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This report will briefly examine violence in sports. It will give possible reasons for the increase in violence, why violence seems to be growing and what we can do to curb this disturbing tend. While not all theories can we examined here, the most relevant to the topic will be examined and discussed.


The purpose of this report is to bring into light one of the most talked about problem in sports today, violence. Many people, spectators, coaches, players and referees, of nearly all contact sports, have noted that there is been a large increase in the number of violent encounters. Some believe that this is a reflection of the problems with society today as a whole; that our aggressions are simply let out on the playing field. Other people believe that violence stems from the breakdown of basic family values at home. Whatever philosophy you are inclined to believe, it is obvious that this is a growing, and alarming problem. This is a problem that must be dealt with, to not only protect players and referees, but to find out why we seem to be such an angry society today. This topic is very close me, because I am a professional soccer referee. I have dealt with numerous violence situations over the past eleven years. In some cases, I have merely been a witness. In other cases, I was the one whom the violence was committed upon.


My goal here is to determine why violence starting to take over our once, fun and enjoyable sporting events. I believe that this outpouring of violence is directly related to society. I believe it all comes down to a lack of respect; Lack of respect for authority, for each other and for ourselves. I expect to find out also, that our up bringing, and those that influence us, will have a direct impact upon whether or not we become involved in violence in sports.


The type of research used primarily was observational and literature investigations. I used many of my own experiences and knowledge to compose several of my ideas. Also, I wanted to find as many outside sources as possible to either support with claim to disprove it. Given the time period given to complete endeavor, I believe that not all theories will be investigated. However, all data collected is impartial and objective.

Analysis of Results

Sports violence can be defined as behavior which causes harm, occurs outside of the rules of the sport, and is unrelated to the competitive objectives of the sport (Terry and Jackson, p.2).( Leonard p. 165) identifies two forms of aggression in sports. Instrumental aggression is non-emotional and task-oriented. Reactive aggression has an underlying emotional component, with harm as its goal. Violence is an outcome of reactive aggression.

An increase in both frequency and seriousness of acts of violence has been well documented. Violence is most prevalent in team contact sports, such as ice hockey, football, and rugby. While most occurrences of violence emanate from players, others, including coaches, parents, fans, and the media, also contribute to what has been described as an epidemic of violence in sports today (Leonard, p. 166).

Considerable research has been done on spectator violence. A central issue is whether fans incite player violence or reflect it (Debenedotte, p. 207). The evidence is inconclusive. Spectators do take cues from players, coaches, cheerleaders, and one another. Spectators often derive a sense of social identity and self-esteem from a team. Emulation of favorite players is an element of this identification. Group solidarity with players and coaches leads to a view of opposing teams as enemies and fosters hostility towards the "outgroup" and, by extension, its supporters, geographical locale, ethnic group, and perceived social class (Lee, p. 45).

Mass media also contribute to the acceptability of sports. (Leonard p. 166) maintains that the media occupies a paradoxical position. On the one hand it affords ample exposure to sports-related violence via television, magazines, newspapers, and radio, thus providing numerous examples to children who may imitate such behavior. It glamorizes players, often the most controversial and aggressive ones. Its commentary is laced with descriptions suggestive of

combat, linking excitement to violent action. On the other hand, the exposure given to sports violence by the media has stimulated increased efforts to control and prevent such behavior.

There are several leading theories about sport violence. The following are the best examples that I encountered.

There are three major theories that seek to explain violent aggression in sports (Terry and Jackson, p. 27; Leonard, pp. 170-71). The biological theory, proposed most notably by Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz, sees aggression as a basic, inherent human characteristic. Within this context, sports are seen as a socially acceptable way to discharge built-up aggression, a safety valve.

The psychological theory states that aggression is caused by frustration; it is situational. Frustration results when one's efforts to reach a particular goal are blocked (Leonard, p. 170). In sports, frustration can be caused by questionable calls by officials, failure to make a particular play, injuries that interfere with optimum performance, heckling from spectators, or taunts by coaches or players.

