Course:KIN366/ConceptLibrary/Youth Football Aggression

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Movement Experiences for Children
KIN 366
Instructor: Dr. Shannon S.D. Bredin
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Aggression in sport has always been a controversial topic in both the athletic and research community. This is especially prominent in organized youth sports that emphasize or require large components of physical contact between players. Competitive sports such as youth football require the utilization of aggressive acts in order to be successful in play. Such acts are encouraged by the coach and peers of the same team. It is imperative to examine the physical and mental influences of using and teaching such tactics to young children.

General Definition of Aggression

Aggression is defined as any overt verbal or physical act carried out with the intent to harm another individual either physically or psychologically [1]. It is widely categorized into four separate categories: assertion, instrumental aggression, hostile or reactive aggression, and violence. Although assertion is forceful, there is no intent to harm and occurs within the rules while violence is extreme physical aggression with no relation to the competitive goals of sport. Aggression is further categorized into instrumental and hostile. Instrumental aggression occurs in the achievement of non-aggressive goals and is not a response of frustration or anger [2]. Hostile aggression on the other hand is carried out with the intent to harm and is a reaction to anger.

Classification of Aggression in Sport Specific Situations

Violence in sport is classified into four types: brutal body contact, borderline violence, quasi-criminal violence, and criminal violence. These types of sport violence include violence approved by the rules of the game, violence for which the rules of the game specify appropriate penalties, violence governed traditionally by case law in civil court procedures, and violence governed traditionally by criminal statutes and criminal prosecution [2]. Brutal body contact may strain formal rules of sport but do not necessarily violate them. Borderline violence is prohibited by formal rules but widely accepted in the athletic community. Quasi-criminal violence violates both the formal rules and the informal norms or player conduct. The penalties range from several game suspensions to life-time bans. Lastly, criminal violence is extremely serious and blatantly exceeds the boundaries set by formal rules. These acts usually involve permanent, debilitating injuries. Within the context of sport studies have shown that athletes have a tendency to justify their aggression by means of moral disengagement. Acts of aggression that may otherwise been seen as violent and unorthodox, may be legitimized in sport specific situations. This is unique to sport environments, which is especially emphasized in competitive contact sports. Mechanisms through which this process is carried out are displacement of responsibility, diffusion of moral responsibility, moral justification, euphemism, attribution of blame, and distortion of consequences [1].

Aggression in Youth Football

Research has indicated that perceptions of what the coach and one’s teammates believe is appropriate behavior likely affects how one views the use of cheating tactics and aggression in competitive sport [3]. Additionally, they argue that a positive team moral atmosphere which does not approve of aggression and cheating is more likely to be facilitated within a coaching style advocating cooperative learning and player autonomy. Recent research has indicated that perceiving the coach as highly emphasizing normative criteria of success and failure may lead to lower moral functioning, unsportspersonslike attitudes, and a team moral atmosphere sanctioning the use of low moral, cheating behavior [3]. Specifically, the authors argued that for those youth male players perceiving the coach emphasizing winning as a means for being successful, those male players clearly understood such an emphasis to mean that low moral, cheating behaviors were an acceptable trade-off [3]. Their studies found that a performance climate perception clearly predicted lower moral cognitions and behavior [3]. The coach has significant influence behind the intent and motivation associated with acts of aggression. Whether the coach emphasizes a mastery motivational climate or a performance motivational climate affects their intent and type of aggression. A mastery motivational climate is likely to be perceived by athletes when the coach encourages learning from past mistakes, cooperation, and individual as well as group skill development [3]. Conversely, a performance motivational climate is likely to be perceived when the coach emphasizes success by normative standards and leads to low sportspersonship by means of disrespecting rules.

Common Problems

While there is no problem with assertiveness and aggression, there is a rising concern with the issues surrounding violence and contact sports. Within competitive sports, such as football, aggressive acts are regulated by formalized rules and often encouraged by coaches and peers. Such acts are accepted as being part of the game and used for strategic tactics to gain advantage. While strategic acts are permitted, players may resort to violence tactics to achieve success. Such acts can be caused by a variety of reasons such as pressure from coaches or peers, fear of losing their position, and upholding expectations of common customs and practice.

Causes and Trends

There is a clear trend toward increased aggression as a person participates longer and at higher levels of competition [4]. As children get older and become involved in higher levels of sport, they are socialized into new value orientations that legitimate greater frequency and intensity of aggressive sport acts [4]. Additionally, potentially injurious acts were rated significantly more legitimate by males than females. There is also considerable evidence that a social learning process is operative in the acquisition, maintenance and legitimation of aggression tendencies [4]. Bredemeier et al. (1987) reported that the maturity of fourth through seventh grade children's moral reasoning was inversely related to their self-described aggression tendencies in both sport and everday life. The legitimizing of injurious action in sport is reflective of making a moral judgment as to the merits of employing such behavior [3]. One explanation for the endorsement as well as employment of low moral behavior in sport is that such behavior occurs as a result of the competitive aspect of sport [3].


The risk of a serious injury, particularly those that can cause chronic morbidity, is an important consideration in determining the appropriateness of a specific sport for children [5]. The study done by Goldberg et al. demonstrated that the injury experience of young competitors differs from that of older adolescents and young adults playing at higher levels of competition. In youth football, players are most often injured as a result of contact while tackling or running with the ball. Most injuries occurred in the upper extremities, mainly in the hand and wrist. The most common type of injuries were usually fractures, sprains, or contusions.

Practical Applications

It is important to know the different classifications of aggression and how they pertain to sport specific environments, such as youth football. Defining the type and knowing the cause helps determine which are beneficial or detrimental to the development of sport tactics. It is also advantageous to classify and regulate which types of aggression are allowed in competition and in practice. Moreover, it will help coaches in understanding the different intents and motivational states that are behind such acts, which in turn will help improve their coaching style. Due to their influence, educating coaches helps facilitate a more suitable and higher quality developmental environment for youth football players. It also would help to decrease the amount of serious and dehabilitating injuries caused by excessive violence.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kiangersky, S. (2013). Aggression in Sport. Personal Collection of (Sarah Kiangersky), University of the British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Parry, J. (1998). Violence and Aggression in Contemporary Sport. Ethics and Sport, 226-245. Retrieved from
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Miller, B. W., Roberts, G. C., Ommundensen, Y. (2004). Effect of perceived motivational climate on moral functioning, team moral atmosphere perceptions, and the legitimacy of intentionally injurious acts among competitive youth football players. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 416-477. Retrieved from,%20Roberts,%20Ommundsen_2005_Effect%20of%20perceived%20motivational%20climate%20on%20moral%20functioning.PDF
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 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
  5. Goldberg, B., Rosenthal, P. P., Robertson, L. S., Nicholas, J. A. (1988). Injuries in Youth Football. Pediatrics. Retrieved from