Control Of Aggression Starts At Home

BY DR. VIRGINIA SAVAGE FOR FLORIDA TODAY

What is acceptable aggression in football? A bone crushing tackle might be seen as violent or heroic, depending on your point of view or whose side you’re on.

Actually, we expect to see aggression on the field in football don’t we? And sometimes the fans are worse than the players, making spectacles of themselves screaming at the ref and even fighting in the stands.

There is a great deal of pressure for players to be aggressive without really defining what it is, what is effective, acceptable, and inspiring and what isn’t. Sure penalties dictate what happens when people are watching. But where is the line really drawn?

First of all, aggression isn’t some uncontrollable urge that rises up and has to be released from some dark cave of our emotions. Aggressive behavior is shaped by what we learn and from our experiences. In addition, females are as capable of aggression in sports as males. In other words, no one can really use the excuse of uncontrollable instinct or boys will be boys to explain aggression.

Although hormones and emotions (anger, fear, despair) increase the likelihood of hostile aggression, aggressive behavior is learned by observing others, reinforcement (rewards) of toughness, and repeated experiences.

However, there are clear signs that hostility is no longer tolerated or overlooked in football. Due to instant replay on TV, illegal fouls can no longer be ignored. The NFL even goes back over film and fines players for fouls that weren’t call during the game if they seem intentional.

In football and soccer players expect a lot of physical contact in their game. Injuries that result from excessive force are so common that everybody believes that unless you hit harder you’re going to get annihilated, i.e., if you are not ready to get hurt, go play another sport. Because violent aggression seems natural it becomes part of the game strategy, especially when you can get away with it.

Actually, aggression in the form of hostility and violence actually penalizes the team and the player. One too many fouls and/or penalties can get a player kicked off the field and out of the game. In a worse-case scenario, misplaced aggression can take a player out for the season or longer with a broken leg, arm, back, neck, you name it.

I often hear from team members that one player is the identified loose cannon, unable to control anger and frustration, losing yardage and advantage for the entire team. One can go from bonecrusher to bonehead in minutes.

Aggression instrumental to the game focuses on performance, discharging energy only where it is most productive, the goal of getting the ball to the goal and preventing it from going in the opposite direction. Aggression focused on doing harm actually limits the team’s potential for winning. Energy that could be focused on strategy has suddenly narrowed the goal to seeking revenge. This focus works sometimes but it isn’t consistent in championship games.

Control of aggression that is not productive starts at home. Coaches, parents and players should expect and deliver penalties for hostile aggression. The only real reward is a game well played that everyone can be proud of, as a team.

The lack of hostility in aggression does not mean being a doormat. It simply means players refuse to let emotions take over. The focus should be on teamwork, strategy and undying determination. Parents can help by seeing the game as a way to practice excellence rather than fighting an enemy. Make it a family affair to support the player.

The result of changing the focus from rage to the brilliance of teamwork in football can change your life. The real result is you will be more in control, the team will be a united force, and football becomes fun again. The icing on the cake is winning the game. If aggression is a challenge, you and/or your team can learn how to control it, rather than have it control you.