Predictors of Likelihood to Aggress in Youth Soccer: An Examination of Coed and All-Girls Teams

Article excerpt

The present study is a replication and extension of Stephens and Bredemeier's (1996) study of likelihood to aggress in female youth soccer players. Three hundred and seven soccer players, representing three age-group coed leagues (n=257: Under -11, Under -12, and Under -13) and one all-girls league (n=50), answered a soccer-specific test battery which included an assessment of players' perceived ability, goal orientation, perception of coach's goal orientation, perception of team's pro-aggressive norm, moral motive, and likelihood to aggress. Results of stepwise multiple regressions indicated players' perceptions of their team's pro-aggressive norm was the primary predictor of likelihood to aggress for boys and girls in the coed leagues, as well as for girls in the all-girls league. Moral motive and perceived ability also contributed to the prediction equation for the boys in the coed leagues; perception of coach's ego orientation also added to the prediction equation for the girls playing in the all-girls league.

Recent research by Stephens and Bredemeier (1996) examined likelihood to aggress in youth sport in light of the moral reasoning theories of Kohlberg (1984) and Haan (1991), Kolberg's work (Higgins, Power, & Kohlberg, 1984) on moral atmosphere, and Nicholls' (1984) theory of goal orientation. Combining contemporary structural developmental theories of moral reasoning and social cognitive theories of motivation, Stephens and Bredemeier (1996) found that both moral and motivational factors were important in understanding willingness to commit an aggressive act in a sample of youth soccer players in an all-girls league. Specifically, the strongest predictor of likelihood to act aggressively was players' perceptions of their team's pro-aggression norm. Additionally, players' perceptions of their coaches' ego orientation and their own moral orientation were significantly related to likelihood to aggress. The purpose of the present study was to replicate and extend their study by examining a sample of young soccer players from both a coeducational league and an all-girls league.

A key element of the theoretical work in moral reasoning and development of Kohlberg (1984) and Haan (1991) provides a framework for understanding moral behavior in sport. While these theorists differ in several key concepts, they share a developmental sequence with three primary levels (see Shields & Bredemeier, 1995, for a more complete discussion). Level 1, pre-conventional,1 reflects an ego-centric point of view placing one's own welfare above that of others. A focus on reward and/or punishment guides individuals in understanding right and wrong. Individuals reasoning at Level 2, conventional, are concerned with others' expectations or the norms of their society, social group, family, or, in this case, team. Behaviors are accepted or rejected based on individuals' perceptions of these norms or expectations. Level 3, post-conventional, reasoning is characterized by a reliance on general moral principles to guide behavior. Kohlberg believed justice was the most adequate of all moral principles. Bredemeier, Shields, and colleagues (Bredemeier, 1985; Bredemeier & Shields, 1984, 1986a, 1986b; Bredemeier, Weiss, Shields, & Cooper, 1987) examined the relationships of level of moral reasoning to a variety of sport-related constructs, including gender differences, sport experience, level of contact, legitimization of injurious acts, and aggression2.

A potential contributor to a team's pro-aggression norm might be team members' experience in sports that allow greater levels of contact or collision between opponents. In a study of elementary school students (Bredemeier et al., 1987), only boys' length of participation and interest in high contact sports and girls' participation in medium contact sports were associated with lower levels of moral reasoning. These categories are the highest level of contact for each gender. …