The social learning theory has received the most empirical verification (Leonard, p. 171) and maintains that aggressive behavior is learned through modeling and reinforced by rewards and punishments. Young athletes take sports heroes as role models and imitate their behavior. Parents, coaches and teammates are also models that may demonstrate support for an aggressive style of play.

According to Terry and Jackson (p. 30), reinforcement for acts of violence may come from three sources: (a) the athlete's immediate reference group--coaches, teammates, family, friends; (b) structure of the game and implementation of rules by officials and governing bodies; (c) attitudes of fans, media, courts, and society. Reinforcement may take the form of rewards, such as praise, trophies, starting position, respect of friends and family. Vicarious reinforcement may be derived from seeing professional players lionized and paid huge salaries, in spite of, or because of, their aggressive style of play (Leonard, p. 171). Players who don't display the desired degree of aggressiveness may receive negative reinforcement through criticism from parents and coaches, lack of playing time, harassment by teammates, opponents, or spectators.

These theories provide a basis for interventions that may curb excessive aggression, especially among young athletes. Terry and Jackson (p. 35), suggest that socialization forces, particularly reinforcement, offer the best focus for intervention. In addition, psychological forces can be addressed by modifying or controlling situations that produce frustration.

What is the impact of children participating in sport?

Ideally children's participation in team sports should be fun, contribute to their physical development and well being, help to develop social skills, and promote a desire for continued involvement with physical activity. The objective of physical

education in schools should be to encourage development of appropriate exercise habits, with emphasis on the recreational aspects of physical activities (Roskosz, p. 7).

Unfortunately, compelling evidence suggests that, for many children, the pressures associated with sports produce low self-esteem, excessive anxiety, and aggressive behavior. Children may eventually experience "sports burnout" and develop a lifelong avoidance of physical activity (Hellstedt, p. 60, 62).

In Hellstedt's opinion (p. 62), these negative outcomes of sports involvement are caused by adults, particularly parents and coaches. Lip service is paid to sportsmanship and having fun, but rewards are reserved for winning. Often, encouragement to pursue victory is accompanied by direct and indirect signals that aggressive behavior is acceptable to achieve it. Hellstedt also suggests that anxiety about winning impedes performance and makes players more susceptible to injury. Physicians have noticed an increase in sports-related injuries in children (Hellstedt, p. 59).

What can be done to curb the outpouring of violence in sports?

Physical educators and coaches are in a key position to lay the groundwork for positive attitudes in sports. Guidelines for teaching children to shun violent behavior in sports include:

(a) Put sports in perspective. Coaches should not emphasize winning at all cost. Enjoyment and the development of individual skills should be the objective. Coaches should be alert to and praise improvement. Athletic performance should not be equated with personal worth (Coakley, p. 106). Players should not be encouraged or allowed to play when injured or ill, as a demonstration of stoic virtue.

(b) Stress participation. Hellstedt (p.70) cites studies that show that many children ages 9-14 drop out of sports because they spend too much time on the bench and not enough on the field. They perceive themselves as unsuccessful because their level of performance doesn't earn them more playing time. A study of young male athletes indicated that 90% would rather have an opportunity to play on a losing team than sit on the bench of a winning team.

(c) Present positive role models. Sports violence is most prevalent in professional sports. Coaches should avoid symbolic associations with professional teams--e.g. names, logos. They should not model their own coaching techniques on those of professional coaches (Coakley, pp. 107-8). Weiser and Love (p. 5) recommend that school coaches implement strategies to foster feelings of team ownership among players, replacing the traditional hierarchy--authoritarian coach, submissive players--that governs the coach-player relationship in professional sports. Encourage input, permit participation in decision-making, and listen to player feedback. Feelings of team ownership foster team cohesiveness, which in turn leads to better performance.

(d) Integrate values-oriented intervention strategies into the curriculum. Waldzilak cites a number of intervention strategies, utilizing Kohlberg's moral development model and social learning theories, which have been shown to produce improvement or modification of behavior, moral reasoning and perceptions of sportsmanship (Wandzilak et al., p. 14). Teachers and coaches should commit themselves to actively teaching positive sports-related values, and devise curricula that do so.

