Physical aggression and violence in women’s sport: A review of existing research

John H. Kerr

School of Kinesiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada


H. Kerr, J. (2016). Physical aggression and violence in women’s sport: A review of existing research. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 47(1), 43-66. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2016.47.043


This review focused on the perception, experience, and motivation of adult women athletes who have engaged in aggression and violence while performing. Sport, psychology, and general computer databases searches and other sources identified a modest twelve studies published in peer-reviewed publications between 1980-2014. The majority of studies involved team contact sports (e.g., rugby, ice hockey) and used qualitative methods. Kerr’s (2005) reversal theory-based distinction between sanctioned and unsanctioned forms of aggression and violence was used to provide a theoretical framework for examining study findings. Physicality and sanctioned aggression were found to be perceived as positive components in certain women’s sports. Women athletes, across four team and one individual sport, experienced the integral physical contact as pleasurable. Some athletes’ unsanctioned acts were motivated by anger violence, accompanied by high arousal and a loss of control. A number of athletes also stated their willingness to break the rules and use (power) violence against opponents.

Keywords: Reverseal theory, Team contact sports. Women’s aggression. Women’s violence