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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Section: 001
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
Office Hours:
Class Schedule:
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Aggression is a negative personality trait that can be associated with sport participation.[1] Some may argue that aggression is a natural emotion in sport, contributing to the fast pace and exciting culture. Aggression is encouraged from sources ranging from coaches to teammates all the way to the media. North American culture promotes aggression in sport far greater than any other part of the world, contributing to the aggressive tendencies and behaviours seen in athletes today. [2] Where is the line drawn as too much aggression, and how does it affect the development of young athletes. This page concerns the relationship between sport aggression and the implications on young athletes.

Definition of Aggression

Aggression is operationally defined as an intentional physically or psychologically harmful behaviour that is directed at another living organism. [1] There are several categories of aggression including: instrumental, hostile/reactive aggression, and violence. [3] Although both instrumental aggression and violence have blatant, visual intention to physically hurt another person, all acts of aggression are intended to cause the victim harm. There are many reasons why aggression is present, environmental and interpersonal cues contribute to anger, fear, or frustration which can elicit an aggressive response. [4]

Aggression in Sport

Aggression in sport incorporates a wide range of actions and stems from many outlets. Actions include: illegal hitting, striking an opponent with a piece of equipment, deliberately physically debilitating a competitor, and psychologically tormenting opponents. [5] Amongst other triggers, aggression is a learned behaviour, especially in the world of sport. It comes from such influences as primary social groups such as their teammates and coaches, and professional athletes.[1] A theory proving children learn behaves is the social learning theory. Influential behaviours sprout from subcultures and primary social groups through modelling, vicarious learning, and reinforcement.[1] Children are more likely to exude the qualities of professional athletes and individuals they look up to; and in a sport culture filled with aggression, children are more prevalently mimicking these behaviours they are seeing in their own sports.

Sources of Aggression

Aggressive actions are not only emotional reactions, but as well are learned behaviours. Being in an athletic environment, aggression is exponentially seen. In North American sport today, the competition and pressure is greater than ever before.[6] Certain triggers have been examined, including rivalry, direct confrontation with the opponents, desire to win and optimal activation.[6] Being exposed to professional athletes regularly has changed the way in which young athletes act towards each other, based on behaviours they have witnessed through the media.[7] As the age and level of sport increases, it is more prevalent to see aggressive tendencies and behaviours. There are many causes for aggression in sport, including opposition, score,

Aggression Seen in Contact Sports

Aggression is especially seen in contact sports. Sports with the highest incidence of aggression are football, rugby, boxing, and ice hockey. Studies have show that young male ice hockey and football players learn aggressive acts by observing more experienced players.[8] There is also a clear trend showing that the higher level the sport, the more aggressive tendencies are shown. [8] There is a strong correlation between judgement, moral reasoning and aggression, and interest and involvement in contact sports.[8] It has been proven that athletes showing high levels of aggression through play tend to exude poorer performance and lower concentration on the game.[9] Character can be influenced through the degree of contact and aggression found in a specific sport. Children participating in sports with higher levels of contact are found to develop more aggression in and outside of sport, compared to children playing sports with low contact levels.[1]


Injuries in sport are inevitable. Reckless and careless athletes portraying aggressive actions can seriously injure other athletes. Injuries have been placed into two categories: traumatic and chronic. Traumatic injuries are classified as a sudden onset of a physical injury, requiring medical attention, where in contrast, chronic injuries are injuries that are long term. Due to the nature of sports portraying higher levels of aggression, ice hockey, football, and boxing have a higher incidence of injury.[10] Not only are injuries a very real consideration when playing a sport, especially contact sports, but as the game becomes more risky in terms of perceived levels of aggression and likelihood of injury, interest in personal participation tends drop.[10] Injuries as a result of aggression are a precursor to a more sever behavioural issue.

Gender Differences in Aggression

Although aggression is seen both in boys and girls, there is a large difference in the form portrayed and the extent to which it is expressed. There is a vast amount of research done on the difference of aggression between young boys and girls. Boys begin to display signs of aggression as early as preschool, and can continue this behaviour through their elementary years and further. There is continued evidence to show that boys will show their frustration and anger physically, while girls tend to show it through emotion and more indirect aggression.[11] When faced with a problem, 33% of boys will respond with aggression, compared to the 10% of girls, proving a large gap in the difference between genders and reactions. [11] It has been identified that boys are more likely to show aggression when provoked, continuing and excelling as they age.[11] It is also shown that boys who are involved in contact sports linked to higher levels of aggression are more likely to portray these same behaviours outside of sport.[11]

Violence in Sport

Escalated emotions can lead to excessive aggression in sport and can be viewed as violence. There are three levels of violent actions seen in sport, including violence that is conducive to the rules of the sport, violence that disregards the rules of the game — resulting in an appropriate penalty, and violence which is considered criminal activity. An act of violence is identified not by the manner of its execution, but by the human consequences flowing from it, such as injury, distress, suffering, and so on.[12] Violence within the realms of the game are tolerated, but are not accepted morally by all who participate. Not all sports have rules that allow violent actions, but sports such as ice hockey, football and boxing do. Violent actions that are not accepted with in the rules of sports for example would be fighting in hockey. Although not all players and spectators agree with these actions, it is a cultural aspect of the sport, which results in a penalty on the aggressive player. Actions that are deemed criminal, even to athletes, would include aggressive and violent actions outside of the game. These actions are dealt with to a much higher extent, resulting in suspension or a criminal record.

