The Importance of Expectations on Participatory Sport Event Satisfaction


Prior research on service quality in the sport industry has focused
almost exclusively on the satisfaction of sport spectators. The
current study expands this literature by beginning exploration into service
quality issues related to sport event participants. Specifically, we examine
the effect of participant skill level on the expectations that event participants
place on various service quality dimensions applicable to a participatory
sport event. Specifically, we propose that relatively lower skilled players
will place greater importance on peripheral event service dimensions (those
attributes of an event that fall outside the actual competitive play of
the sport and do not directly influence the athlete’s performance, such
as event parties, promotional giveaways to participants, and general ambiance
surrounding the event). We also propose that relatively higher
skilled players will place greater importance on play-related event service
dimensions (those attributes that are directly associated with the competitive
play of the sport and can directly influence athlete performance).
Tests of these hypotheses are performed through survey data collected
from participants at the United States Tennis Association’s Southern Sectional
Championships. Results indicate that lower skilled players indeed
place greater emphasis on peripheral event service dimensions than do
higher skilled players. However, lower skilled players did not
place less emphasis on play-related event service dimensions than did
higher skilled players. The importance of understanding the expectations
of participatory sport event consumers is discussed, and directions for
future research are provided.

The Importance of Expectations on Participatory Sport
Event Satisfaction: An Exploration into the Effect of Athlete Skill
Level on Service Expectations


The emergence of research related to service quality in the sport industry
has only recently gained moderate attention. Given the enormity
of the sport industry in the United States, and indeed across the globe,
this is somewhat surprising. Moreover, the stream of sport service
quality research that has emerged in recent years has been somewhat limited,
focusing almost entirely on understanding fan satisfaction at spectator
events. For example, Kelley and Turley (2001) find that the importance
of nine different service quality factors at a sport spectating event
(e.g., concessions, price, fan comfort, facility access) differs across
a variety of demographic and fan identification characteristics.
As another example, the “sportscape” model has been an important relatively
recent contribution to the sport service quality literature, yet it too
focuses solely on spectator service encounters (e.g., Hightower, Brady,
& Baker 2002). The sportscape (e.g., the physical environment
where a spectator event occurs, primarily the arena/stadium) has been
shown to influence fans’ excitement and satisfaction with the experience
(Wakefield & Blodgett, 1994), their desire to stay through the event
(Wakefield & Sloan, 1995), and their likelihood of repatronizing events
at the facility (Wakefield, Blodgett, & Sloan, 1996). This
stream of research geared toward a better understanding of service quality
related to spectator events is invaluable, yet service quality research
geared toward a better understanding of service quality issues related
specifically to participatory sport events (i.e., events for which the
primary customers are the event participants, such as recreational golf
tournaments, tennis tournaments, softball tournaments, etc.) has been
largely unstudied and is much needed. It is toward this end that
the current study is addressed.

Chang, Chen, and Hsu (2002) provide an overview of service quality literature
to be considered in examining sport industry quality issues. One
of the models they touch on, and indeed one of the most influential models
in the service quality literature is the Gap model of service quality.
According to the Gap model, a customer’s satisfaction with a service is
largely driven by the extent to which his or her perceptions of received
service meet or exceed his or her expectations (Parasuraman, Zeithaml,
& Bitner, 1985). Customer expectations, in turn, can be defined
as beliefs about service delivery that function as standards or reference
points against which performance is judged (Zeithaml & Bitner, 2000).
It is critically important, therefore, that in order for participatory
sport events to be judged in a favorable light by participants, event
managers must pay particular attention to participant expectations during
event organization and management.

A key element for event managers in meeting or hopefully exceeding event
participant expectations is the careful consideration of the various sources
from which such expectations can arise. Zeithaml and Bitner (2000)
classify various sources of customer expectations, including enduring
service intensifiers, transitory service intensifiers, perceived service
alternatives, and explicit and implicit service promises. While
we contend that each is relevant to participatory sport event managers
(for example, an event participant’s satisfaction with an event would
logically depend on the number of competing events from which the participant
can choose), the current study focuses on enduring service intensifiers
and their ability to influence sport event participant’s satisfaction
with an event. Enduring service intensifiers are defined as stable
personal factors that lead to higher service sensitivity (Zeithaml &
Bitner, 2000). We propose that one such enduring service intensifier
relevant to participatory sport events is athlete skill level.
Event managers should consider that the skill level of the athletes participating
in their event could potentially influence the athletes’ expectations
for various event attributes. We posit that event attributes can
fall into two distinct categories, play-related attributes and peripheral
attributes. We define play-related attributes are those attributes
that are directly associated with the competitive play of the sport at
an event. Peripheral attributes are those attributes of an event
that fall outside the actual competitive play of the sport and do not
directly influence the athlete’s performance, such as event parties, promotional
giveaways to participants, and general ambiance surrounding the event
(e.g., play-site attractiveness). We hypothesize a direct, positive
relationship between skill level and play-related expectations, such that
as the skill level of the athlete rises, so do expectations regarding
play-related attributes. In turn, we hypothesize a direct, negative
relationship between skill level and peripheral expectations, such that
as the skill level of the athlete declines, expectations regarding peripheral
event attributes increase.

