Participant-Related Differences in High
School Athletes’ Moral Behavior
Miranda P. Kaye & Kevin P. Ward
The Pennsylvania State University
The relationship between sport and morality is important for many reasons, particularly for those who seek to use sport as a vehicle for moral development. Previous research has revealed contradictory findings. The present study assessed the perceived legitimacy of unethical sport situations for 78 high school athletes. Five ethical domains (coach aggression, player aggression, cheating, disrespect, and rule bending) were examined across sex, grade level, level of physical contact, and level of competition. The present findings demonstrated male athletes were more accepting of player aggression than female athletes. In addition, varsity athletes were more accepting of player aggression and disrespect than junior varsity athletes. The results are discussed with respect to past research and specific psychological theories.
It is commonly believed that sports can provide excellent educational opportunities for social development (Ewing, 1997; Seefeldt, 1987). Moreover, because sports are so highly valued in American culture, many parents expose their children to organized sports at increasingly earlier ages (e.g., Metzl, 2002). Sport involvement has commonly been noted to foster the development of prosocial behavior or sportspersonship. Many proponents of the belief that sport is a means of moral development view athletics as a vehicle that teaches and reveals virtues such as truthfulness, courage, self-control, respect, and fairness (Bredemeier, Weiss, Shields & Shewchuk, 1986; Romance, Weiss & Bockoven, 1986).
However, in today’s sporting environment, displays of unsportspersonlike behavior in all levels of competitive sports are common (Hopkins & Lantz, 1999). Counters to claims that sport enhances moral development are often fueled by a myriad of observed immoral sport-related behaviors, including aggression, cheating, and disrespect (Bredemeier & Shields, 2006). One only needs to watch a sports event or sports news show to see that moral sport conduct is not always apparent. As such, the relationship between sport and ethics is often debated in modern society.
Understanding how and why sports influence the ethical character of individuals is necessary for coaches and physical educators, especially those who believe sport is a vehicle for moral growth. Research findings on sports ethics could have important implications regarding how sport is best taught and played. The ethics of athletes have been assessed in several ways, including the examination of moral reasoning, athletic aggression, rule violations and cheating, and sportspersonship. Studies that have assessed these various facets of sports ethics observed notable trends across sex, level of contact, and competition level. However, many of these findings have been inconsistent (e.g., Tucker & Parks, 2001; Keeler, 2007), and the debate continues as to whether sports participation contributes to increased or decreased sportspersonship among athletes. Sports ethics have been examined from a variety of perspectives and defined in a number of ways (see Kavussanu, 2008). One perspective that researchers have adopted examines moral reasoning using the structural development approach. Although numerous variations of this approach exist, the same general theory is employed: Progress towards moral maturity involves a step-like progression of discrete levels or phases (Bredemeier & Shields, 2006). This perspective asserts that as humans develop, moral meaning is attained through interacting with others, and that moral reasoning about one’s actions can be identified as stages of moral development (Bredemeier, 1984). Research examining moral reasoning and participant-related differences is mixed. Some studies have found that sport moral maturity has differed significantly across gender, with female athletes having higher moral reasoning scores than male athletes (Bredemeier & Shields, 1986; Kavussanu & Roberts, 2001; Miller, Roberts & Ommundsen, 2005). Commonly, this gender difference is explained by the notion that male and female sport behaviors are influenced by distinct social expectations. Sport is a traditionally male domain and stereotypic expectations of masculinity are believed to influence male sport behavior (Greendorfer, 1993).
Although some research, noted previously supports this notion, other research has found no relationship between moral reasoning and gender (Bredemeier, Shields, Weiss, & Cooper, 1986). These opposing results may be due to an increased female participation in sport. Additionally, the results may be more indicative of gender differences in sport socialization rather than differences in sport morality (Miller et al., 2005).
