On Aggressive Behavior And Sports

When the adolescent student killers from Pearl, Miss., and Springfield, Ore., were interviewed, one said he was a fan of violent fantasy video games; the other was described as “enmeshed in violent television and internet sites.”

Some time ago, a social psychology experiment was conducted on 200 high school students. They were invited to play video games. Half played a war game called Mortal Combat, in which scoring is achieved by ripping off the head or disemboweling the opponent. The other half played a game called Helicopter Rescue, in which points are awarded for rescuing victims of fire, flood and other natural disasters.

The two groups were awarded points for diametrically opposed behavior and attitudes. One was awarded points for saving lives, protecting and doing good for others. The other was awarded points for violence, and the players were encouraged to be “war-like.” Success was measured by the killings, mayhem and murder inflicted on others.

The second stage of the experiment was translating the points scored into cash amounts to the students. The students were then given the opportunity, as they were leaving, to contribute from the monies won to charity and good works.

Of those hundred students who played Mortal Combat, 14 percent made contributions. For the students of the Helicopter Rescue game, 73 percent contributed to charity.

What are we to make of the experiment except to say that in our games and sports facilities, it is at least as important to be cultivating non-aggressive play and acts of kindness and cooperation on the playing field as it is to foster the belligerence required in traditional sports.

We need greater balance for our communities. Standard sports – baseball, football, soccer, rugby, tennis, etc. -- are all power-oriented, antagonistic and aggressive. Players seek to “defeat” their opponents and “beat” them soundly, mercilessly -- if not “to a pulp.”

But there is far more than that attitude to sports and play. Our communities should actively support efforts that promote cooperation.

Bankshot Basketball is one example. On a Bankshot Basketball court, players play alongside each other, not against each other. Even when scoring is kept, Bankshot is not necessarily competitive, because essentially you play against yourself.

Non-aggressive games like Bankshot Basketball and Bankshot Tennis offer a sense of community, rather than a sense of hostility and warfare. When people complete a round of Bankshot Basketball, they have spent time quite close to one another in a relatively small space. They have not squared off against each other.

Each player has been engrossed in the challenge and the skill required to achieve success by scoring points as in other sports. But in Bankshot, feelings of friendliness and cooperation are fostered.

On the Bankshot court, you will find that no one is relegated to the sidelines.

And since players don’t have to run to play, Bankshot offers a level playing field for physically challenged athletes.

Because Bankshot is non-aggressive, the sport is multi-generational. Because Bankshot is non-contact, the sport is played by all regardless of size, age or strength.

Wellington wrote that “the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.” Those “playing fields” – where warriors prepared for battle – are the furthest thing from the meaning of the word “play” as is generally understood among educators and social psychologists.

Play implies non-combat. “Play” is meant to dissipate rivalry and nourish friendliness and amicable attitudes toward one another. Yet, our playing fields offer “war-like” sports, fields of contention, where players of the winning side, as well as the losing side, are often injured and a taste for violence and blood thirstiness are in evidence.

Now that the 21st century is in its second decade, it is time for the paradigm to shift, so that non-aggressive sports fields are built at least as often as traditional aggressive sports fields.

These sports would be inclusionary. As the paradigm shifts, skill, intelligence and creative thinking will become as important as speed, strength and stamina.

There are numerous antagonistic and competitive sports. There are too few cooperative sports like Bankshot. The foundations for cooperative learning are established as much on the playgrounds and playing fields as in the classrooms.

Children have not been tested in quite the same way after playing Bankshot and video games. But many of the children were asked their impressions and evaluation for feedback as Bankshot was developing its program.

With hardly an exception, the children understood that Bankshot was a game for everyone, not for the athletic elites. No child had to stand at the sidelines and watch because they were not chosen to play. No child had to be mortified by not being “selected” for a team.

At non-aggressive sports, everybody plays. Team competition is not the driving force or core of the game.

The children also knew and understood that their instinct to be gracious to one another and to coach one another on how to take the various shots along the Bankshot course – and not to be constantly competitive – was conducive to friendship.

They were having an enjoyable time making use of their intelligence and learning skills.

In Bankshot, the players understand that they are to be cooperative with one another and to help each other. They rebound for one another, retrieve and pass the ball. They tend to instruct one another at each station’s challenge. They tend to be nice to one another, not having alienated each other with intimidation, power displays and body contact.

Children walk off the Bankshot courts arm in arm, having deepened their friendships, enjoyed each other’s company and having had fun at play.

Rabbi Dr. Reeve Robert Brenner has published books and articles in the sociology of religion and the sociology of recreation. He is the inventor of Bankshot Basketball and created the concept "Total-Mix Sports based on Universal Design."