To illustrate the rationale behind these hypotheses, consider United
States Tennis Association (USTA) League Tennis. Players are grouped
according to skill level in categories ranging from 2.0 through 5.0, and
destination events are often held that hold competitions for players of
multiple skill levels. For example, the USTA holds state and regional
events in which one site hosts tournaments and the peripheral (e.g., banquets)
events surrounding them for players of multiple skill levels; in other
words, multiple skill level participants are participants in their own
skill level tournament, but are participants at the same overall event.
It is proposed that participants with a high skill level (e.g.,
a 5.0 USTA rating), given their competitive drive and focus related to
tennis (necessary in achieving their high skill level), are likely to
have relatively high expectations on play-related attributes such as the
match schedule, officiating, and court conditions. What we have
defined as play-related attributes are conceptually similar to what Gronroos
(1983) has defined as “technical quality”, or the core service that the
buyer receives from the seller. On the other hand, we propose that
players with lower skill levels (e.g., a USTA 2.5 rating) are often playing
as much for the “experience” and social aspects of the event as they are
for the competition, and are therefore likely to have relatively higher
expectations on peripheral attributes, such as event apparel offered for
sale or as a premium, food, and social “events (e.g., nightly parties/banquets)
within the event”. These hypotheses are stated formally as follows:

H1: Sporting event participant skill level is positively related to expectations
on play-related event service dimensions, such that higher skilled participants
will have higher expectations than will lower skilled participants on
service attributes related to the competitive play of the event.

H2: Sporting event participant skill level is negatively related to expectations
on peripheral event service dimensions, such that higher skilled participants
will have lower expectations than will lower skilled participants on service
attributes with are part of the event but unrelated to the competitive
play of the event.


To test these hypotheses, we collected data from 487 participants at
the 2003 USTA Southern Sectional Championships, an event with tennis players
ranging in USTA skill rating from 2.5 (novice) to 5.0 (expert).
Prior to play, players were asked to rate the importance of multiple items
which could affect their overall satisfaction with a multiple-day tennis
tournament. The survey items were generated prior to the event
by asking ten tennis players (not participating in the event surveyed
in this study) to list items which might influence their satisfaction
when participating in a tennis tournament. Items receiving more
than one mention were included in the final survey used in this study,
resulting in 33 items. The items included those which were both
play-related and peripheral. The 33 items are provided in Appendix

Formally stated, the survey question asked players “When evaluating your
satisfaction with a multiple-day tennis event to which you travel, how
important is each of the following items?” Players rated each of
the 33 items on a seven-point likert-type scale, with one being very unimportant
and seven being very important. Importance was used as a proxy
measure for expectations, as respondents will logically place more importance
on the dimensions for which they have higher expectations. Following
the importance ratings, respondents were asked to indicate their USTA
skill rating, gender, and age.


