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Should Professional Sports People (Such as Afl Footballers, National Cricketers) Be Role Models?

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Should professional sports people (such as AFL footballers, national cricketers) be role models? In this context, consider the role of observational and social learning, and what role they are modeling. Make sure that you primarily address psychological rather than sociological aspects of being a role model.

Sport has always been a fundamental principle of Australian Society. The social and cultural roles of sport have provided Australians with unity as well as a sense of patriotism. Our interest in sport has not only contributed to expanding our “national consciousness” but was also a factor towards federation in 1901 (Cashman, 2003). Currently, almost 70 per cent of Australians engage in some form of sporting activity every week (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2012) and through this our passion towards sport has even extended to an elite level. Within Australia there is a considerably large football culture, where “thousands of Australians descend on football stadiums” to support their respective teams (Australian Government, 2008). Of these codes the most “loyal and dedicated fans” are those devoted to Australian Rules Football (AFL) (Australian Government, 2008) and their devotion also spreads to those who play it. Due to the physical and social benefits that sport has on young Australians, the negative consequences which may arise due to them idolizing sports men and women, are quite often overlooked. In most cases, young boys view sportsmen such as AFL players as role models where these young boys imitate the behavior of the AFL player. A role model can be defined as “a person who serves as an example by influencing others” (American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, 2011). However, in most cases, AFL players tend to be individuals that we do not want our children imitating. In terms of observational learning, AFL players are modeling illegal or unacceptable behavior, which makes young boys more susceptible to displaying similar actions or tendencies due to what they have observed (Burton, Westen & Kowalski, 2006). The strong Australian Sports Culture amalgamated with the inappropriate actions of Australian Rules Footballers creates a catastrophic vortex of bad behavior for young boys who look up to these men.

It is almost certain that when a footballer steps out of line there will be ample media coverage on the topic and “Kids… will definitely take their cue from their heroes on TV” (Ziemer, 2000). If a footballer acts out in an aggressive manner young boys are more likely to display this negative behavior, which is confirmed by Bandura’s bobo doll experiment in 1961. Banduras experiment highlighted that a child’s actions are dependent on the way the model acts, and in most cases they will replicate the modeled behavior without any reinforcement (Piotrowski, 2010). To test his hypothesis, Bandura used a life-size clown doll, also known as the “bobo” doll to stimulate certain behaviors among the children. Adult models were instructed by Bandura to act violently around the bobo doll specifically by hitting it with a hammer or kicking it. To try and stimulate this behavior among children, Bandura then showed a video of the model acting violently towards the doll then allowed the children to play with it. Those children who had observed the adult hitting or kicking the bobo doll acted similarly and exactly imitated their behavior (Parish, 2009). Bandura’s experiment can be used to explain the imitated behavior of young children from sportsmen as they vicariously learn to act in the exact same way as their role models. Whether these sportsmen are taking drugs or acting violently, children will assume that it is appropriate to behave in that way and are more likely to emulate their behavior creating a realistic representation of Banduras bobo doll experiment.
Observational Learning is made up of four components which include; attention, retention, reproduction and motivation (Bandura, 1977 p22-24). All children that were taught through observational learning to act aggressively developed their actions through these processes.

The attention component of Observational Learning is dependent on whether individuals “perceive and attend” the features of the modeled behavior (Isom, 1998). In doing so they are active and alert and “attending to what the aggressor is doing (Isom, 1998) if they are going to reproduce the models behavior (Allen & Santrock, 1993: p. 139). In Banduras experiment, the children would have to witness the Bobo doll being physically abused by the model in order to imitate those actions.

The Retention component of Observation Learning is dependent on whether the individuals code the information in their long-term memory (Isom, 1998). This allows for the information to be retrieved at a later date as the child is able to retrieve what they saw happening to the doll (Allen & Santrock, 1993: p139). It is an important process because the child became aggressive with the bobo doll due to the coding and storage in their memory that instructed to do so.

