Team Cohesion And Hazing In Sport

In the past only the most dedicated and toughest athletes could play at the Varsity or High School level. Their commitment is now tested off the field. Allan (2008) states that hazing was once a normal and supposedly useful tool to test the limits of new recruits. Allan Madden and their research also defined hazing as any activity that someone is required to do in order to join or participate in a particular group, which degrades, humiliates, abuses or risks them. Hazing was once considered a rite-of-passage. It was a rite of passage for many. For some, it marked the end of their teen years and the beginnings into adulthood. It is widely believed that hazing in sports is harmless and is done to test commitment. However, studies have shown that it can negatively impact team cohesion. In recent years, hazing became a popular topic due to numerous articles describing hazing that went wrong. But it is not something that institutions or coaches are interested in. While it’s widely accepted that rookies will be hazed in some form, are these ceremonies really beneficial to the performance of athletes and their connection with one another?

While it’s no secret that sports participation declines with age, does physical and mental abuse help? A qualitative study by Allan & Madden (2008) found that over 50% of college students in on-campus organizations had been subjected to hazing. This number is already extreme. However, when it was narrowed down to only athletes, the number increased to 74%. They sent a survey out to 53 institutions of higher education, and received 11,483 completed surveys. Both male and female participants (46% each) ranged from students in the first year to seniors beyond 4th. Researchers then selected the institutions for interviews after the survey round. The institutions chosen were based on their response rate, location, and type of institution. The semistructured interviews with staff and students were conducted in each of 18 colleges and universities. Forced alcohol consumption accounted for 47% of Hazing behaviors. The students who were subjected to hazing viewed it as a positive experience, not a negative one.

Waldron (2013) and Kowalski (2003) found similar findings in their research. Both stated that students did not see the tasks as degrading nor humiliating. In Waldron-Kowalski’s qualitative research, the study was conducted on a small scale, similar to that of other researchers, but with fewer participants. The semi-structured interview was conducted with 21 athletes (11 males and 10 females) who were both current and former athletes. The semi-structured interview was designed so that in addition to scripted question, probing ones were also asked in order to gain a deeper understanding of athletes’ perceptions. The athletes who were in the studios understood that they had been hazed. If these were true, then none of the experiences could be classified as hazing. However, from a different perspective, they are not. Few athletes were willing to speak out, but Kendra the female basketball player was. She asked “what’s going to stop ’em? If I wanted to see something happen, I would have to involve the law. To me, it was only going to make a bigger mess. Waldron Lynn Krane 2011 found an athlete similar to this in their research. One former athlete who played men’s soccer at the varsity level. This athlete was not named, but he said that “One child ended up in hospital because he had been so drunk.” I was ashamed and angry. Why am I here ?’…? I’m really upset with how they initiated you.

The athletes also believed that hazing helped to strengthen team bonds. If the students were not interested in participating in hazing, why did the “veterans” of the team decide to haze them? The four studies revealed that the main reason for veterans to haze was to maintain their position and let new recruits know they were the lowest. Another reason that veterans hazed is that they were hazed at the beginning. Because they had seen older players haze, they believed they would do the same. The older players have a mindset that tries to create social stratification among teammates. The athletes on any high-level sports team are taught to think that they’re inferior and their voices don’t matter. How can this stratification be beneficial to the team, as these athletes believe?

Many athletes think that ritualistic and initative practices are done on sports squads to ‘toughen the team up’ and bring them together. How is it possible, from the outside looking in, to have this kind of cohesion while creating a hierarchy? In Anderson McCormack Lee’s study, semi-structured conversations were conducted with 24 rookies as well 14 older players. Researchers who were trusted members of the team were also invited to observe some hazing activities. The researchers observed homosexual activities involving the same gender, including kissing. These initiations used sexual acts to demonstrate the older player’s masculinity.

In this way, older players prove to younger players that they are inferior. By promoting a homophobic view, it lets them know that young boys are not considered masculine enough.

All of the qualitative research has not concluded that hazing can be a negative thing. Athletes may believe it to be beneficial, yet we often hear of people who are hazed up to the point that they become hospitalized or die, like Tim Piazza. The fact that hazing can be harmful is not proven. More research must be conducted to see if hazing really strengthens the team bond as many think. The details provided will help coaches and veterans gain a better understanding of what hazing is doing to recruits. They’ll also be able to see how it’s affecting the younger players. Hazing is a subject that is rarely discussed and often dismissed. However, I think the outcomes of these initiations should be given more attention.


  • isabelbyrne

    Isabel Byrne is a 32-year-old blogger and student who resides in the United States. Byrne is an advocate for education and has written extensively on the topic of education reform. Byrne is also a proponent of the use of technology in the classroom and has spoken at numerous conferences on the topic.