Exploratory factor analysis was performed on the 33 items (Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin
= .929, suggesting the data were highly appropriate for factor analysis).
Using a varimax rotation and a loading cutoff value of 0.5, four
factors were retained (eigenvalues ranging from 11.78 to 1.07) and labeled
as follows: Play (court condition, sufficient practice
courts available, draw continually updated/readily available, courts conducive
to spectating, all matches played on same surface type, well-equipped
area for changeover (water, chairs, etc.), extent to which match/draw
schedule runs on time, quality of officiating, tournament officials readily
available at all sites; a = .84); Souvenirs (quality of souvenir
merchandise (t-shirts, hats, etc.), selection of souvenir merchandise,
price of souvenir merchandise, attractiveness of awards offered, free
souvenirs offered to participants; a = .90); Hotel (proximity
of hotel to play sites, directions to tourist attractions/restaurants
provided, availability of reasonably priced hotels, availability of high
quality, attractive hotels, cleanliness of hotels; a =.85); Tournament
(tourist attractiveness of host city, physical attractiveness
of play sites, wide selection of restaurants in host city; a = .77); and
Concessions (selection of concessions at play sites, price of
concessions at play sites; a =.72). Cronbach’s alphas for all five
factors indicate that the five retained factors demonstrate strong internal
consistency. Further, the five retained factors explained the majority
(58.43%) of the variance. Factor structure, loadings, percent of
explained variance, and eigenvalues are provided in Table 1. The
Play dimension represents a service dimension directly related to a participant’s
competitive play in the event, while the four remaining dimensions of
Souvenirs, Hotel, Tournament Destination, and Concessions represent what
we have referred to as peripheral service dimensions. Nine items
did not load on any of the five factors and were dropped; these items
are noted in bold in Appendix A.

In order to analyze differences in importance by participant skill level,
a one-way MANOVA with skill level (relatively lower skilled = 2.5, 3.0,
3.5 USTA rating, n = 281; higher skilled = 4.0, 4.5, 5.0 USTA rating,
n = 206) as the independent variable and the mean of the summed score
of each service dimension factor (Play, Souvenirs, Hotel, Tournament Destination,
Concessions) as the multivariate dependent variables was performed.
MANOVA revealed a significant between-subjects skill level main effect
(Wilks’ Lambda = .97; F(5, 481) = 3.35; p<.005). Given multivariate
significance, we examined the univariate F-tests on each of the five service
dimension factors, which indicated significant differences between skill
level on four of the five service dimensions. Results of the univariate
tests are provided in Table 2. Note that all tests are one-tailed
due to directional hypotheses. These results indicate that lower
skilled players placed greater importance on each of the four peripheral
event dimensions (Souvenirs, Hotel, Tournament Destination, and Concessions)
than did higher skilled players, providing support for H2. As added
support for H2, we analyzed one item which did not load highly on any
of the four peripheral dimensions, yet represents a peripheral attribute.
Specifically, lower skill level players placed greater importance
on the item “quality of event social functions (banquets/parties)” than
did higher skill level players (lower skilled M = 4.96, higher skilled
M = 4.67; t = 2.12, p = .017). However, there was no difference
between lower skilled players and higher skilled players on the play-related
dimension. Therefore, H1 was not supported.


It is pertinent that managers of participant events pay particular attention
to participant expectations and the various factors that might influence
such expectations. This study is an initial step toward this end.
Thoughtful analysis of participant expectations is especially important
for managers of grassroots or local events. According to Graham,
Goldblatt and Delpy (1995), special events have continued to increase
exponentially both across the country and around the world. City
officials and officers of other entities are drawn to the idea of hosting
special events not only to create positive publicity, but also for city
branding purposes and to create economic impact. Special events
are perceived to be economic catalysts for future growth, and the increased
number of special events has created competition for consumers’ discretionary
time and income. These events include not only sport events, but
any of the special event types as categorized by the International Events
Group (IEG), including 1) sport, 2) festivals, fairs and annual events,
3) cause-related, 4) arts, and 5) entertainment, tours and attractions.
Within sport events alone, on any given day or weekend a consumer
may choose between any number of events. However, given that most
people do not have unlimited discretionary time or income, it is important
to understand as much as possible about the expectations of attendees
in order to maximize branding and economic opportunities.

The following definitions apply to types of special events:

Mega event – Mega events by way of their size or significance, are those
that yield extraordinarily high levels of tourism, media coverage, prestige,
or economic impact for the host community or destination. Their
volume should exceed one million visits, their capital costs should be
at least $500 million and their reputation should be of a “must see”
event (Getz, 1997, p.6).

Hallmark event – a recurring event that possesses such significance,
in terms of tradition, attractiveness, image, or publicity, that the event
provides the host venue, community, or destination with a competitive
advantage. Over time, the event and destination become inseparable
(Getz, 1997, p.7).

