that can be instilled in a child from a very early age. We learn social behaviour by observing and imitating the behaviour of others, in particular observing the consequences of particular actions (Bandura, 1979). From the age of 5 onwards children start impersonating others and start to look for role models. One example can come from the presence of a father, this can promote masculanarity and impersonation of there fathers actions. In particular when it comes to sports some fathers can become aggressive, this comes from the father wanting there child to be a better performer then the other children, which in turn signals aggression in the father pushing the child further in working harder. There are many ways a child can react to a father pushing them hard, one way can be to work harder or even quit the game, another way can be aggression. A child can use aggression as a way of getting anger out of there system or to even please

George Churchill

Psychology Assessment

there father as a way of showing acknowledgement, some fathers applaud rough play and the children respond to this. Some parents have faint hopes there child might be talented enough to become professional, this boosts the parents ego and they take credit for there child becoming successful. Children will observe behaviour and use role models as examples to copy from, these role models usually come from sports the child participates in and if a child witnesses aggression from there role model they sense that to be like there role model they have to follow suit. It becomes a major development of the child’s identity, although as they grow up, cognitive development such as aggression can change to non aggression due to personality changes as they age. Children learn that aggressive behaviour can be rewarding, they observe and copy actions increasing the use of aggression in sports activities. A child whose aggressive acts intimidate there opponents will increasingly become more aggressive due to the fact it gets them more rewards. An example of this can be found in Hockey where the more aggressive Hockey players (measured by penalty minutes) score more goals than non-aggressive players (McCarthy and Kelly, 1978). Cognitive belief to aggression can result in a child thinking aggression equals success. In the 1970’s the Bo Bo doll experiment highlighted the effects that peer pressure enforced on others caused conformist behaviour to a certain group i.e. aggression The coverage from media and television can be an influence on a child, with the focus of violence (replays of bad challenges, fights among athletes, hooliganism etc) promoting the act of aggression and impersonation. Another theory that effects aggression in sports is the cue theory posed by Berkowitz (1969). It is argued arousal is increased by frustration which can be felt as anger or psychological pain. Sporting events can increase arousal and can boil over if a frustrating situation occurs as argued by Dollard. Circumstances such as missing an important penalty, being fouled or wrongly penalised adds arousal into an athletes game. Berkowitz (1969) claims arousal only leads to aggression in environments that contain cues. He found that people were more violent if they had seen a violent movie or if they witnessed weapons in a room then had they seen a badminton racket

George Churchill

Psychology Assessment

which would cause less aggression. The gym can be used as an example of this, where if the soundtracks from Rocky Balboa were being played in the gym it would increase arousal and the gym user would show more aggression, signifying that the relation of the songs to the violence portrayed in Rocky can have an arousal effect. Other sports associated with aggressive behaviour are boxing, rugby and ice hockey. The environment surrounding these sports are of an aggressive nature and are socially accepted as a violent sport and at times the violence shown is expected and is promoted by coaches and fans alike. Certain environmental cues cause aggression to be pulled out of an aroused individual. This can sometimes hinder a performance of an athlete due to over arousal, setting there standards too high can cause frustration if they don’t perform and that’s when they can become a danger to others and also themselves, as Paul Gascoigne found out at Wembley when he clattered into Gary Charles of Nottingham Forest and injured himself badly. Zukerman (1984) claims people differ in arousal. Arousal cue theory can be linked with social learning because individuals learn how to cope in different environments. David Beckham is a prime example of this statement. Beckham’s early career saw him with a temperament and in the 1998 World Cup he was sent off for an aggressive challenge, but since then he reformed himself and it would now be unheard of to see lose his head in a big game because he has learned to channel his aggression and any arousal in him is put to good effect and not acts of stupidity. The learning theory is based on watching others and impersonating there actions. These people we observe are important to us for a number of reasons, they play the same sport, have high status and can also be very successful (achieves goals, wins trophies). The most common observation learning comes from friends, coaches, parents and sports heroes. Sports heroes are the most significant role models and how they act is important because they will be impersonated, and if aggression is part of there game and they are successful then we will in turn impersonate there behaviour in belief it will make us like them (successful, looked up to, high status etc). Insight learning can effect this in a way, for example if a rugby player isn’t in an aroused state he may have an image of Johnny Wilkinson slamming a player into the ground or making the winning try, this motivates the player into an aroused state and even

George Churchill

Psychology Assessment

though he may not be aware of it he may have upped his performance. Insight learning is important because certain sporting settings can require a spark. Arousal is not always an advantage, in the wrong person it can be damaging and cause aggression. Arousal states include increased heart rate and high attention to detail (cognitivity), where the body and mind are prepared for actions and situations. Two parts of the brain that effect arousal are the sympathetic division (stimulates body) and parasympathetic division (conserves energy). The sympathetic division is the arousal reaction, it releases sugar into the system and prepares the body and mind for certain situations that arise. The parasympathetic division is the counteraction and slows breathing and heart rate. This can relate to social learning because as an athlete gains experience they will learn to control certain situations and count to ten in certain environments instead of losing there control. If an athlete was younger they might let the sympathetic division take control and impersonated an aggressive situation or not thought through there actions (channelled aggression), and show aggression. As they mature they now have experience of both environmental cues and arousal states and grown into there own personality and state of mind. They are now able to use the parasympathetic division to control any aggressive motives they have and slow there breathing and heart rate. Arousal is the activation of the system, and although too much can me detrimental my personal opinion is self control can be learned to cope with aggressive feelings. To conclude I feel an experienced athlete in there prime will have learned what it takes to be successful and also respected (sportsmanship). This will show in there game when they will show aggression but channel it into situations they know it will benefit there game and not damage there performance, but enhance it. This I believe is solely based on skill level, where if skill level is high then well learned arousal behaviour will be of benefit. Some athletes who are great examples are Roger Federer, Ronaldinho and Johnny Wilkinson (channel aggression in situations). Arousal may damage athletes performance and lead to aggression if they cant control it. Examples of this can be found in young athletes and also athletes with low levels of skill. An athlete who has always used aggression will not change, but will adjust there game to channel it due to experiences.

George Churchill

Psychology Assessment

References Bredemeier, B. J. (1983). Athletic Aggression: A Moral Concern. In J. Goldstein (Ed.), Sport Violence (pp. 47-81). New York, NY: Springer-Verlag. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. (Ch. 18, 19 & 20 "Aggression and Sport" pp. 241286) Etscheidt, S. (1991). Reducing aggressive behaviour and improving self-control: A cognitive behavioural training program for behaviourally disordered adolescents. Behavioural Disorders, 16. 107-115. Le Unes, A., & Nation, J. (1996). Sport Psychology (2nd Ed.). Chicago, IL: NelsonHall Neal E. Miller (1941) Institute of Human Relations, Yale University Snyder, E. E. & Spreitzer, E. A. (1989). Social Aspects of Sport (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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