Aggressive behavior in professional ice hockey: A cross-cultural comparison of North American and European born NHL players

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Objectives:The current investigation examined the mediating role of an athlete's birthplace (e.g., North America, Europe) on the use of aggressive behavior in professional ice hockey. In doing so, the study attempts to uncover whether or not the use of aggressive behavior in professional ice hockey is better understood according to within-competition determinants (e.g., score differential) or should be explored in the future using broader social factors (e.g., cultural socialization).Design and method:The study was archival in nature and utilized the penalty records from the first 200 games of the 2003–2004 NHL regular season. A total of 2185 penalties were recorded and categorized according to Widmeyer and Birch's [1978. Results from an aggression questionnaire administered to professional hockey players at Huron Hockey School. Unpublished manuscript, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ont.] and Widmeyer and McGuire's [1997. Frequency of competition and aggression in professional ice hockey. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 28, 57–66] hockey aggression criteria.Results:The results indicated that North American players committed significantly more aggressive, and non-aggressive, acts than did their European counterparts. However, the distribution of both group's aggressive acts were relatively similar when examined according to the determinants under investigation (e.g., score differential). Subsequent analyses revealed that no significant performance differences existed between the two groups, indicating that either style of play is conducive to success in the NHL.Conclusion:These results appear to refute the commonly held notion that aggressive behavior is a natural by-product of the frustration inherent within hockey, and also that such behaviors facilitate performance. Rather, these behaviors may be better explained as learned responses that are modeled and reinforced differently for each athlete. Moreover, that these early learning experiences play an important role in shaping the future behavioral repertoires of these athletes, and are therefore deserving of future attention.

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