Major events – events that by their scale and media interest, are capable
of attracting significant visitor numbers, media coverage and economic
benefit (Allen, O’Toole, McDonnell, & Harris, 2002, p. 14)

Given these definitions, there is no doubt that branding opportunities
and economic impact are more easily achieved for a mega event such as
the Olympics or for hallmark events such as New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Omaha’s
College World Series or Times Square’s New Year’s Eve celebration.
Events such as these have achieved a level of prestige and have generally
garnered significant corporate and municipal sponsorship, and have increased
media coverage, specifically from television. However, it is generally
much more difficult for managers of local events, and particularly participant
events, to garner financial support and media coverage. Furthermore,
because these local participatory events have relatively small budgets,
lower sponsorship prices, and less media coverage than do events falling
in the other categories, it is particularly important that local event
managers know and understand the expectations of their patrons in order
to be efficient and effective in event production. These events
simply do not have the resources to spend on service dimensions that participants
consider relatively unimportant.

From a management perspective, participatory event directors should become
familiar with the Gap model of service quality, and in particular, realize
that participant expectations are a key component in participants’ event
satisfaction. Our results indicate that participant skill level
is one variable which can affect participant expectations, and thus a
variable which event directors should consider when planning an event.
Clearly, understanding participant expectations will allow an event
manager to more effectively establish long-term commitment from participants,
direct event production efforts, and inform event budget allocation.
Participatory event managers are often of the mindset that offering more
amenities makes for a more satisfying event. However, given that
few managers have unlimited event budgets, knowing the relative value
of various service dimensions such as (but not limited to) those analyzed
in this study will help managers better direct expenditures, whether this
be increasing spending on important dimensions or decreasing or eliminating
spending on relatively unimportant dimensions. For example, if
a manager is holding a USTA league tournament and has a large number of
high-level athletes (4.5, 5.0), excessive expenditures on banquets and
merchandise would not prove as beneficial as spending resources developing
an optimal tournament draw and schedule (for example, holding the events
at multiple play sites in order to avoid a significant number of matches
running behind schedule) or repairing courts and ensuring the presence
of qualified officials.

Most event managers must be concerned with corporate and municipal fundraising
to supplement the cost of event production. Furthermore, evaluation
of sponsorship relationships and accomplishing return on investment is
crucial as both corporations and municipalities that fund events are seeking
tangible results (Irwin, Asimakopoulos, & Sutton, 1994; Kuzma, Shanklin,
& McCally,1993; Meagher, 1992; Schlossberg, 1992; Stotlar, 1996).
Understanding the participants’ expectations can help event managers
to better match which sponsors will be more successful and can, in turn,
increase the relationships and longevity of sponsor relationships.
For example, if event participants place a relatively strong importance
on peripheral event dimensions, event managers can target hospitality
organizations as likely sponsors whose association with the event would
prove beneficial to both sponsor and event. Additionally, as competition
for both municipal and corporate sponsorship dollars increases, a thorough
understanding of participant expectations becomes increasingly significant.

In this study, the USTA’s Southern sectionals hosted players from beginning
skill level to advanced skill level as participants. This study
hypothesized that 1) players of higher skill (4.0, 4.5, and 5.0) levels
had higher expectations where play-related dimensions were concerned and
2) that players of lower skill levels (2.5, 3.0, and 3.5) had higher expectations
where peripheral dimensions were concerned. Although the first
hypothesis was not supported, one possible explanation pertains to the
championship level of this event. For a team to participate in
a sectional event, it would be necessary for the team to finish in the
top two in their league standings, and subsequently win both their city
and state playoffs. Therefore, even a lower skilled participant
or team would have to be highly competitive to achieve this standing,
and thus place significant importance on play-related service dimensions.
For instance, the Southern sectional tournament in this study was
the first event to have senior 2.5 teams. The implication from
this issue is that event directors who are managing an event of this stature
should consider that all participants will have certain expectations of
the play-related or more technical aspects of the event given their efforts
expended to earn eligibility to participate. Therefore, future
event directors of the USTA’s sectional event should pay particular attention
to play-related dimensions.

Future Research

Athlete skill level is only one factor that can influence event participant
expectations. Future research should be directed toward identifying
and analyzing other factors which might influence such expectations.
For example, the gender of the participant could be hypothesized to influence
their event expectations. It might be hypothesized that relative to male
participants, female participants would generally be more concerned with
souvenirs/merchandise, the tourism attractiveness of the host city, and
hotel/accommodations. This knowledge could help inform decisions such
as the type of hotel used and arranging the city attractions that may
be most attractive in order to meet the female participants’ expectations
more thoroughly. In a similar vein, the age of the participant
might also play a significant role in influencing their expectations.
As enduring service intensifiers such as gender and age are outside
the scope of the current study, this avenue proves ripe for further research.

