sealPurdue News

June 5, 1998

Coaches, parents to blame when ball games turn brutal

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- In the heat of a soccer match, Bobby runs toward the goal, in hot pursuit of the ball. Suddenly he gets off a kick, missing the ball, but landing a foot squarely on an opponent's shin. Was it an accident or a calculated maneuver?

The people to ask might be Bobby's coach -- or his mom and dad.

In a Purdue University study of morality and motivation in sports, teen-age athletes rated coaches as having the most influence on their likelihood to be overly aggressive or to cheat in sports. Parents also were a factor, with dads having the most influence on cheating and moms influencing aggression.

"The coach is a critical component of the competitive climate," says Joan Duda, a professor of sports psychology in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Leisure Studies. She has published a series of studies looking at athletes, motivational factors and sportsmanship. Duda says many coaches create a climate that motivates players yet reinforces fair play.

"However, if players perceive that the coach accepts or endorses foul play, then they are more likely to get raunchy on the field," she says.

Previous studies have shown that ego orientation is another factor in ballgame brutality. Duda says task-oriented athletes believe success is gained by exerting effort, mastering skills and personal improvement. These players are less likely to cheat, injure others or try to intimidate opponents.

On the other hand, the ego-oriented athlete views success as being superior to others by outperforming them or by performing equally while exerting less effort. Research shows that these athletes are more likely to cheat or be aggressive. "Their egos are so fragile, they must be better than others to feel good about themselves," she says.

The latest findings are based on a study by Duda and Purdue graduate student Marta Guivernau of Barcelona, Spain. They studied 135 male and 59 female athletes participating in an elite summer soccer camp. The participants ranged from 13 to 17 years old.

Guivernau will present their findings at the annual meeting of the North American Society for Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity, June 11-14, in St. Charles, Ill.

The athletes in the study read scenarios depicting an athlete intentionally cheating or injuring an opponent. Afterwards, the players rated the likelihood that they would participate in such behavior.

With regard to harming another player, coaches were regarded as more influential than persons such as best friends, popular teammates, team captains or parents.

Guivernau says athletes perceive that coaches endorse cheating and aggression more than their parents. "But for both males and females, if a kid thinks dad approves of cheating, then he or she is more likely to cheat. Likewise, if mom supports overly aggressive behavior, then the athlete will likely intimidate or intentionally injure an opposing player," she says.

Among these talented teens, Duda says, cheating and aggression were well accepted. When asked if more than half of their teammates would cheat in general, 70 percent of the males and 57 percent of the females responded yes. In terms of aggressive acts, no less than one-third and as many as 84 percent of the athletes indicated that they would commit the various aggressions depicted.

"One of the things we're finding is that elite female athletes are just as likely as males to endorse aggression if they think it will give them an advantage," Duda says.

In general, Guivernau says, team norms for aggression and/or cheating predicted the player's aggressive tendencies. "However, the team norms were consistent with what players believed to be acceptable in the eyes of the coach," she says.

Duda says good coaches are important in the positive development of athletes, and so are good parents. She suggests parents monitor the sports environment of their children, and when necessary, get kids out from under bad coaching influences.

Duda and Guivernau offer these tips on how to nurture a healthy sports-attitude in children:

  • Make sure that your child is having fun. Never stress winning as the most important thing. Guivernau says very young children don't even know who won the game, and it's not necessary for parents to tell them.

  • Stress skill development and competence as the goals of sports participation. "This leads to excellence in talented young athletes and continued involvement for recreational players," Duda says.

  • Point out other benefits of sports, such as camaraderie and the health advantages of physical activity.

  • Don't let children under the age of 12 focus on only one sport. Children who participate in a variety of sports have enhanced overall athletic ability and self-esteem.

  • Be a parent, not a coach. "Skill and strategy are up to the coach. Never try to coach from the stands," Duda says.

Sources: Joan Duda, (765) 494-3172; e-mail,
Marta Guivernau, (765) 496-2231; e-mail,
Writer: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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