Youth sport is often assumed to be a context for positive youth development (PYD) and is associated with positive outcomes, including psychosocial wellbeing, healthy lifestyle behaviors, and life skill development. However, youth sport also is associated with the onset and/or adherence to behavioral health problems, including aggressive/violent behavior. For instance, research has demonstrated that certain types of sport, individual characteristics, and other socio-environmental aspects may actually promote aggressive/violent behavior among youth. The development of behavioral health problems, particularly aggressive/violent behavior, reflects and perpetuates social inequities. Therefore, understanding how youth sport, as a site for PYD, may promote aggressive/violent behavior among youth is critical. Thus, the aim of the current study was to investigate the existing literature to understand what is known about the association between youth sport and aggressive/violent behaviors.
Three inquires guided the scoping review: define types of aggressive/violent behaviors associated with youth sport; delineate mechanisms/factors associated with aggressive/violent behavior in youth sport; and describe theoretical frameworks used to explain the onset and/or adherence to aggressive/violent behaviors in youth sport. The current study was guided by the Joanna Briggs Institute framework for conducting systematic scoping reviews. To be selected for inclusion, studies had to meet three inclusion criteria: study population included youth between the ages of 10-24 years old; occurred within a youth sport setting; and reported on outcomes related to aggressive/violent behavior. Keywords included: (youth OR adolescen* OR child*) AND (sport OR physical activit* OR recreation*) AND (aggress* OR ‘violen*). Each online database (e.g., PsychINFO, SOCindex, SportDiscus) was independently searched one at a time by two reviewers, with consultation of a third reviewer when disagreements occurred. In total, 45 articles were identified as relevant for the scoping review.
Among the articles, a variety of behaviors related to aggression/violence were examined. A majority included some form of aggression (n=32), including verbal/physical, proactive/reactive, and instrumental/hostile. Additionally, several articles examined violence (n=9), physically fighting (n=3), and bullying (n=4). Findings revealed specific mechanisms that contributed to the onset of and/or adherence to aggressive/violent behavior. For instance, differences in setting (e.g., interscholastic, community) and type (e.g., contact, no-contact) of sport influenced behavior. Moreover, individual characteristics (e.g., age, gender, income) and other social agents were found to impact aggressive/violent behavior. Several articles identified theory used to explain the onset and/or adherence to aggressive/violent behavior among youth sport participants. Theories most frequently identified included social learning theory (n=7), social cognitive theory (n=3), social contact theory (n=2), and moral development theory (n=2).
Findings from the current study help scholars and practitioners understand the types of aggressive/violent behaviors and the influence of specific mechanisms of those behaviors. Moreover, findings reveal theories of change that describe the process of how youth develop aggressive/violent behaviors. With this information, social workers and other service professionals, who utilize sport as a site for PYD, can effectively design and facilitate these critical settings. Thus, social workers have another viable context to serve and ensure the healthy development of all youth, particularly youth who are marginalized and underserved.