Future research should also use existing marketing theory on service
quality to springboard into a deeper understanding of participant expectations.
As an example stemming from the current study, consider the zone
of tolerance, used by marketing scholars to explain the difference between
desired service, which represents what the service customer hopes to receive,
and adequate service, which represents the level of service that the customer
will accept as adequate or sufficient. According to service literature,
zones of tolerance are narrower for more important service dimensions
(e.g., Berry, Parasuraman, & Zeithaml, 1993). It could be posited
that for play-related attributes, the zone of tolerance will narrow as
athlete skill level increases. Conversely, for peripheral attributes,
the zone of tolerance will narrow as athlete skill level decreases.
The tolerance zones should narrow primarily due to the effect of skill
level on adequate expectations. For example, while both a 2.5 and
5.0 tennis player would likely desire similar quality in play-related
attributes, the quality that a 5.0 player will accept as adequate
, given his or her competitive focus, is likely to be higher than
that of a 2.5 player. Conversely, while both a 2.5 and 5.0 tennis
player would likely desire similar quality in peripheral attributes,
the quality that a 2.5 player will accept as adequate , given
his or her focus on the “overall event experience”, is likely to be higher
than that of a 5.0 player. Future research addressing propositions
such as these would prove both theoretically and practically interesting.


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    in leisure service settings. Journal of Service Marketing ,
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Table 1

Factor Analysis of Event Service Dimensions

Percent Variance Explained
Factor Loadings
Court Condition
Sufficient Practice Courts Avail.
Draw Continually Updated/ Readily Available
Courts Conducive to Spectating
All Matches Played on Same Surface
Well-Equipped Area for Changeover
Extent to Which Match Schedule/Draw Runs on Time
Quality of Officiating
Tournament Officials Readily Available at All Sites
Quality of Souvenir Merchandise
Selection of Souvenir Merchandise
Price of Souvenir Merchandise
Attractiveness of Awards Offered
Free Souvenirs Offered to Participants
Proximity of Hotel to Play Sites
Directions to Tourist Attractions/Restaurants Provided
Avail. of Reasonably Priced Hotels
Avail. of High Quality, Attractive Hotels
Cleanliness of Hotels
Tourist Attractiveness of Host City
Physical Attractiveness of Play Sites
Wide Selection of Restaurants in Host City
Selection of Concessions at Play Sites
Price of Concessions at Play Sites

Table 2

Univariate F-tests (Mean Comparisons) on Service Dimension Factors

Lower Skilled
Higher Skilled
Tournament Destination

Note. **p<.01, *p<.05

Appendix A

  1. Court Condition (court surface, lines, nets)
  2. Sufficient Practice Courts Available
  3. Draw is Continually Updated and Readily Viewable
  4. Courts Conducive to Spectating
  5. All Matches Played on Same Surface Type
  6. Well-Equipped Area for Changeover (water, chairs, etc.)
  7. Extent to which Match/Draw Schedule Runs On-Time
  8. Quality of Officiating
  9. Tournament Officials Readily Available at All Sites
  10. Well-Equipped Locker-Rooms at Play Sites
  11. On-Site Racquet Stringing
  12. Quality of Competition
  13. Medical Staff Present at All Play Sites
  14. Event Results Reported in Local Media
  15. Quality of Souvenir Merchandise (t-shirts, hats, etc.)
  16. Selection of Souvenir Merchandise
  17. Price of Souvenir Merchandise
  18. Attractiveness of Awards Offered
  19. Free Souvenirs Offered to Participants
  20. Quality of Event Social Functions (banquets/parties)
  21. Tourist Attractiveness of Host City
  22. Physical Attractiveness of Play Sites
  23. Wide Selection of Restaurants in Host City
  24. Play-Related Food/Beverage at Play Sites (Fruit, Energy Bars/Drinks)
  25. Selection of Other Concessions at Play Sites (Burgers, Chips, Soft
    Drinks, etc.)
  26. Price of Concessions at Play Sites
  27. Friendliness and Courtesy of Host Site Staff
  28. Host Site Staff Knowledgeable about Host City (restaurants, tourist
    destinations, etc.)
  29. Proximity of Hotels to Play Sites
  30. Directions to Tourist Attractions/Restaurants Provided
  31. Availability of Reasonably Priced Hotels
  32. Availability of High Quality, Attractive Hotels
  33. Cleanliness of Hotels

