Aggression in Sport Daniel L wann The Lancet

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Aggression in Sport

Aggression in Sport

Daniel L Wann

The Lancet. London: Dec 2005. Vol. 366 pg. S31, 2 pgs
1. Although there are many positive aspects to sport participation - as a player or spectator - athletic events are also often allied with aggressive behaviour. Defined as the intention to physically, verbally, or psychologically harm someone who is motivated to avoid such treatment, aggression can be either hostile or instrumental. Hostile aggression refers to actions that are motivated by anger and that are intended solely to harm someone. Thus, with this form of aggression, the perpetrator simply wants the victim to suffer - eg, a soccer player deliberately and illegally tripping an opponent with the sole purpose of injuring that person. In instrumental aggression, however, harmful actions have a purpose over and above that of wounding another player. Athletes might, for instance, attempt to injure an opponent because they believe that doing so will increase their chances of victory. In sport, research has focused mainly on the aggressive actions of three groups of individuals: athletes, spectators, and parents at youth sporting events (panel).

2. Research into player aggression has identified several factors that might promote violence. Heat is an example; as temperatures rise, tempers flare. In baseball, this association leads to more batters being hit by pitches on hot match days than on cold days. A second situational determinant of player aggression is the point differential between two teams, with the highest degrees of aggression arising when teams are separated by a wide scoring margin. Furthermore, players on winning and losing teams exhibit different patterns of aggression as a game progresses. Hence, the aggressive behaviour of those on winning teams increases consistently throughout the contest, whereas individuals on losing teams are especially aggressive at the beginning of a game, and less so towards the midpoint of the competition. Presumably, athletes in the unsuccessful teams conclude that their aggressive actions are not effective and, consequently, switch to less aggressive strategies in an attempt to perform better. Finally, possibly because of frustration, a team's position in the overall league affects the degree of individual player aggression. Indeed, teams that come first tend to exhibit lower amounts of aggression than the frustrated teams who have to be content with second place and those who come last and who find it hard to justify to themselves their overall poor performance.

3. With respect to spectators, heat, modelling of player violence, and the consumption of alcohol all affect the extent of aggressive behaviour. Results of research done over the past 15 years indicate, however, that team identification - ie, the extent to which a spectator feels a psychological connection to a team and its players - is the greatest predictor of fan aggression. For those fans who identify strongly, their team's loss is felt as their own. Consequently, all their reactions, including aggression, are intense. Three types of aggression are affected by high degrees of team identification: hostile aggression, instrumental aggression (eg, willingness to injure apposing players and coaches, or to yell obscenities at officials, etc, to intimidate their team's opponent), and fan rioting. It is noteworthy, however, that not all instances of instrumental aggression among fervent fans are designed to assist the team. In some instances, the reward for the aggressive behaviour is not team success but rather a restoration of psychological health. Deep-seated and indifferent fans react differently to poor team performance. Fans low in team identification tend to distance themselves from the team, thereby protecting their mental health. Highly identified fans are, however, not able to dissociate from the team because their role of team follower is too central to their identity. As a result, their collective - ie, group or social - self-esteem is lowered, resulting in an unpleasant psychological state. These groups of fans will often resort to derogation of and aggression towards others - namely, opposing players and fans, and officials - in an attempt to restore their lost self-esteem. Team identification also plays a part in sport riots, which are the result of fans expressing their affective response to the result of a competition - anger after a loss or euphoria after a win.

4. Finally, parents of children involved in sport often behave aggressively in sporting environments. Data shows that more than 80% of parents have witnessed a violent action from another spectator and that almost 80% have been the target of a violent or abusive act. There are several possible explanations for the actions of these parents. Situational factors - eg, heat and alcohol consumption - no doubt play a part. Furthermore, parents often get overly involved - ie, hostile and abusive - when watching their children compete because they are trying to secure an advantage for their child in the hope that their daughter or son's athletic prowess will ultimately result in a financial windfall in the form of a college scholarship or professional contracts. This hypothesis is known as the jackpot theory. However, again, researchers tout team identification as the most common cause of the aggressive behaviour of parents. As such, those involved in the organisation and running of youth sports should encourage an emphasis on fun and improvement of skills rather than on the outcome of competitions.

Further Reading

Baron RA, Richardson DR. Human aggression (2nd edn). New York: Plenum, 1994.

Wann DL, Melnick MJ, Russell GW, Pease DG. Sport fans: the psychology and social impact of spectators. New York: Routledge Press, 2001.

Wann DL. Sport psychology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1997.

