Participation in Team Sports May Stop Girls from Becoming Mean BulliesS

For girls in high school, participating in a team sport may help deter bullying and physical violence, though the fascist camaraderie of athletic cooperation apparently does little to dissuade high school boys from bullying and fighting with each other since popular male sports like football have a way of encouraging participants to be aggressive.

So determines a new study set to be presented Sunday, May 5, at an annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Washington D.C. Analyzing data from a 2011 North Carolina Youth Risk Behavior survey that aimed to see whether or not athletic participation in high school was linked to violence-related behaviors such as fighting, carrying a weapon, and being bullied, researchers found that girls participating in team sports were significantly less likely to engage in such behaviors. Boys in team sports, on the other hand, were no more or less likely to perpetrate violence on their peers.

The survey comprised a representative sample of 1,820 high school students, all of whom were asked whether they played school-sponsored team sports like football or individual sports like track meant for people with just enough hand-eye coordination to successfully hand off a relay baton. Survey results showed that half of the 14-18-year-old students reported playing a school-sponsored sport: 25 percent were on a team, 9 percent were in an individual sport, and 17 percent were just so good at everything that they did both team sports and individual sports.

Researchers found a significant disparity in the way girls and boys in team sports reported involvement with fighting or bullying:

Girls who played individual or team sports were less likely to report having been in a physical fight in the past year than girls who didn't participate in sports (14 percent vs. 22 percent). Female athletes also were less likely carry a weapon in the past 30 days than non-athletes (6 percent vs. 11 percent).

However, there was no difference in reported physical fighting in the past year or weapon carrying in the past 30 days between boys who played sports and those who did not. Approximately 32 percent of boys reported physical fighting, and 36 percent reported carrying weapons in the past 30 days.

Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, the senior author of the survey and a professor of pediatrics and internal medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, accounted for this difference by supposing that violence and aggression were more encouraged among boys participating in team sports:

Athletic participation may prevent involvement in violence-related activities among girls but not among boys because aggression and violence generally might be more accepted in boys' high school sports.

Dr. Coyne-Beasley’s assessment of male sports echoes something that Atlantic contributor Philip Cohen wrote about the insulated nature of organized sports in the wake of the Steubenville verdict, namely, that, much like the military, male sports like football encourage a dehumanizing process meant to “break” young men down “helping them become cogs in the machine.” That process, Cohen argued, creates the perfect breeding ground for rape culture since it creates skewed value-system — only the team is important, and outsiders who challenge the team’s unity are regarded warily.

Though boys in the North Carolina survey reported no less likely to bully others, they did report being themselves bullied less often, perhaps because, explained Dr. Coyne-Beasely, “creating team-like environments among students such that they may feel part of a group or community could lead to less bullying."

Some boys’ contact sports may be more inherently aggressive, but Dr. Coyne-Beasley’s distinction also seems a little too tidy. Girls’ sports can be just as aggressive and violent as boys’ sports, and anyone who’s ever watched a field hockey game for any length of time would know this.

Camaraderie of sports teams may help deter violence [EurekAlert]

Image via AP, Damian Davarganes