Moral reasoning has also been examined in relation to types of sport. Some research has found sport moral maturity to differ across sex and sport type (Bredemeier & Shields, 1986). However, other studies found no significant differences across these same subgroups (Proios, Doganis, & Athanailidis, 2004). With these varied results, it remains unclear whether participants develop differences in moral reasoning across different types of sport.
Another approach has been to examine sports ethics in relation to cheating and rule violations. Cheating in sport refers to infractions of the rules in order to gain an unfair advantage such that there is a degree of deception (Lee, Whitehead & Ntoumanis, 2007). Thus, cheating must involve both violating the rules of a sport and attempted deception in order to avoid detection. Silva (1983) found that males clearly perceived rule-violating sport behavior as more legitimate, and perceptions of the legitimacy of rule violations increased as the level of competition and level of contact increased. More recently, Lee et al. (2007) found that males and older athletes (ages 14–16) were significantly more accepting of cheating than females and younger athletes (ages 11–13), although this relationship was not evident among athletes at higher levels of competition.
Perhaps most commonly, though, sports ethics have been examined in relation to athletic aggression. Athletic aggression is a facet of sports ethics that has often been considered in tandem with moral reasoning. Athletic aggression is any intentional behavior, not recognized as legal within the official rules of conduct, directed towards an opponent, official, team-mate or spectator who is motivated to avoid such behavior (Maxwell, 2004). Research findings suggest a negative relation between athletic aggression and moral reasoning (Bredemeier & Shields, 1984; Kavussanu & Roberts, 2001; Miller et al., 2005). However, similar to the heterogeneous relationship identified between participant-related differences and moral reasoning in sports, the relationship between participant-related differences and the perceived legitimacy of aggressive behavior is also ambiguous.
Gender is one participant-related factor with an unclear relationship to aggression. Although many studies have found male athletes to perceive sport aggression as more legitimate (e.g., Conroy, Silvia, Newcomer, Walker & Johnson, 2001; Gardner & Janelle, 2002; Kavussanu & Roberts, 2001; Miller et al., 2005; Stephens, 2004; Tucker & Parks, 2001), other research has found no such relationship (e.g., Keller, 2007; Miller, Roberts, & Ommundsen, 2004; Shields, Bredemeier, Gardner & Bostrom, 1995). Moreover, when actual aggressive acts have been measured, no gender differences were discernable (Bredemeier & Shields, 1984). Although it has been argued that gender differences are to be expected because boys and girls are socialized differently into competitive sport (Gill, 2002), the inconclusive results of various studies suggest that another mechanism, such as the level of contact or level of competition, should be taken into account.
The level of contact in sports has often been classified into non-contact (e.g., swimming), contact (e.g., basketball or soccer), and collision (e.g., football). Athletic aggression has been positively correlated with increasing levels of contact (Silva, 1983; Tucker & Parks, 2001). However, similar to the findings regarding gender and age, other research findings demonstrate inconsistent relationships between aggression and the level of contact (e.g., Bredemeier et al., 1986; Conroy et al., 2001; Gardner & Janelle, 2002).
Similarly, experience – as defined by the length of participation or by participation at a higher level of competition – has been positively related to aggression in some research (e.g., Carpenter & Yates, 1997; Gardner & Janelle, 2002; Silva, 1983; Visek & Watson, 2005) and unrelated or inconsistently related to aggression in other research (e.g., Conroy et al., 2001; Stephens & Kavanagh, 2003). Further complicating our understanding of the relationship between aggression and level of competition, Ryan, Williams, and Wimer (1990) found that one year of varsity participation made athletes less accepting of aggression.
Age is another participant-related difference that has been examined as a factor related to sport aggression. It is commonly believed that, in a given athletic population (e.g. collegiate or children 10-14 yeas of age), older athletes exhibit higher levels of aggression, and there is some research supporting this belief (e.g., Stephens, 2004; Stephens & Bredemeier, 1996). Once again, however, there is research suggesting that there is no relation between age and acceptance of sport aggression (Conroy et al., 2001). These inconsistent findings warrant the need for further research into the role these participant-related differences (e.g., age, gender, level of competition, and level of contact) have on sports ethics.