Essay: Aggression in Sport
Note: This article is short, and can be used to work on paragraph structure (Section 1.2 of the strategies booklet)

Vocabulary - Target Words

Look at each of the target words in the list below. Use the scale to give yourself a score for each word. After you finish working on the text, score yourself again to check your improvement.

  1. I don't know this word.

  2. I have seen this word before, but I am not sure of the meaning

  3. I understand the word when I see it or hear it in a sentence, but I don't know how to use it in my own speaking and writing.

  4. I know this word and can use it in my own speaking and writing.

Target words:

___aggression ___content ­­­___frustration ___resort

___allied ___degree ___instrumental ___spectator

___association ___deliberately ­­­___perpetrator

___consumption ___derogation ­­­___ promote
Exercise #1

Each sentence below contains a paraphrase or synonym for a target word. Read each sentence and choose the correct target word to fill in the blank.

1. The players should be (satisfied) __________________________ with the result of the game.

2. The (amount / level) __________________________of cooperation among the teammates was noted as the reason for their success.

3. Research has shown that (violent behavior) _______________________ can inflict physical as well as emotional scars on the victim.

4. The report indicated that excellent research was (important / helpful) _____________to the success of the operation.

5. Experts in environmental protection explain that reducing the (use) _________________ of fossil fuels is the best way to protect the ozone.

6. Despite the fact that the team (intentionally) _______________________ ignored the accepted rules of conduct, the project was successful and won praise from the director.

7. Although he usually enjoys participating in sports events, after his accident Ron had to be satisfied with being an (onlooker / observer) _______________________ at the tennis match.

8. When hard work is (united / connected) ______________with regular practice, the success rate of any task is almost certain to rise.

9. The team was fined for the (insulting / putting down) ____________________ of the referee and the opposing team in order to help prevent such misconduct in the future.

10. The (connection) __________________________ between the two companies allowed them to share control of the market equally as well as defray the costs of research and development and other joint ventures.

Exercise #2

Each of the following target words appears in the text. Read the dictionary definitions below each word and choose the definition that reflects how the word is used in the text.

  1. allied (paragraph 1 line 3)

  1. joined in cooperation by compact or treaty

  2. connected or related

  1. association (paragraph 2 line 4)

  1. state of being associated or connected

  2. an organization of persons having a common interest

  1. consumption ( paragraph 3 line 2)

  1. the utilization of goods

  2. the progressive wasting away of the body

  1. content (paragraph 2 line 24)

  1. substance / the amount of specified material contained

  2. satisfied / to limit one's desires or requirements

  1. degree (paragraph 2 line 21)

  1. the extent, measure or scope of an actions

  2. a title conferred on students from a college or university

  1. promote (paragraph 2 line 2)

  1. to advance in station, rank or honor

  2. to contribute to the growth or prosperity of

  1. resort (paragraph 3 line 30)

  1. a place providing recreation and entertainment

  2. to go for refuge or help

Paragraph Structure:

  1. Although this is not a formal academic article, it is similar in structure. For example, Paragraph 1 is the introductory paragraph. What elements of the introduction can you find?

  1. Copy the sentence from the introduction which expresses the main point of the text

  1. Underline the topic sentence of the next three paragraphs. How are these sentences related to the main point of the introduction?

  1. For each supporting paragraph, give examples from the paragraph that support the topic sentence in the paragraph.

Paragraph 2: ____________________________________________________


Paragraph 3: _____________________________________________________


Paragraph 4: ______________________________________________________


***Now that you have analyzed the structure of the paragraphs, understanding the content should be easier!!!
General comprehension questions:

1. The author defines two types of aggression. What are they?

2. What type of aggression does the author focus on in this article?

3. Which three populations does the author discuss in the article?

4. In paragraph 2, what do the examples of heat, point difference between teams, and differing patterns of aggression illustrate? _____________________________________

5. How does frustration over a team's place in a league effect aggressive behavior?

6. With regard to spectators, what seems to contribute the most to aggressive behavior?


7. In the case of instrumental aggression among spectators, what is the goal of the aggressive behavior? _____________________________________________________

8. In what way is the aggression of parents similar to that of spectators?

9. What does the author infer by his suggestion at the end of the article? _____________________________________________________________________

10. What is the author's purpose in writing this essay?

a. to explain why sports have become so aggressive over the years

b. to show that player aggression is worse than spectator aggression

c. to prove that parents can help lower aggressive behavior in sports

d. to report on factors that are related to aggressive behavior in sports

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