(e) Involve parents. As the earliest and potentially the most influential role models, parents can have a critical impact on a child's attitudes towards sports. Physical educators and coaches should inform parents of curricular activities and goals, alert them to signs of anxiety or aggressive behavior, encourage positive attitudes toward competition and physical activity, and promote realistic expectations for performance (Hellstedt, pp. 69-70)


An analysis of all this information suggests that this problem can be solved. While there is not an easy solution to the problem, there is hope. While Leonard suggests that the violence in sports is part due to media coverage and the violent events get the publics attention. Lee submits that the aggression towards even a single person, either on or off the field, may lead to hostility towards that person ethnic group, supporters, fans and even their perceived social class.

While there seems to be three central theoretical explanations to violence in sports, the social learning theory has the most empirical support, according to Leonard. Do we really reward people for aggressive behavior? Have we created this problem by supporting it? I believe that we have.

The only true conclusion is that we are all partly responsible for the violence we witness in sports today. We reward winning; we only pay lip service to sportsmanship, which to many is a lost art. Sports were at one time about the enjoyment of the game, learning the game and having fun. Now the message we send to children is, win at all costs. If you lose, you are a failure. No one wants to watch a failure.

Until we as I society like the error of our ways, and acknowledge that we have a serious problem on our hands, little will change. Until be remember why we have sports, entertainment and for fun, I fear that this problem will only grow worse in the future.


I wrote this report because I am interested in this problem. As a professional soccer referee, I see this problem virtually every time I step on the pitch. I see children of ten years be told that winning is everything; you only have fun if you win, winning is the only thing. I see professional players not only disrespecting others, but themselves as well. Professionals are supposed to be the examples for young people to look up to. What do they see? They see players fighting, players following spectators into the stands to fight. They see player spitting at referees. And what happens to these players? Nothing. They blame everyone else for there actions. The referee was terrible, the fans are stupid. Whatever their excuses are, that is just what they are, excuses. Only when people take responsibility for their actions will this problem start to fix itself. I would not want my children, or anyone for that matter, see me spitting at a referee. But that is the problem; people don’t care. We have become a society of people that take no responsibility for our actions, the blame others for our stupidity. It is becoming a very sad state of affairs. These sports used to be fun and enjoyable. Now, if you don’t win, you are nothing. What a great message to send to that six year old watching the game. What are we teaching our children? I am afraid to ask.


Coakley, Jay J. (1982) Sport in Society, Issues and Controversies (Second Edition). St. Louis: C.V. Mosby Company.

Debendotte, Valerie. (1988, March) Spectator Violence at Sports Events: What Keeps Enthusiastic Fans in Bounds? The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4) 203-11. EJ 372 800.

Hellstedt, Jon C. (1988, April) Kids, Parents and Sport: Some Questions and Answers. The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 16 (4) 59-71. EJ 376 620.

Lee, Martin J. (1985) From Rivalry to Hostility Among Sports Fans. Quest, 37 (1) 38-49.

Leonard, Wilbert Marcellus. (1988) A Sociological Perspective of Sport (Third Edition). New York, Macmillan Publishing Company.

Roskosz, Francis M. (1988, Late Winter) The Paradoxes of Play. The Physical Educator, 45 (1) 5-13. EJ 371 284.

Terry, Peter C. and Jackson, John J. (1985) The Determinants and Control of Violence in Sport. Quest, 37 (1) 27-37.

Wandzilak, Thomas (1985). Values Development Through Physical Education and Athletics. Quest, 37 (2) 176-85.

Wandzilak, Thomas, et al. (1988, October). Values Development Through Physical Activity: Promoting Sportsmanlike Behaviors. Perceptions and Moral Reasoning. Journal of Teaching in Physical Education, 8 (1) 13-21.*

Weiser, Kathy and Love, Phyllis (1988, September-October). Who Owns Your Team? Strategies, 2 (1) 5-8

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