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Competition aggression


Competition of most any type brings out aggressive behavior. People compete to win. To win, you sometimes must be assertive, determined, and courageous. You are in the pursuit of Pil Sung “Intent to attain certain victory.” However, this is a competition not a war, so it does not mean victory at any cost. As a competitor, you must make sure your assertive quest to win does not become aggressive behavior

What is aggression

Aggression is

  • An action taken with the intent to harm.
  • A sequence of behavior in which the goal is to injure another person.
  • Any form of behavior directed toward the goal of harming or injuring another person who not trying to harm you.
  • For an action to be overt aggressive behavior, it must be directed against a living target, thus excluding an action such as angrily throwing your helmet to the floor. 
  • For an action to be aggressive, it must be with the intent to harm the target, thus excluding unintended injury upon another human being.
  • There must a reasonable expectation that the aggression will be successful and that the target be harmed. Thus, this excludes behavior where the victim cannot be harmed, i.e. when the aggressor and the victim are separated by bars or teammates.

Aggression is not

  • Anger is not aggression. One can be very angry and even exhibit unsportsmanlike behavior and still not exhibit any aggressive behavior. 
  • Assertiveness is not aggression. Assertiveness is often confused with aggression. Assertiveness involves legitimate, physical, or verbal force to achieve a goal. There is no intent to harm; therefore, it is not aggression. 

Purposes of Aggression

Aggression can serve several different purposes, including:
  • To express anger or hostility.
  • To assert dominance.
  • To intimidate or threaten.
  • To achieve a goal.
  • To express possession.
  • A response to fear.
  • A reaction to pain.
  • To compete with others.

Types of aggression

Instrumental Aggression (also known as predatory aggression)

Instrumental aggression is marked by behaviors that are intended to achieve a larger goal. For example, beating a robbery victim who does not voluntarily had over her purse. The aggressor may not be angry at the victim. The victim is merely an obstacle that is preventing the aggressor from achieving a goal.

Certain sports, such as football, ice hockey, wrestling, etc. have higher levels of physical contact, which leads to higher levels of aggressive behavior. To win at these sports, you need to be physically aggressive; however, there are rules that limit the level of the aggression allowed.
  • Goal: To achieve some external reward at any cost.
  • Intent: To harm any person who is in the way of achieving the reward.
  • Reinforcement: Achieving the external reward
  • Example: During a competition, a competitor sees winning as more important than obeying the rules.

Morality in sports

Finding a common moral value is difficult yet essential in defining aggression in sport. Some people think that any type of aggression is wrong but sometimes aggression is morally acceptable, such as in defending the life of another person. 

Understanding the game mentality

Every game and sport has its own culture or accepted way of doing things. Understanding this culture is vital in distinguishing between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior. Therefore, one’s perspective of the game and the influence of the game’s culture constitute one’s views on aggression in a sport.

Distinguishing between aggressive acts in a sport that are acceptable and those that are unacceptable is based upon three issues:
  • The game mentality may be one with morals and with negative consequences for immoral actions.
  • The game mentality may be one where there are morals but there are no negative consequences for immoral actions.
  • The game mentality may be one with altered moral definitions making it difficult to know the difference between what is moral and that which is not.
  • The game mentality may be one devoid of morality, thus you are playing with no moral considerations.

Hostile Aggression (also known as affective or impulsive aggression)

Hostile aggression, on the other hand, is violence that goes beyond the scope of the sport. It is characterized by strong emotions, usually anger. This form of aggression is not planned and often takes place in the heat of the moment. When another car cuts you off in traffic and you begin yelling and berating the other driver, you're experiencing impulsive aggression. Research suggests that impulsive aggression, especially when it's caused by anger, triggers the acute threat response system in the brain, involving the amygdala, hypothalamus, and periaqueductal gray (PAG).
  • Goal: To harm or injure another person.
  • Intent: To make the person suffer.
  • Reinforcement: The pain and suffering felt by the person.
  • Example: After being angered by being accidentally hit while sparring, the competitor purposely strikes the opponent during the break.

Factors that can influence aggression

Several different factors can influence the expression of aggression, including:
  • Biological factors. Some people are naturally be more aggressive. Men are more likely than women to engage in physical aggression. Studies have shown that the level of testosterone in male athletes impacts their aggressive level. Changes in hormone levels can also increase or reduce aggression. For example, during puberty when testosterone levels generally increase, competitive aggression tends to also increase. While researchers have found that women are less likely to engage in physical aggression, they also suggest that women do use non-physical forms, such as verbal aggression, relational aggression, and social rejection.
  • Physical  or mental factors. Epilepsy, dementia, psychosis, alcohol abuse, drug use, and brain injuries or abnormalities can also influence aggression.
  • Environmental factors. Environmental factors like heat often lead to aggression. Research on weather and crime shows that acts of violence happen most during the summer.
  • Having heroes that exhibit bad behavior. Increased media attention on pro-athletes has revealed shocking displays of violence both on and off the sports field. This influences fans, who often admire and glamorize such athletes.
  • Aggressive parents. Where and how you were raised can influence your views of aggression. Some parents are violent and aggressive with their children at home, and on the sports field. Growing up witnessing forms of aggression lead people to believe it is socially acceptable. A Minnesota survey found that 17% of adolescent athletes said that an adult had hit, kicked, and slapped them while participating in sports. Experiencing such violent behavior leads to athletes using the same behavior in their sports. Bandura's famous Bobo doll experiment demonstrated that observation can also play a role in how aggression is learned. Children who watched a video clip where an adult model behaved aggressively toward a Bobo doll were more likely to imitate those actions when given the opportunity.
  • Showing loyalty or seeking revenge. Moral reasoning theory suggests that some think aggressive behavior is not just okay, but even the right thing to do in certain circumstances. Aggressive behavior is often justified by players as showing loyalty to teammates, especially when seeking revenge for injured teammates.
  • Crowd incitement. Many times, parents, coaches, and fans encourage aggression from the sidelines by shouting violent things, such as ‘kill him!’, ‘trip her,’ “Do what you gotta do,’ let ‘em have it.”
  • Living up to expectations. Athletes are nervous about performing well. Sports have become so important to parents and they have such high expectations for performance and the winning of the game, that many children play much more aggressively than they would if their main objective were to play for enjoyment. Many parents are living their lives through their children, wanting them to be better than they were.

Effects of aggression on performance

  • Hostile Aggression. Performance would appear to wane considering the aggressor being more concerned with harming the opponent than defeating the opponent.
  • Instrumental Aggression. Performance would be more likely to improve given that the player harms the opponent in order of gaining an advantage. Such variables as gender, degree of sports involvement, and external rewards influence also affect athletic aggression.

Aggression in the martial arts

Martial arts tend to level aggression. When overly aggressive students begin training, as time progresses, they tend to be less aggressive and be able to control their aggressive feelings. When meek students begin training, as time progresses, they tend to be more assertive and learn when controlled aggression is justified. 

In all the judo and taekwondo competitions I have attended over the decades, I don’t remember ever seeing any competitor exhibit any overt hostile aggression. There were times that temper flared but, due to the ethics taught as a part of martial arts training and the negative consequences of overt aggression, emotions were controlled, and good sportsmanship prevailed. But that was then—now things such as ethics, morals, civility, and courtesy seem to be passé. 

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