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2017-11-02T13:56:29-05:00March 3rd, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Facilities, Sports Management, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on The Importance of Expectations on Participatory Sport Event Satisfaction

The Effect of a Plyometrics Program Intervention on Skating Speed in Junior Hockey Players


Few studies have been conducted to examine the effects of plyometrics on skating speed in junior hockey players. The present study was designed to look at the effects of a 4-week, eight session, plyometric training program intervention on skating speed. Six male subjects (18.8 ± .98 years) that engaged in the training program completed pre and post 40 meter on-ice sprinting tests. The training group showed significant time improvements (p<.05) in the 40 meter skating distance. The results suggested that plyometric training has a positive effect on skating speed in junior hockey players such that a reduction in on-ice sprinting times is evident.


2016-10-24T11:45:30-05:00March 3rd, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Coaching, Sports Exercise Science, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on The Effect of a Plyometrics Program Intervention on Skating Speed in Junior Hockey Players

Determinants of Success Among Amateur Golfers: An Examination of NCAA Division I Male Golfers


An extensive body of research examines the importance of a golfer’s
shot-making skills to the player’s overall performance, where performance
is measured as either tournament money winnings or average score per round
of golf. Independent of the performance measure, existing studies find
that a player’s shot-making skills contribute significantly to explaining
the variability in a golfer’s performance. To date, this research
has focused exclusively on the professional golfer. This study attempts
to extend the findings in the literature by examining the performance
determinants of amateur golfers. Using a sample of NCAA Division I male
golfers, various shot-making skills are analyzed and correlated with average
score per round of golf. Overall, the findings validate those dealing
with professional golfers. In particular, the results suggest that, like
professional golfers, amateurs must possess a variety of shot-making skills
to be successful. Moreover, relative to driving ability, putting skills
and reaching greens in regulation contribute more to explaining the variability
in a player’s success.


Davidson and Templin (1986) present one of the first statistical investigations
of the major determinants of a professional golfer’s success. Using
U.S. Professional Golf Association (PGA) data, these researchers find
that a player’s shot-making skills explain approximately 86 percent
of the variability in a player’s average score and about 59 percent
of the variance in a player’s earnings. Based on these results,
Davidson and Templin conclude that a professional golfer must possess
a variety of shot-making skills to be successful as a tournament player.
They further offer strong empirical support that hitting greens in regulation
and putting were the two most important factors in explaining scoring
average variability across players, with driving ability showing up as
a distant third.

Following Davidson and Templin (1986), a number of researchers have
continued to investigate the determinants of a professional golfer’s
overall performance. Examples include Jones (1990), Shmanske (1992), Belkin,
Gansneder, Pickens, Rotella, and Striegel (1994), Wiseman, Chatterjee,
Wiseman, and Chatterjee (1994), Engelhardt (1995, 1997), Moy and Liaw
(1998), and more recently Nero (2001), Dorsel and Rotunda (2001), and
Engelhardt (2002). Overall, these studies support the major conclusion
presented by Davidson and Templin (1986), which is that a professional
golfer must exhibit a variety of shot-making skills to be successful as
a touring professional. While the relative importance of these skills
to player performance is not uniform across these studies, there is a
developing consensus that shot-making skills like putting and hitting
greens in regulation are more important to a player’s success than
driving distance.

Interestingly, while there is an accumulating literature investigating
professional golfers, no analogous studies have examined the amateur player,
despite the fact that Davidson and Templin (1986) explicitly state that
this avenue of investigation would be a useful direction for future research.
More recently, Belkin, et al. (1994) specifically raise this point, suggesting

“It would also be intriguing to examine whether the same
skills which differentiate successful professionals also contribute
in the same manner to the fortunes of amateurs of differing capabilities.”
(p. 1280).

By way of response, this study fills that particular void in the literature
by empirically estimating the relationship between an amateur golfer’s
overall performance and various shot-making skills. To facilitate direct
comparisons to the existing literature on the determinants of professional
golfers’ performance, we employ the basic approach used by Davidson
and Templin (1986) and Belkin, et al. (1994), among others.