Clearly, findings regarding the relationships between sport participation and moral behavior are relatively inconclusive in the areas of moral reasoning, aggression, cheating, and rule-violating behavior when participant-related differences such as age, gender, level of competition, and level of contact are examined. Against this background of heterogeneous results and partially conflicting claims, it is clear that further study of sport and ethics is warranted. Indeed, consensus in research involving sport and morality is scarce. Furthermore, other aspects of sports ethics have rarely been studied (e.g., disrespect and rule bending). Disrespect includes boasting and taunting in a nonviolent manner (for example, a player doing an elaborate showboat dance in front of the opponent’s bench after scoring). While this type of behavior might not be described as “aggressive,” it is broadly regarded as unethical. Rule bending includes those actions not technically against the rules of a sport, but that are blatantly dishonest. (For example, on the winning point of the game, a volleyball player touches the ball before it goes out, but the referee misses the touch. The player says nothing.) These actions are not aggressive, nor can they be construed as cheating or violating the rules; nonetheless, rule bending in sport does involve ethical concerns, such as honesty and the violation of the right to a fair competition, and thus warrants exploration.
In regard to these perspectives, what remains clear is that moral issues in competitive sport warrant continued attention as findings are sometimes contradictory. In addition, the focus of previous research has not extended to multiple aspects of unethical behavior. Rather, researchers tend to examine aggression and cheating as distinct entities in separate studies. As such, the purpose of the present study was to assess the ethical character of high school athletes by determining the perceived legitimacy of unethical behaviors across five ethical domains: coach aggression, player aggression, cheating, disrespect, and rule bending. The five above-mentioned categories were chosen to assess a broad base of ethical issues in sport. While the chosen instrument has been used to gather information on ethical behavior previously (Greer, 2007), it has never been employed in formal research. Because the present findings in related research are so varied, this study will test the hypothesis that no significant differences will be observed in any of the domains across age, gender, level of competition, or level of contact.
Participants. The participants for this study (N = 78) included 38 male and 40 female high school athletes from a rural high school in the northeastern United States. The 25 freshmen, 18 sophomores, 15 juniors, and 20 seniors who participated in the study were between the ages of 14 and 17 (M = 15.44, SD = 1.23). The participants were members of collision (football, n = 27), contact (soccer, n = 18), and non-contact (cheerleading, n = 6; cross country, n = 7; golf, n = 8; volleyball, n = 12) interscholastic sports teams. Of the 78 athletes, 42 indicated involvement at the varsity level while 21 indicated involvement at the junior varsity level. The remainder of the athletes did not report a level of competition. All athletes involved in fall interscholastic athletics were given the opportunity to participate in the study. Consenting athletes were included in the study. The data was collected in August prior to the start of the fall interscholastic athletic season.
Measures. To assess the sport-related ethics of each participant, a questionnaire containing 21 hypothetical sport behaviors was assembled with permission from the 2004 “Survey of Values, Attitudes and Behavior in Sport,” created by the Josephson Institute of Ethics. Participants were asked to rank each situation from 1 (clearly improper) to 4 (clearly proper). The questionnaire has been included in Appendix A.
The 21 hypothetical situations were divided into five categories: coach aggression (4 questions), player aggression (3 questions), cheating (8 questions), disrespect (2 questions), and rule bending (4 questions). The types of situations assessed in each of the five respective categories were (1) coach actions meant to harm others (coach aggression), (2) athlete actions meant to harm others (player aggression), (3) violating the rules of a sport with the intent of not getting caught (cheating), (4) boasting and taunting (disrespect), and (5) actions not technically against the rules of the game, but blatantly dishonest (rule bending). Reliability of each category, the following was assessed using Cornbach’s alpha. The following results were determined: coaching aggression (α = 0.77), player aggression (α = 0.71), cheating (α = 0.84), disrespect (α = 0.68), and rule bending (α = 0.84). Values of .70 or above are commonly considered to reflect actions deemed ethically acceptable by the participants (Nunnally, 1978), and our findings indicated that all categories were in the acceptable range, with the exception of disrespect. Due to the limited number of items assessing disrespect, no changes were made to the scale, but results should be interpreted with caution.
