The notion that high school athletics promote self-esteem, achievement, competition and fair play among youngsters may not be true, with a new study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University revealing that youth sports have also been marred by high-profile accounts of brawling, sexual assault, and bullying.
Lead researcher Derek Kreager has found that male teenager athletes who participate in contact sports, such as football and wrestling, face an increased likelihood of violence by over 40 percent as compared to non-athletes.
The researcher says when youth are rewarded for on-the-field violence; there is a flawed expectation that these lessons will not be taken off-the field.
Kreager involved 6,400 male adolescents in his study, of which 25 percent-played football and seven percent were wrestlers.
"The results suggest that sports fail to protect males from interpersonal violence. Indeed, contact sports are positively associated with male serious fighting," he said.
He Kreager looked at the culture surrounding high school football to determine the sports-violence connection.
"On the one hand, parents, coaches, and communities expect athletes to abide by conventional rules, with the threat of team expulsion deterring misbehaviour. On the other hand, these same groups provide contact-sport athletes with situational definitions that support violence as a means of attaining 'battlefield' victories, increasing peer status, and asserting 'warrior' identities," Professor Kreager said.
He believes that sports programs, including coaches and parents, ultimately need to emphasize self-control and respect, rather than domination, to reduce sports-related violence.
According to him, this "increases the likelihood that aggression will be contained within the sport and potentially reduced in non-sporting contexts. It is the values emphasized in the program that can positively affect development."