The sample used for this analysis is a subset of NCAA Division I male
golfers who participated in at least one tournament during the 2002–2003
season. Table 1 presents a listing of the colleges and universities represented
in the study and the number of players from each institution. The specific
data on these collegiate golfers are obtained from Golfstat, Inc. (2003)
(accessible on the Internet at, and/or from the respective
colleges and universities directly. The colleges and universities included
in the analysis are a subset of the college teams participating in National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Men’s Golf. While
it would be preferable to examine all Division I teams, the individual
player statistics needed to perform the analysis are not available. However,
since it is reasonable to assume that the schools listed in Table 1 are
a representative sample of all Division I men’s teams, the data
sample is appropriate for this study.

Sample of Schools Included in the Study

Number of Golfers
Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking
Clemson University
Atlantic Coast
University of Arizona
Pacific 10
University of Southern CA
Pacific 10
Duke University
Atlantic Coast
Vanderbilt University
California State -Fresno
Western Athletic
University of Kentucky
Georgia State University
Atlantic Sun
Texas A&M University
Big 12
Southeastern Louisiana Univ.
Coastal Carolina University
Big South

Sources: Golfstat, Inc. (2003) “Customized Team Pages-Men.”, (accessed June 16, 2003),
various teams; Golfweek. (2003) “Golfweek/Sagarin Performance Index –
Men’s Team Ratings.”,
(accessed July 1, 2003).


For the schools represented in this study, Golfstat, Inc. collects and
reports individual player statistics necessary to complete a performance
analysis. For this study we used statistics for the 2002 – 2003
NCAA Division I tournament season. Among the available data are the average
score per round (AS) for each amateur player in the sample. This statistic
provides the performance measure needed for the dependent variable in
this study, since earnings are not relevant to amateurs. Specifically,
according to the United States Golf Association (2003, p. 1) and the Royal
and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews (2003, p.1), an amateur golfer is
defined as:

“…one who plays the game as a non-remunerative and
non-profit-making sport and who does not receive remuneration for teaching
golf or for other activities because of golf skill or reputation, except
as provided in the Rules.”

Although studies of professional golfers examine scoring average and/or
earnings as performance measures, Wiseman et al. (1994) argue that correlation
results are stronger when scoring average is used. Hence, the use of scoring
average for this study of amateurs is soundly supported by the literature
examining professional golfers.

Statistics for the primary shot-making skills typically used in the
literature are collected and reported by Golfstat, Inc. and by some colleges
and universities. These include measures of driving accuracy, greens in
regulation, putting average, sand saves, and short game.

To capture amateurs’ long game skills, we use one of the classic
measures, which is driving accuracy. Specifically, we use the variable
Fairways Hit, which is defined as the percentage of fairways hit on par
4 and par 5 holes during a round of golf. Data on driving distance for
the amateur sample are not available. However, Dorsel and Rotunda (2001)
present evidence suggesting that the number of eagles (i.e., two strokes
under par on any hole) a player makes is positively correlated with the
player’s average driving distance. Hence, we use the variable Eagles,
the total number of eagles a player makes during the season, to control
for each player’s average driving distance. Following the literature,
we also include the variable Greens in Regulation (GIR) to measure the
percentage of greens a player reaches in regulation for the season. This
is defined as one stroke for a par three, two strokes or less for a par
four, and three strokes or less for a par five. As discussed in Belkin
et al. (1994), this GIR variable captures a player’s iron play and
their success at reading a green within the regulation number of strokes.

With regard to the short game, several variables are used in the analysis.
In keeping with the literature, we use two measures of putting skill –
Putts per Round, defined as the average number of putts per round, and
GIR Putts, which is the average number of putts measured only on greens
reached in regulation. Belkin, et al. (1994) is one study that uses the
former measure, while Dorsel and Rotunda (2001) is an example of a study
using the latter. Interestingly, Shmanske (1992) argues that the latter
statistic, GIR Putts, is superior because it correctly accounts for the
longer putting distances associated with a player who achieves a higher
number of greens in regulation. By including one of these measures in
different regression models, we can assess the validity of that argument.
We also include the variable Sand Saves (SS), which measures the percentage
of time a golfer makes par or better when hitting from a sand bunker.
In certain specifications of our regression analysis, we experiment with
the variable Short Game as an alternative measure to Sand Saves. Short
Game measures the percentage of time a player makes par or better when
not reaching the green in the regulation number of strokes.

