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The Relationship Between Rugby and Off-Field Physical Aggression: A Pilot Study


Sports are one of the only places where intentional acts of aggression toward another person are accepted and even encouraged at times. In collision sports such as rugby, where aggression is at the crux of the game, many wonder if these athletes are inherently more violent and tend to engage in off-field violence more frequently than non-athletes or non-collision sport athletes. Literature is mixed on this topic and no longitudinal or qualitative study has been conducted that examines off-field aggression in collision sport athletes.

The primary objective of this study is to explore the relationship between participation in rugby and engagement in off-field aggression. A convergent, parallel, mixed methods research design was used in this study. The participants in this study were college-age male rugby players who were competing on a club rugby team affiliated with a mid-size community college in the Western United States. A longitudinal self-report survey was administered at three time points in order to evaluate differences in mean scores on aggression and various descriptor variables across time. The survey data were corroborated with qualitative interviews from five rugby players who participated on the team during the season surveyed.

Results from this study cannot conclude that participation in rugby will increase or protect against the likelihood of off-field aggression. Although there appeared to be no change in self-reported scores of aggression over the course of a season, some players acknowledged that there may be aspects about participating in rugby that might contribute to off-field aggression. However, every player reported gains that were also associated with participation in rugby. Thus, the question of whether participation in rugby impacts the likelihood of off-field aggression cannot be easily answered. It is likely that there are complex interactions and influences that impact the relationship between rugby and off-field aggression.

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