Influence on Young Athletes

The principle of universality would suggest that children of all cultures should exhibit some degree of aggression as a developmental path and progression.[13] Socialization is an important part of child development, and sport is one way for children to stay active, build on psycho-social development, and motor skills acquisition.[14] Characteristics and qualities learned in sport transfer over to their social skills, including aggression. Having an aggressive athlete can be detrimental to their social development as many aggressive athletes have tendencies to solve problems through the use these unacceptable behaviours.[11] Aggressive behaviour is accepted and even encouraged within some sports which raises questions about how athletes learn to be aggressive and whether some sport environments foster aggression to a greater extent than others.[5]

Practical Application

It is important to understand the source of aggression and how it effects young athletes. Being able to identify where aggressive tendencies are stemming from can help coaching and parents to correct this behaviour before it causes harm to the athlete or other teammates or competitors. Communicating with young athletes moral justifications and what actions are beneficial or tactical rather than malicious. Educating coaches is a helpful tool to be able to monitor athletes. Understanding aggression can also help prevent injuries caused by violent physical actions.

Along with coaches, teachers spend a great deal of time with young children. Educating teachers to be able to identify aggressive tendencies in the classroom can aid in adjusting the behaviour of aggressive and overly aggressive children. Having the ability to identify aggressive actions can be beneficial in the sense of adjusting and reverting these actions into a more healthy behaviour.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Keeler, L.A (2007). "The differences in sport aggression, life aggression, and life assertion among adult male and female collision, contact, and non-contact sport athletes". Journal of Sport Behavior 30 (1): 57–76. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "keeler" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "keeler" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "keeler" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "keeler" defined multiple times with different content
  2. Gee, C. J., & Leith, L. M. (2007). Aggressive behavior in professional ice hockey: A cross-cultural comparison of north american and european born NHL players. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 8(4), 567-583. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2006.06.006
  3. Kerr, J. H., & MyiLibrary. (2004). Rethinking aggression and violence in sport. London: Routledge.
  4. McEllistrem, J. E. (2004). Affective and predatory violence: A bimodal classification system of human aggression and violence. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 10(1), 1-30. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2003.06.002
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tucker, L. W., & Parks, J. B. (2001). Effects of gender and sport type on intercollegiate athletes' perceptions of the legitimacy of aggressive behaviors in sport. Sociology of Sport Journal, 18(4), 403-413.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Oproiu, I. (2013). A study on the relationship between sports and aggression. Sport Science Review, XXII(1), 33-48. doi:10.2478/ssr-2013-0003 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "opr" defined multiple times with different content
  7. Young, K., & Smith, M. D. (1988). Mass media treatment of violence in sports and its effects. Current Psychology, 7(4), 298-311. doi:10.1007/BF02686627
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Bredemeier, B. J., Cooper, B. B., Shields, D. L., Weiss, M.R. (1987). The relationship between children’s legitimacy and their moral reasoning, aggression tendencies, and sport involvement. Sociology of Sport Journal, 4, 48-60. Retrieved from's%20Legitimacy%20Judgments.pdf
  9. Gadsdon, S. (2001). Psychology and sport. Oxford: Heinemann.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Pedersen, D. (2007). Perceived aggression in sports and its relation to willingness to participate and perceived risk of injury. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 104(1), 201-211. doi:10.2466/PMS.104.1.201-211
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Azam, S., & Aftab, R. (2012). Social problem solving styles, acting-out tendencies, and aggression in boys and girls. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 27(1), 121. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "azam" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "azam" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "azam" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "azam" defined multiple times with different content
  12. Parry, J. (1998). Violence and Aggression in Contemporary Sport. Ethics and Sport, 226-245. Retrieved from
  13. Reebye, P. (2005). Aggression during early years - infancy and preschool. The Canadian Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Review = La Revue Canadienne De Psychiatrie De l'Enfant Et De l'Adolescent, 14(1), 16-20.
  14. Côté, J, & Fraser-Thomas, J. (2007). Youth involvement in sport. In P.R.E. Crocker (Ed.), Introduction to sport psychology: A Canadian perspective (pp. 266-294). Toronto: Pearson Prentice Hall.