Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Health and Sport Studies

First Advisor

McGannon, Kerry R

First Committee Member

Birrell, Susan

Second Committee Member

Parratt, Catriona

Third Committee Member

Metz, Jennifer

Fourth Committee Member

Wieting, Stephen


Some behaviors in sport may be labeled: bad, unnecessary and distasteful. Sport psychologists have used concepts of aggression to understand and lessen these behaviors. To date, most research has conceptualized aggression as a product of individual cognition. Specifically, aggression is defined in the sport psychology literature as any behavior motivated by the intent to harm one's opponent (Baron, 1977; Bredemeier & Shields, 1986b; Husman & Silva, 1984; Kirker, Tenenbaum & Mattson, 2000). Consequently, sport psychology analyses of aggression tend to reproduce take-for-granted conceptions of aggression as male, physical and other-directed. To better understand sport aggression, it has been argued that symbolic interactionism has much to offer (Baird & McGannon, 2009). By utilizing symbolic interactionism we can reconceptualize aggression as a social construct given meaning in and through interaction with self and others. From this perspective, self notions and interactions with others are important "locations" of meaning making and are significant in the study of behavior.

The present study used symbolic interactionism to explore female rugby players' experiences of aggression and how they interpret, define and structure experiences relative to self development. In conjunction with participant-observation, 12 semi-structured interviews with female rugby players ages 18-45 were conducted to explore: (1) how do women define themselves as ruggers/how do they (re)produce these identities in and out of rugby, (2) how do women define and experience aggression, and (3) how are these accounts used in the construction of self/identity?

Data emerging from interviews and observations suggested that athletes defined and experienced behavior in ways challenging contemporary sport psychology conceptualizations of aggression. The participants often used the word aggression to describe forceful and physical play. In sport psychology literature, this is typically referred to as assertive behavior (Husman & Silva, 1984; Tenenbaum, Saks, Miller, Golden, & Doolin, 2000) and aggressive behavior is a label reserved for unacceptable behavior motivated by the intent to harm (Tenenbaum et al., 2000). According to the women in this study, unacceptable behavior was not defined by intent; rather, unacceptable behavior was a negotiated space that was constructed through notions of lack of control. That is, if a player was constructed as out of control, that player was seen as engaging in unacceptable behavior.

In terms of self/identity construction, pain, contact and aggression emerged as important in the (re)production of self-related experiences within and outside of rugby. Within rugby these characteristics indicated a player's rugbyness. Outside of rugby these characteristics were often exhibited by non-rugby players as proof that rugby was a male sport. These participants both resisted and reinforced that notion. Rather than (re)define rugby by other female characteristics, these athletes used their rugby selves to say that pain, contact and aggression are not male only behaviors. The women used the bruises on their bodies to claim their rugby selves and prove, "I'm more than you think I am."

This research offers a unique glimpse of female collision athletes' experiences of aggression and contributes a new conceptualization of "unacceptable" behavior to the existent sport psychology literature.


Aggression, Identity, Interviews, Rugby, Sport Psychology, Women


x, 271 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 258-271).


Copyright 2010 Shannon M Baird