3 Tips for Helping Young Athletes with Sports Aggression
Many families are challenged when it comes to aggression in youth and interscholastic sports, especially as it applies to kids who have difficulty controlling their aggression on the sports field. While the level of physical play ranges in sport (from low-contact to full-contact), it’s never a bad idea for youth sports parents (regardless of sport type) to help kids learn early about the differences in aggression, and when aggression is OK (or even desired) versus inappropriate (or grounds for a penalty).
1. Teach your child the difference between hostile and instrumental aggression. Hostile aggression is aggression that is known as “bad” aggression because it is not the type of aggression that is within the rules or facilitative toward sports success. An example of hostile aggression is when a child cheap-shot punches an opponent after the play has ended. Instrumental aggression, however, is an appropriate type of mental toughness aggression — an example of this type of aggression would be a basketball player blocking out under the basket for better rebounding position.
2. Help your child understand sportsmanship as it applies to aggression. If your child is working on his aggression in sports but still occasionally uses hostile aggression, try and make it a “teachable moment” by helping him use proper sportsmanship after committing the foul. For example, you might want to have your child apologize to the opponent he acted out against after the game.
3. Keep aggression in sports. Especially when kids are young it’s very important to teach them the differences when aggression is appropriate (i.e. tackling in football) and when it’s inappropriate (i.e. settling a dispute in the classroom). Many kids learn that aggression “works” in sports, but aren’t mentally mature enough to know where to draw the line outside of sports (this is especially true with younger kids).
Controlled, instrumental aggression is very different from angry, out-of-control hostile aggression. Parents can teach kids early about these differences by using specific examples for each. It’s also important to help kids learn healthy and effective coping for when they experience frustration so that they don’t resort to the same aggression that may have “worked” for them on the field – but isn’t appropriate for other life situations.
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