Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Strategies to reduce Aggression: The Coach and The Athlete

Strategies to reduce Aggression: The Coach   

One key strategy is to punish aggressive players using penalties e.g. monetary fines or threatening their status as a starter or squad member in general. The reasoning for this is that Tenebaum et al (1997) suggests “aggression occurs in sport where the reward value outweighs punishment value” so to counteract this Tenebaum et al (1997) makes the recommendation that coaches should make fundamental penalty revisions so that rule-violating behaviour results in punishments that have greater punitive value than potential reinforcement.

Conroy et al. (2001) suggest, as the stakes of competition increase, players may perceive that the reinforcement and punishment structures within their sport are simultaneously changing to facilitate aggression. Duda, Olson, & Templin (1991) also stated that winning has become an essential part of sport, and increased professionalism breeds an atmosphere of “winning at all costs." The traditional causes of sport engagement, such as fun and fair play, appear to have decreased substantially. Research has shown that when athletes place a strong emphasis on beating others, they are more likely to endorse cheating and perceive intentionally injurious acts as more acceptable. 

This is in line with a study by Visek and Watson (2005) who discovered in their investigation of ice hockey players that as they increased in age and competitive level, there was a correspondingly increasing trend in their perceived legitimacy of aggressive ice hockey behaviour and their attitudes about sport tended to become increasingly professionalized. So the longer a player remains in the sport and the more important the contest, the more professionalized he may become with an increased emphasis on winning at the cost of fairness, equity, and sports personship.

Another strategy a coach can use is positive reinforcement and reward for non-aggressive behaviour with athletes who show non aggressive behaviour being praised and publicised as good role models. According to Morra and Smith (1995), aggression in ice hockey can be traced to the National Hockey League (NHL). Recent headlines cite professional teams setting records for penalty minutes and extreme player aggression. If the NHL serves as the pinnacle of the sport, it is reasonable to expect that younger players may emulate the professionals. So if we highlight positive role models and reward these for their actions then young performers get a positive person to base their vicarious experiences on. A perfect role model to reinforce this is Gary Lineker who throughout his entire footballing career never received a yellow card.   

Gary Lineker is a greater positive role model


Tenebaum et al (1997) suggests Coaches/managers should encourage athletes to engage in pro-social behaviour like visiting community projects and get the club and general media to help reinforce and highlight this positive message. This strategy is so important because as Cox (2007) maintains at the moment some of the most influential people in sport actually promote rather than discourage violence because it sells tickets. Strategies like this would allow the athletes to see the benefits of their positive work which would hopefully then encourage younger athletes and the general public to follow in the same actions.

Coaches also need strategies in place to prevent themselves turning to aggression. Recently the coach of Fiorentina attempted to attack one of his players, subsequently he has been sacked over the incident.

Cox (2007) also suggested coaches who promote aggression should be fined or suspended and this is exactly what has happened to the NFL’s New Orleans Coaching staff who have received various suspensions without pay over their involvement in the Bounty programme  

Strategies to reduce Aggression: The Athlete

A strategy that athletes themselves can implement is increased peer pressure. Individually and collectively they can encourage positive play and highlight responsibility to their team so discouraging aggressive play. This would encourage the team as a whole as they would observe a fellow respectable member acting in the correct way and it would also in turn make the athlete themself more aware of their behaviour.  

Tenebaum et al (1997) suggests athletes should take part in programs aimed at helping them reduce behavioural tendencies toward aggression. The tightening of rules and imposing of harsher penalties is only part of the answer to inhibiting aggression in sport. Ultimately there needs to be a changing of reinforcement patterns and the athlete must assume responsibility for their behaviour.


  1. Hi Matthew,
    I'm a third year university student doing a minor in sport psychology. I just wanted to say your articles are both informative and well written. I've found them very useful in preparation for my exam!

    All the best
    Oliver Hann

  2. I'am glad to read the whole content of this topic and am very excited.Thank you.