Data analysis. For statistical analysis, each sport was identified as collision (football), contact (soccer), or non-contact (golf, volleyball, cross country, and cheerleading). After examining bivariate correlations between participant characteristics (i.e., level of sport contact, level of competition, grade, gender) and each of the five sport-related ethics categories, five separate hierarchical multiple regressions1 were conducted to estimate (a) unique relations between the five sport-related ethics categories and the four participant characteristics, and (b) the amount of variance in each sports ethics score that could be attributed to participant characteristics. When predicting each sport-related ethics score, the other four scores were entered in the first step to control variance common to other forms of sport-related ethical beliefs. In the second step of each model, the four variables of participant characteristics were entered simultaneously to predict the unique variance in each sport-related ethical belief score.
Descriptive statistics for all scale scores are presented in Table 1. As expected, the five sport-related ethical belief scales were moderately intercorrelated (Mr = .66, SD = .11, all p < .01), and of the four participant differences, only gender and contact level (r = .69, p < .01), and grade and competition level (r = .72, p < .01) were significantly intercorrelated. Table 2 presents bivariate correlations between the five sport-related ethical beliefs and the four participant characteristics. In general, the participant characteristics of grade and level of competition tended to be positively associated with unsportspersonlike beliefs. Participant characteristics were most strongly associated with aggression scores and least strongly associated with cheating and rule bending scores.
Five simultaneous regression models were tested to examine how well participant characteristics predicted each sport-related ethical belief score. Table 3 summarizes the results from these regression analyses. Both player aggression (β = .43, p < .01) and cheating (β = .35, p < .01) positively predicted coach aggression scores (R2 = .68, F (4, 78) = 30.45, p < .01). Although including the four participant-related differences (i.e., gender, grade, contact level, and competition level) marginally increased predictions of coach aggression scores (R2 = .70), this change was not significant, and participant-related differences did not account for any additional variance in coach aggression scores above and beyond player aggression and cheating scores.
In the second regression model, both disrespect (β = .26, p < .05) and coach aggression (β = .52, p < .01) positively predicted player aggression scores (R2 = .61, F (4, 78) = 22.80, p < .01). Adding the four participant-related differences to the model accounted for an additional 7% of the variance in player aggression scores (R2 = .68, F (8, 74) = 14.15, p < .01). Only coach aggression scores contributed uniquely to the prediction of player aggression scores after controlling the other four sport-related ethics dimensions. Although the participant-related differences did not aid in predicting player aggression scores above and beyond perceptions of coach aggression, the gender of participants approached significance with predicted player aggression scores from this regression model.
In the third regression model, disrespect (β = .26, p < 0.01), rule bending (β = .46, p < .01), and coach aggression (β = .31, p < .01) all positively predicted cheating scores (R2 = .85, F (4, 78) = 37.19, p < .01). Adding the four participant-related differences accounted for an additional 1% of the variance in cheating scores, indicating that cheating scores were not predicted by participant-related differences above and beyond participants’ disrespect, rule bending, and coach aggression scores.
In the final two regression models, player aggression (β = .32, p < .05) and cheating (β = .44, p < .01) both positively predicted disrespect scores (R2 = .53, F (4, 78) = 15.99, p < .01), and only cheating (β = .73, p < .01) positively predicted rule bending scores (R2 = .75, F (4, 78) = 18.04, p < .01). Once again, adding the four participant-related differences accounted for no additional variance in either disrespect or rule bending scores.
