Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Australian Open in Melbourne. It was a first for me, having been an avid tennis junkie in my teenage years as well as a keen fan of the circuit, idolising players and hanging their merchandise on my wardrobe walls. Being able to finally attend Rod Laver arena was a bit of a return to those childhood dreams and aspirations and tapping into the sense of adulation and naïve wonder at the athletes who were performing on the evening. It was a very fun filled experience and did put me in contact with my teenage self again.
Combine this with my sports personality as it currently stands brought me to question, what is it about court sports that I am so attracted to? I’ve always been a tennis player, squash player, basketballer, volleyballer, softball etc. Considering my hand/eye co-ordination must be the reason that I gravitate towards these types of sports. However it also lead me to question what type of role ‘personality’ has in sports? Particularly how this relates to contact sports? Why was I never really drawn to rugby, boxing, wrestling or other traditionally aggressive ‘collision’ sports?
I remember being in my first Taekwando grading in my little gym in Dubbo, NSW. I really only went along because a friend wanted to do it and so I was a ‘bring along’ and support. It didn’t take long for the instructors to see that I had flexibility, balance and body awareness, already being honed from dance and creative arts. So my first assessment where we told not to worry about actually striking anyone because we would never have it happen, of course resulted in me being selected for a ‘double grading’ where I would skip the next belt and go straight to ‘green or yellow’. Thus – I had to free spar! “ OH LORDY” I remember thinking, looking desperately at my instructor as they called out some other guy who it turns out had year of experience in karate!!!!! Going through the motions of having this person in front of me whom I was supposed to actually strike was a new idea to me. All I can remember was the instructor whispering behind me ‘kick high’ so that’s what I did. Pulling on all my dance knowledge (which was incredibly minimal at the time) I pulled out as many grande battements as I could muster – even with the occasional grunt and ‘HI YA’ as I could in my girlish freshly broken vocal capacity.
Then it happened – that moment where I knew I would never again put on a gee or a boxing glove – HE HIT ME! I was done. It was all fine whilst we were kind of throwing air punches at each other and pretending to be all masculine and so forth. But the minute that that blow landed in my solar plexus – I WAS DONE. I walked out of that grading and never stepped foot in a martial arts class again.
So apart from testing my perceptions of masculinity and that imposed sense of being ‘protector and defender’ and ‘standing up for myself’. What was it that was so confronting about ‘contact’ or collision sport that so didn’t register with me? There’s something to be said about the type of sports personality that you are. What you naturally gravitate towards.
Many researchers make the differentiation between those who are aggressive and those who are assertive on the sporting field. “Aggression is behaviour with a goal of harming of injuring another being motivated to avoid such treatment”. There is the idea of whether a participant is just being assertive. A small difference when you are throwing your shoulder into a tackle to perform one of those crushing and utter defeats to a winger making a sprint down the sideline. (or something along those lines as I am lead to believe). The main difference is in the intention – to harm or to achieve an outcome that is indirect to harm.
Gills Criteria stipulates that assertive behaviour is goal directed – in that you are trying to achieve an outcome within the confines of the rules of the game. There is no malice or intent to injure, harm or maim an opponent. There is the willingness to perform an amazing strike or hit that wins the point but not to cause any physical or emotional damage. This also relates to the third category of aggression instrumental aggression where the action is aggressive in physical or emotional content, but again the intention is simply to achieve the goal of the game. You can’t win a boxing match without landing a few punches.
It’s interesting to note that aggressive behaviour is often cited as a result of frustration – whether at the lack of being able to defeat an opponent’s skills (note the display of some tennis players tantrums when they lose ultimate points or games) or achieve a better result. But maybe that’s another article…
But why are some of us drawn to assertive sports? There are so many factors that address this choice and influence our natural selection towards identifying with aggression/assertive environments. Too many to delve into in an article of this nature. A personality is the sum of a myriad of factors. But when looking at choices of sports, there is a constant theme of what brings about ‘validation’ for someone.
As youth, we are constantly seeking validation and recognition to boost our own sense of self esteem and self worth. Hilary Levey Friedman (American based PhD Sociologist) talks about how some youngsters find natural accordance with their identity on the sporting field. As competitive beings, some youngsters are naturally drawn to competitive sports such as soccer or rugby as this allows their physical being to shine and also perhaps an identity outside of what is their prescribed behaviour. The obvious example is girls soccer. Some girls find the androgenous uniforms and physically expressive mode of the sport to be the chance to explore that more physical and brash side of their personality. Getting muddy, tough physical contact and literally wrestling with opponents is a form of developing those competitive and physically expressive traits. Female basketball and netball can also be a similar attraction. Baggy tops, no jewellery or make up, tough woman-on-woman battling over the ball and lots of physical contact – it’s a form of expression of competitiveness which is a learning ground for later in life. Indeed, learning how to play on a team and deal with competitiveness on the sporting field directly applies to a competitive environment in the workplace and understanding how to negotiate that later in life can directly be found in sports experiences.
So different sports appeal to different parts of our personality. And getting aggressive on court is different to being assertive or competitive. It’s an interesting distinction to make and oddly enough a lot of martial arts people talk about this line. Understanding the rules around which your sport is governed and how you must and should stay within these guidelines. This is discipline. This is controlling your frustration. It is perhaps one of the biggest factors that separates sport from thuggery. Being competitive within the confines of your rules and checking your intention to enact acts of a physical nature.
So in making choices about sports, if you’re a chess player, don’t begrudge your lack of physicality in your choice of sport. There’s still a world of experience and learning to be gained from exploring competitiveness, pressure, discipline and temerity in your choice. We choose what is most appriopriate to our personality and choosing chess over rugby doesn’t say anything about your ‘aggression’.
There is no bad sport – only undisciplined aggressors.
 BTEC textbook 4