Types and causes of aggressive behaviour in sport

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Types and causes of aggressive behaviour

Aggression-  is the intent to harm, outside the rules of the game and is often prompted by reactive behaviour that is out of control. In an sports article, Aggression is defined as “any form of behaviour directed toward the goal of harming of injuring another live being who is motivated to avoid such treatment” (Baron & Richardson, 1994) 1 It is generally seen as something that is negative and associated with anger.

Gills criteria for aggressive behavior: “Aggression is behavior with a goal of harming of injuring another being motivated to avoid such treatment. There are three types of aggressive behavior, hostile and instrumental aggression, plus assertion. We have Gills criteria for aggression, plus the causes of aggression; instinct theory, frustration-aggression theory and social learning theory.

Assertion- Many sports psychologists see aggression as assertion. Assertion can be defined as being within the rules of the game and is well-motivated behaviour this is more in control, and there is no intention to harm the opponent. In sport the distinction between aggression and assertion can be seen according to Silva 1983 as either : hostile aggression, the intent being to cause harm and instrumental aggression (assertion) such as a hard yet fair tackle during a game of rugby. The goal in the latter is to get the ball back not intention to cause harm to the other player.2

Most people view aggression as a negative psychological characteristic, however some sport psychologists agree that aggression can improve performance (Widmeyer & Birch, 1984). This is called an assertive behaviour (Bredemeier, 1994), where a player will play within the rules of the sport at a very high intensity, but will have no intention to harm an opponent.

Assertive: behaviour links to three main criteria:

Is goal directed

Not intended to harm or injure

Does not break any rules of the game


Goal Directed:

An example to demonstrate this type of behaviour is a goalkeeper in soccer. There are moments in the game when the goalkeeper comes off of their line to collect the ball, this is purely goal directed as the goalie has no intention to harm or injure the striker. When the goalie is collecting the ball, they may collide with the player or unintentionally hurt them if their leg is up. However, goalkeepers do not mean to, their goal is to get the football away from my goal; they more often then not do not want to hurt the striker in the process.

Hostile Aggression

- is a specific intent to harm another person. Sometimes the aggression shown in sport can be very hostile, e.g. when a reaction to a foul is designed to inflict injury on another player.

Hostile Aggressive behaviour is all about the intention, not the outcome. Hostile aggression is “inflicting harm whether it is physical or psychological, on someone else. It is sometimes referred to as reactive aggression and can be accompanied by anger” a good example of this type of aggression is Roy Keane. “Keane admitted in his book that he set out to injure Haaland that day. This shows that he set out to harm the player. This suggests hostile aggression as it was a reaction to their feud that had been going on for a while and Keane reacted and intended harm.

Instrumental Aggression-

Is less personal and lacks the intent to injure someone else but it is aimed at breaking the rules or abusing the equipment, e.g. a tennis player shouting at an umpire to dispute a line call.

For example John McEnroe in 1981 at Wimbeldon screamed at the umpire ‘you cannot be serious’ and slammed his racquet to the ground.3

Assertion aggression. “This is displaying aggressive behavior in the pursuit of a non-aggressive goal, sometimes referred to as channeled aggression This type of aggression comes about mostly in contact sports.
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An example of this is Ryan Shawcross’s tackle on Aaron Ramsey. When you watch the video of the tackle back, Shawcross is 100% going for the ball. He isn’t aiming to harm or injure Ramsey, as you watch Shawcross leave the pith, he is wiping away tears in his eyes and looks distraught at the fact that he has done this to another player. The players aren’t holding grudges and they both shake hands when playing against each other the next time. The tackle wasn’t a personal attack by Shawcross; it was just two plays on separate teams ...

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