The purpose of this research was to examine the role that participant-related differences had on high school athletes’ inclinations to accept poor sport conduct. Specifically, this study tested relations between four dimensions of participant differences and five sport-related ethical beliefs. Results indicated that in general, older, as opposed to younger, high school sport participants on varsity teams tended to hold more unsportspersonlike beliefs. These participant characteristics were most strongly associated with participants’ acceptance of aggression in sport. It was not surprising that age and a higher level of participation were linked to lower moral attitudes. In previous research, both age and higher levels of participation were positively associated with aggression (Gardner & Janelle, 2002; Stephens, 2004; Visek & Watson, 2005). The present results replicated that finding and extended it to clarify which specific sport-related ethical beliefs were associated with higher levels of sport participation.
Gender. With regard to gender, results indicated that gender and contact sport participation were not associated with lower moral attitudes in sport. In previous research examining participant-related differences and moral attitudes, reasoning, and behavior in sport, findings have been mixed as to the role of gender. Present results found gender to be only related to acceptance of athletic aggression. This is consistent with previous research which suggests male athletes are more aggressive than females (Gardner & Janelle, 2002; Kavussanu & Roberts, 2001; Miller et al., 2005; Stephens, 2004). Additionally, these results support the finding that, in regard to ethical beliefs on the whole, there are no gender differences (Miller et al., 2004). These findings strengthen the case that socialization into sport is experience-related rather than gender-related. The varied socialization process in male and female sports has been questioned, and the contention that the female model of sport is becoming more like the male model of sport is hard to deny. In fact, when male and female athletes have equal sport experience, females have been found to be less sportspersonlike than males (Miller et al., 2004). It has been contended that the introduction of Title IX has resulted in similar socialization processes for both women and men in sport (Keller, 2007), and there are now higher demands on female athletes. Additionally, there are now more chances for social learning among female athletes due to the increased numbers of females in sports. These findings call into question the assertion that the increased perceived legitimacy of player aggression among males is the result of different sex socialization processes in sport.
Level of contact. Although it has also been found that athletes who participate in sports with higher levels of contact perceive aggression as more legitimate than athletes in lower-level contact sports (Tucker & Parks, 2001), the present findings support the idea that there is no relationship between level of contact and acceptance of aggressive behavior. No significant differences across the three levels of contact in relation to either athletes’ acceptance of aggressive behavior or their acceptance of their coaches acting aggressively were found. These results are consistent with other studies which have found no relation between participation in contact sports and aggression (Gardener & Janelle, 2002; Keller, 2007). These findings suggest that the social learning effect of sports with increased levels of contact may not be a cogent explanation for the higher perceived legitimacy of player aggression.
Age and level of participation. Age was assessed by grade level of participants. Results indicated that older participants had a greater acceptance of coach aggression, player aggression, disrespect, and general unsportspersonlike attitudes. One point of contention regarding the results of the present study is that the observed grade-level difference may have been confounded by the competition level of the athletes. In general, athletes on varsity teams were older than athletes on junior varsity teams. Consequently, it could be argued that the level of participation rather than age is the factor influencing these unsportspersonlike attitudes, as varsity athletes are only a year or two older than junior varsity athletes. In fact, results revealed that acceptance of aggression, disrespect, and a general unsportspersonlike behavior was higher among varsity than junior varsity athletes. This suggests that participation at a higher level of competition results in a greater acceptance of unsportspersonlike attitudes.
This examination of the relationship between participant-related differences and acceptance of poor sport conduct contributes valuable information to aid our understanding of the unclear relationships between these characteristics. Our results support previous research (e.g., Silva, 1983) which suggested socialization towards rule breaking is more intense at higher levels of competition. This was extended to suggest that competition level and age are related to general acceptance of unsportspersonlike attitudes. However, the ambiguity surrounding these findings remains. One way in which this study attempted to extend the understanding of the relationship between participant-related differences and sport-related ethical beliefs was to examine the role of participant-related differences above and beyond general acceptance of unsportspersonlike attitudes.
