Anger in Sports: Aggressiveness Gone Bad

Posted on: July 10, 2007

In sports, some degree of aggressiveness is vital. Don’t get me wrong, when I use the word aggressive I am referring to that fierce, tenacious spirit that builds true winners. It is the kind of spirit that allows the sports person to fail and reenergize to succeed at the next try. It is the kind of aggression that sees opportunities and seizes them to clutch victory over and over again. This kind of aggressiveness is in my mind a hallmark of sportsmanship.

Sadly, however, a trend is emerging on and off the field that is troubling. It is a kind of aggressiveness that has become toxic anger. A simple little league game can become a brawl that ends up in court or worst, in the hospital. Words fly on the field that should never be spoken anywhere especially not in front of children. Young players disregard the rights and physical wellbeing of their teammates all in the name of winning. Parents and coaches engage in fist fights and verbal exchanges that go beyond unacceptable behavior. Somehow this aggression has gone bad.

There are many dangers in this emerging trend but I will only address two. The first is related to the idea that how we express anger is learned. I have weekly encounters with individuals who struggle with anger. There is one thing that remains consistent–people who struggle with anger in the majority of cases have a parent or close relative who raised them that also have an anger problem. This troubles me because in sports, children who see parents exhibit problems with anger often imitate this and are more prone to display unhealthy anger and aggression on and off the field leading to these children being labeled as lacking sportsmanship or worst, exhibiting the kind of anger that affects their ability to deal with challenges at school and in the community.

The second danger is that anger is a secondary emotion and a signal. If these signals are ignored the consequence is explosive anger which is often destructive. Parents and other spectators who exhibit anger on a sporting field are often responding to other feelings that initially are not anger. They may feel emotions like fear, embarrassment, or even jealousy. These emotions flood the mind letting us know that something has gone wrong that needs our attention. If not dealt with appropriately they become anger. This anger is then taken out on others in ways that has in some cases has been deadly.

Individuals who exhibit inappropriate anger or aggression on or off the field need anger management. They need the kind of program which does not take away that healthy aggression but will teach ways to channel this aggression in appropriate ways which is so important in sports. Here are four tips parents and guardians can use to reduce inappropriate anger at sporting events:


· Ensure that your decision to enroll your child in sports is purely for your child’s development.

· Don’t display behaviors you would be ashamed to see your child repeat

· Make sure that the value placed on the game is realistic.

· Be on your best behavior when interacting with parents who have children on apposing teams to your child


Carlos Todd, LPC, NCC, CAMF

President of the American Association of Anger Management Providers

Carlos Todd is the owner of Todd’s Anger Management Solutions in Charlotte, NC




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July 2007
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