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Team Cohesion and Hazing in Sport

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High school and Varsity level sports in the past have been only for the toughest, most determined athletes, however, their commitment is not only tested on the playing field. According to Allan and Madden (2008), hazing has become a normal, and supposedly beneficial tool used to push new recruits to their limits and see how far they are willing to go for the team. Allan and Madden also stated in their study, that hazing is defined as; “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them regardless of a person’s willingness to participate”. In the past, hazing has been seen as a rite of passage. For many, it was one of the last events being an adolescent, and the first ‘initiations’ into adulthood. There is a common consensus with athletes, that hazing is just a harmless tradition needed to test commitment, yet it has been found through studies that hazing has a negative relationship with team cohesion in most team settings. Hazing has become a topic of interest more recently due to the numerous news articles of hazing cases gone wrong, yet it is still not seen as a major topic of interest to the numerous institutions and coaching staff that allow it to happen. Although it has been widely accepted for rookies to be hazed, do these initiation ceremonies truly have a positive impact on how athletes connect with each other and perform, or has it all funneled down from one word, ‘tradition’?

It is no secret that as you age, your participation in sports decreases, but does it help to be physically and mentally abused? According to a qualitative study conducted by Allan and Madden (2008), Over 50% of college students who joined an on-campus organization, had experienced hazing. That number may already sound extreme, however, when the demographic narrowed to just athletes, that number jumped to a whopping 74%. In their study, they first sent out a survey to 53 post-secondary institutions receiving 11, 483 completed surveys. Their participants were both female (64%) and male (46%), ranging from 1st years to seniors above 4th year. Following the round of surveys, researchers then picked institutions to conduct interviews at. These institutions were chosen based on the response rate, the location of the institution, and the institution type. The interviews conducted were semi-structured with approximately 20 staff and students, from each of the 18 colleges or universities that they visited. One of their findings was that the most common hazing practice was forced alcohol consumption, with a total of 47% of all Hazing behaviors. Of all the abuse that the participants endured, a second finding was that the students perceived positive outcomes of hazing as opposed to the negative outcomes, and that seemed to be the case across all the studies.

Waldron and Kowalski (2013) had similar findings through their research stating that because students felt that this was the way it needed to be, they no longer felt that the tasks they had done were seen as humiliating or degrading, however, the researches saw things differently. In Waldron and Kowalski’s qualitative study, they structured it similarly to the others, but on a much smaller scale. They conducted semi-structured interviews with twenty-one current and former athletes, eleven of which were male and ten were female. The semi-structured interviews were designed such that along with the scripted questions, probing questions were asked to obtain a better understanding of the athletes perceived experiences. The athletes in the studios knew they were being hazed and they knew what hazing was, however, a common consensus throughout the interviews was that they were not held there against their will, and they could choose to participate. By the definition of hazing none of these experiences would be considered hazing if that were truly the case, but from other perspectives, it was not. Few athletes spoke out about their willingness to participate but a female basketball player Kendra, stated, “what’s gonna’ make ’em stop? … if I really wanted something to happen, I’d have to get the law involved. And to me, that was just gonna make more of a mess than anything. ” Waldron, Lynn, and Krane (2011) found a similar athlete in their study. One of the former athletes who played varsity men’s soccer. This particular athlete who was not named in the study went to say, “One kid actually ended up going to the hospital ’cause he was so drunk. I ended up throwing up… I was embarrassed and angry. I was like ‘why am I here?’… I didn’t play after that season ’cause I was really upset about how they initiated you”.

Once again though, it was a common presumption with these athletes that hazing enhanced team bonding. If these students did not want to partake in the hazing rituals of the team, what pushed the team ‘veterans’ to haze? Of the four studies, the number one commonality as to why veterans haze, was to keep their hierarchy and make it known to the new recruits that they were at the bottom. A second reason why veterans hazed, which is closely related to the first reason, is because they were hazed when they first started out. They believed that because they were shown that the older players haze when they got around to it, they did. This mindset is such, that the older players are trying to create a social stratification between teammates. From the start of any high-level team, these athletes are taught that they are lesser than the older players and that their voice is not worth hearing. If this stratification is occurring due to these hazing practices, how is it at all beneficial to team cohesion like these players believe?

As many athletes believe, the ritualistic and initiation practices that occur on sports teams is meant to bring the players together, and create tighter bonds between teammates, as well as ‘toughen them up’. When looking from an outsiders’ point of view, how is this cohesion possible while also creating a stratified hierarchy? In Anderson, McCormack, and Lee’s qualitative study, they conducted semi-structured interviews with 24 rookies and 14 older players. As well as the interviews, researchers who were trusted by the teams were invited to watch some of the hazing practices. What the researchers witnessed was same-sex sexual activities, such as kissing. In these initiations, the sexual acts were meant to serve a homophobic strategy of proving the older players’ masculinity over theirs.

This once again is proving that the older players are above them, and having this homophobic standpoint, it is making sure that the younger boys know they are not masculine enough to be considered equal.

Throughout the qualitative studies, not one of them has been 100% conclusive whether hazing is a bad thing. Athletes seem to believe that it is beneficial yet in the news, we still hear that people are being hazed to the point of being hospitalized or even dying, such as the case with Tim Piazza. It has not been proven that hazing is inherently bad, however, more research needs to be conducted whether truly does strengthen the team bonds as many believe. Coaches and team veterans would benefit from the details presented, as it will give them more insight as to what the hazing practices are truly doing to the recruits and make them see that it has become more of a power trip for older players, as opposed to the expected outcome of having players grow tighter bonds. Hazing is not a topic of interest and is often shrugged off, however, I believe the outcome of these initiations needs to be focused on a lot more.

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Team Cohesion And Hazing In Sport. (2020, July 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 1, 2023, from
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