Differences controlling for unsportspersonlike attitudes. Results indicated that after controlling for sport-related ethical beliefs, participants’ gender, grade, contact level, and competition level accounted for minimal additional variance in high school athletes’ acceptance of coach aggression, player aggression, cheating, disrespect, and rule bending. From these results, two implications can be gleaned. First, the present findings suggest that players who judge certain unsportspersonlike behaviors as appropriate are more likely to indicate acceptance of a variety of other negative behaviors. For example, athletes who express an acceptance of cheating also express an acceptance of disrespect, rule bending, and coach aggression. Second, acceptance of unsportspersonlike behavior in sport exists largely through the dimension of cheating. Acceptance of cheating significantly predicted the acceptance of coach aggression, disrespect, and rule bending. Yet participant-related differences were unrelated to cheating, so it seems that acceptance of cheating, not participant-related differences such as age, gender, level of contact, or level of competition, is the factor underlying unethical sport behavior. This could help explain previous inconsistent findings; it suggests that participant-related differences such as experience and level of contact are not as important as other personality differences.
This study extends previous findings and suggests that one reason for the ambiguity is that the effects of age, gender, level of contact, and level of competition are not as important in determining acceptance of coach aggression, player aggression, cheating, rule bending, or disrespect as are one’s overall unsportspersonlike attitudes. It seems that acceptance of any of these specific unsportspersonlike behaviors is related more to a general acceptance of poor sport behaviors than to any participant-related characteristics. It is important to note that our findings indicated rule bending was relatively synonymous with cheating. Although Lee et al. (2007) have examined gamesmanship (a violation of the spirit of the contest that is not specifically addressed by the rules but harms the contractual integrity implicit in sport competitions) distinctly from cheating, it seems that athletes themselves may not differentiate much between gamesmanship and cheating. In other words, perceiving that one’s coach would encourage unsportspersonlike behaviors – such as bending or breaking the rules and risking hurting an opponent – had a strong effect on the manner in which players viewed these behaviors. Although moral atmosphere was not measured directly, this acceptance of coach aggression suggests that the climate the coach creates influences athletes’ perceptions of appropriate sport behaviors. This finding is consistent with studies in which moral atmosphere emerged as the best predictor of reported likelihood to aggress against an opponent (Guivernau & Duda, 1998; Stephens, 2004; Stephens & Bredemeier, 1996).
Taken together, these findings suggest that acceptance of unsportspersonlike attitudes may exert a stronger effect on specific moral attitudes than age, gender, level of contact, and level of competition. It is possible that athletes participating at a higher level of competition are more susceptible to the influence of an unsportspersonlike coach. As a result, these athletes adopt a win-at-all-costs attitude and behave in a less sportspersonlike manner themselves. However, because in the present study there were no comparisons of team climate or a win-at-all-costs attitude, nor were goal orientation measured, one can only speculate the connection. It would be interesting for future research to disentangle these relationships.
Practical recommendations. The current findings could help coaches and athletes counter unsportspersonlike attitudes and behaviors, and promote character development that is beneficial to all sport participants. The values of young athletes are impacted by their sports experience. The high acceptance of negative coach behaviors suggests that coaches and physical educators may be influential in promoting a participant’s sense of acceptable sport behaviors. Recent research has suggested that competitive settings can be pivotal in determining participants’ behavior (Kavussanu & Spray, 2006). When winning is the main emphasis, competitors are likely to engage in unsportspersonlike behaviors; research has shown that in competitive sport environments, behaviors such as cheating, bending the rules, and intentionally injuring an opponent are common (Kavussanu, Seal & Phillips, 2006). Based on these findings and the findings of the present study, several recommendations can be made to coaches and physical educators to assist in minimizing unsportspersonlike conduct.