The reproduction component is dependent on the observer’s ability to “reproduce the model’s behavior” (Isom, 1998). Through learning the observer is able to “posses the physical capabilities of the modeled behavior” (Isom, 1998) and can be extended to other physical activities as well. When a behavior is learned through the first two processes the observer must be able to physically produce the aggressive act of hitting the doll with a hammer and also kicking it.

The motivation component is the final process of Observational Learning and is dependent on the reinforcement that the observer expects to receive for reproducing the modeled behavior. The experiment used the bobo doll to allow the children to imitate the behavior, which they witnessed from their model and then are rewarded for the way they behaved. If the child perfectly mimicked the aggressive behavior of the adult then they were rewarded thus creating reinforcements.

Observational Learning then leads to a change in the way the children behave (Isom, 1998). The way individuals think about the situation and their reaction is altered, for example, if children are vicariously taught to be violent and aggressive they will respond accordingly in certain situations.

Young boys will look up to AFL footballers regarding the way they should act on and off the field. Although most of these men act in a respectable and appropriate way, it is the actions of those who don’t which spark media attention. Increased coverage of particular events sources as a solid foundation for observational learning and whether or not these boys intentionally chose to reenact the negative behaviors presented by these sportsmen, it is almost always a common disadvantage of observational Learning. The idea that behaviors can be acquired by merely watching the actions of others (Burton et al., 2006) without direct reinforcement highlights the importance, which the model holds in the situation (American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, 2011). When a footballer behaves in an inappropriate manner; either aggressively or illegally, young boys will also learn this behavior. As Observational learning is a simplistic learning mechanism, boys will more than likely adopt these undesired behaviors (Fawcett, 2009). This is why it is important for AFL footballers to act in a suitable demeanor otherwise they will be vicariously highlighting to young boys their negative behaviors.

The idolization of AFL footballers by young children can cause them recreate the actions which they view on and off the field. In most circumstances, behaviors are harmless however; players such as Barry Hall known especially for being aggressive during games can cause some difficulty. Halls “moment of regressive violence” (Le Grand, 2008) during a match when he played for Sydney was a catastrophic incident that highlighted non-sportsmen like behavior and well as showing young boys that in certain situations violence is acceptable. The incident was colossal and broadcast on many television channels as well as being put online (Le Grand, 2008). Bandura believed that television could potentially be a source for modeling and the behavior which children viewed could influence the way they acted (Isom, 1998). The only difference between bandura’s experiment and the situation with Hall is that, Barry Hall was banned for seven matches and faced many consequences (Le Grand, 2008). Vicarious punishment arises when the “tendency to engage in a behavior is weakened after having observed the negative consequences for another engaging in that behavior” (Seligman & Baldacci, 2005). The reason this behavior was not particularly mimicked after Barry Hall did so was because his punishment shows children of the negative outcome which the model experiences (Seligman & Baldacci, 2005). Although Hall was reprimanded for his behavior, it still is inappropriate and should not be demonstrated by a man at such an elite level of Australian Rules football.

What must also be taken into consideration is the fact that not only is young Australians influenced by the actions of our sports professionals. The number of individuals using elicit drugs has increased from 8.3% to 9.2% in the past 10 years (Australian Government, 2008) which could be attributed to the fact that many sports stars have admitted to being addicted to drugs or using elicit drugs habitually. Particularly, Ben Cousins has been in the headlines for years regarding his addiction to drugs, which he has suffered from since he was 17 (Byrne, 2012). Legally, he has not been charged with any drug related crimes however he has been banned from playing League Football due to his constant battle for his health (Byrne, 2012). By using Bandura’s principles of observational Learning, it is evident the lack of vicarious punishment allows young adults, to not see the consequences which being involved in elicit drugs may have. It is evident, that if particular young men idolize Ben Cousins in anyway, they are more likely to become involved with drugs as they see their role model taking part in this behavior and will begin to copy it (Isom, 1998). These individuals are not being told otherwise that the behavior both them and Cousins are taking part in is dangerous and illegal, and the children assume the behaviors of “negative role models” are “typical, safe and acceptable” (American Academy of Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, 2011). Without Cousins experiencing a “negative outcome” then individuals are not “vicariously punished” and will continue engaging in unacceptable behaviors such as illicit drug taking (Seligman & Baldacci, 2005).