First and foremost, coaches need to put sports in perspective and set a positive tone. Enjoyment and the development of individual skills should be the objective; coaches and physical educators should not emphasize winning as the primary objective. In addition, athletic performance should not be equated with personal worth (Coakley, 1993), and coaches and educators should alertly recognize and praise improvement.
Second, practitioners need to be positive role models and actively discourage unsportspersonlike behavior. For example, coaches and teachers could discipline players or students when they break or bend the rules, are disrespectful to opponents, or try to injure opponents, and reward players or students when they display positive behaviors such as helping an opponent up. By actively discouraging cheating and aggressive behaviors, such behaviors should be kept to a minimum.
Third, teachers and coaches should commit themselves to actively teaching positive sports-related values, and devise such curricula. A number of intervention strategies, shown to produce improvement or modification of behavior, moral reasoning, and perception of sportspersonship, have been cited (Wandzilak, 1985) which could be incorporated. At a minimum, teachers and coaches could discuss with their players and students the importance of fair play for everyone involved in sport, as well as their own role in developing and maintaining a prosocial climate. Through such discussions, team members and students may reevaluate their views of acceptable sport behaviors.
Finally, it is important for practitioners to involve parents. Clearly, parents can have a critical impact on a child's attitude toward sports. Physical educators and coaches should inform parents of developmentally appropriate curricular activities and goals, encourage positive attitudes towards competition and physical activity, alert them to signs of anxiety or aggressive behavior, and promote realistic expectations for performance.
Limitations. The present study sheds new light on participant-related differences in moral attitudes. However, the findings should be considered in light of the study’s limitations. First, the data were collected from a single source on a single occasion using self-report methods. This approach is vulnerable to a number of known biases (Schwarz & Sudman, 1996), so alternative methods (e.g., event sampling; Reis & Gable, 2000) would be valuable complements in assessing beliefs about ethical behavior in sport. Additionally, the present study only sampled beliefs surrounding the acceptance of coach aggression, player aggression, cheating, disrespect, and rule bending. It is possible that other sport-related beliefs are relevant as well.
The results of the present study may have some rather positive implications for the current relationship between sport and morality. The study corroborated the findings of past research that male athletes are more accepting of player aggression than female athletes. This may be the result of differing socialization processes across sex in sport, or distinct male and female moral reasoning schemes. The lack of differences across contact level suggests that there may not be a negative socialization effect in contact and collision sports. The study also indicated that varsity athletes perceived situations involving player aggression and disrespect as more legitimate than junior varsity athletes. This finding, coupled with the fact that there were no significant differences observed across grade level, may suggest that participation in sports at a lower level of competition has a positive effect on some aspects of ethical character. However, when examining unsportspersonlike attitudes independently, it becomes clear that these participant-related differences are less influential than athletes’ general moral attitudes.
Whether participation in sports contributes to moral development remains unresolved. Shields and colleagues (1995) suggested that the physical behaviors of sports are not in themselves moral or immoral and youths’ experiences in sports are far from uniform. Perhaps it is these differences in sport experience, coupled with participant differences, which influence moral behavior in sport. Although participation in sports alone does not result in the development of positive social and emotional characteristics, the potential does exist to enhance youths’ moral development through sport involvement.
1As noted, sports were combined into collision, contact, and noncontact due to the low number of participants in some sports. These results should be taken with caution due to the limited number of participants per group.
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Author's Note: Miranda P. Kaye, Department of Kinesiology, The Pennsylvania State University. Kevin P. Ward, Logan University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Miranda P. Kaye, Department of Kinesiology, 276J Recreation Hall, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. Telephone: (814) 865-5780, Fax: (814) 865-1275, Email: email@example.com
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Miranda P. Kaye, Department of Kinesiology, 276J Recreation Hall, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802. Telephone: (814) 865-5780, Fax: (814) 865-1275, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org