From the commencement of the Australian Football League in the 19th Century, it has always generated a tremendous impact to our sporting culture. The combination of Australians admiration towards elite sportsmen, combined with children further idolizing them creates a difficult situation if they do not act appropriately. Footballers themselves, are often glorified by young children due to their representation of success and power within society, however what is often overlooked is the inappropriate behaviors, which boys pick up through observational learning from these men. Although, majority of the time, these sportsmen must pay for their actions, it is not fair to publicize and broadcast the predicament, as it will give young Australians the wrong idea (Isom, 1998). With the concept of vicarious punishment as well as vicarious reinforcement, behaviors can be taught through media coverage as well as during games and the behavior of footballers will be mimicked on and off the field (Seligman & Baldacci, 2005). This is why, professional sportspeople are definitely negative role models, because they are unable to act in a manner, which is suitable for them to model for young children. However, regardless of the argument that AFL footballers should or should not be role models, young Australians will eternally worship them.

References Allen, L., & Santrock, J. (1993). The Contexts of Behavior Psychology, Brown & Benchmark Press: Madison, WI. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (September 2011). Children and Role Models. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/docs/facts_for_families/99_children_and_role_models.pdf. | Australian Government. (February 2012). People, culture and lifestyle. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from https://www.dfat.gov.au/facts/people_culture.html |

Bandura, A. (1962). Social Learning Through Imitation. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln, NE.
Burton, L., Westen D., & Kowalski, R. (2012). Psychology: Australian and New Zealand Edition (3rd ed.). John Wiley & Sons Australia.
Byrne, F. (2012, July 10). Former AFL star Ben Cousins breaks silence on drugs case. Herald Sun , Retrieved from http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/ben-cousins-breaks-silence-on-drug-charge/story-e6frf7jo-1226421901902 Cashman, R. (2003, November 5). Sport is culture, and nowhere more so than in Australia. Sydney Morning Herald , Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/11/04/1067708214342.html?from=storyrhs

Grand, C. L. (April 16, 2008 ). Sydney Swans Barry Hall banned for six games for punching West Coast Eagle Brent Staker. The Australian , Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/archive/news/hitman-hall-to-sit-out-7-games/story-e6frg7mx-1111116071901 |

Isom, M. D. (November 30, 1998). The Social Learning Theory. Retrieved April 20, 2014, from http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/bandura.htm Parrish, M. (2009). Bandura and the Learning of Aggression. Social Work Perspectives on Human Behaviour, Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzQ2NjQxMl9fQU41?sid=0c60cb2e-5776-4c99-8480-c54d35259061@sessionmgr4002&vid=19&format=EB&ppid=pp_121. |
Piotrowski, N. A. (2010). Social learning, Albert Bandura. Salem Health : Psychology & Mental Health, Retrieved from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook/bmxlYmtfXzI5ODI3N19fQU41?sid=0c60cb2e-5776-4c99-8480-c54d35259061@sessionmgr4002&vid=18&format=EB&ppid=pp_1816 |

Seligman, L. D., & Baldacci, H. B. (September 15, 2007). Vicarious Punishment. Encyclopedia of Behavior Modification and Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Volume 1: Adult Clinical Applications Volume 2: Child Clinical Applications Volume 3: Educational Applications, Retrieved from http://knowledge.sagepub.com/view/cbt/n2136.xml. | Ziemer, T. (October 13, 2000). Study Says Kids Emulate Athletes. ABC News , Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/story?id=100296. |

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