In addition to a player’s shot-making skills, Belkin, et al. (1994)
and others note the importance of experience in determining a player’s
success. To control for this factor, two experience measures are used.
First, we define the variable Rounds as the number of tournament rounds
completed by each player during the 2002–2003 season. In a sense,
this measure captures a player’s short-term experience, in that
it measures how each additional round played in a season increases the
experience that a player can call upon in subsequent rounds. Second, to
control for longer-term cumulative experience, we construct a set of dummy
variables to reflect the player’s academic age, (i.e., Freshman,
Sophomore, Junior, or Senior). It is hypothesized that the higher a player’s
academic age, the more collegiate golfing experience has been gained,
and therefore the lower the expected average score.

Finally, since golf at the collegiate level is a team sport, it is important
to capture any associated team effects. That is, a player’s performance
might be affected by the team with which they are associated. At least
two plausible explanations for this team effect are viable – one
relating to the team’s coach and the other relating to the courses
played. With regard to the former, each team’s coach is expected
to uniquely affect the success of each team member through mentoring,
leadership, instruction, and overall direction. In fact, Dirks (2000)
and Giacobbi, Roper, Whitney, and Butryn (2002) present evidence supporting
the importance of a coach’s influence on the performance of a collegiate
athlete. Primarily, the coach acts as the team leader and instructor.
As a leader, the coach is responsible for the overall team strategy and
for ultimately determining a player’s tournament participation.
As an instructor, the more experienced coach may be better able to teach
players and to motivate them to improve their play.

As for courses played, we expect a player’s scoring average to
be affected by the specific golf courses played, which in turn are not
consistent across collegiate teams. Indeed, it is highly plausible that
some teams might, for example, play easier courses throughout a given
tournament season, which may lower a team member’s score. To account
for these team effects, dummy variables are constructed, whereby each
dummy variable identifies the team to which each player belongs.


Following the literature, multiple regression analysis is used to estimate
the relationship between an amateur golfer’s average score and various
shot-making skills. In addition, each regression model is specified to
control for player experience and team factors. Ordinary least squares
(OLS) is used to derive the regression estimates for four different models.
These models are distinguished by the selection of shot-making skill statistics
used for certain variables. Specifically, each model is distinguished
by its use of Sand Saves (SS) versus Short Game and Putts per Round versus
GIR putts. We also generate simple Pearson correlation coefficients between
the measure of player performance and each of the independent variables
in the study.

Results and Discussion

Basic descriptive statistics for the sample of 93 golfers are presented
in Table 2. At the collegiate level, most tournaments consist of three
rounds of golf, and, like the professionals, each round comprises eighteen
holes. The average NCAA Division I male golfer in the sample participated
in approximately nine tournaments, played slightly less than 26 rounds
of golf, and had an average score per round of approximately 75 strokes
during the 2002 – 2003 season.

Basic Descriptive Statistics

Mean Std. Dev
Average Score (AS)
Fairways Hit
Greens in Regulation (GIR)
Putts per round
GIR Putts
Sand Saves (SS)
Short Game
Academic Age Dummy Variable
Mean Std. Dev
Team Dummy Variables
Mean Std. Dev
University of Arizona
Clemson University
Duke University
California State -Fresno
Georgia State University
University of Kentucky
Southeastern Louisiana University
University of Southern CA
Texas A& M University
Vanderbilt University
Coastal Carolina University

With regard to specific shot-making skills, the average amateur hits
approximately 68 percent of the fairways and reaches the green in the
regulation number of strokes 60 percent of the time. Of the greens reached
in regulation, the average player needs 1.88 putts to finish a hole, and
over the course of a round, each needs to take slightly more than 31 putts.
On average, an amateur golfer makes par or better when hitting from a
sand bunker 42 percent of the time and makes par or better when not on
a green in regulation 51 percent of the time. Over the course of the 2002
– 2003 season, the average player made 1.5 eagles.

Table 3 presents the results of the correlation analysis among an amateur’s
average score (AS) and various shot-making skills, experience, and team
effects. Notice that all shot-making skills are significantly correlated
with a player’s average score. Somewhat predictably, GIR is the
variable that is most highly correlated with an amateur golfer’s
average score. This finding is analogous to what has been found for professional
golfers by Davidson and Templin (1986) and others. We also find that the
Short Game variable and GIR Putts rank second and third respectively in
terms of the strength of correlation among shot-making skills. Notice
that across the two putting measures – GIR Putts and Putts per Round,
the correlation for GIR Putts is higher, which may support Shmanske’s
(1992) assertion that this is a more accurate measure of putting skill.
We also find that both the short-term and long-term experience measures
are statistically correlated with a player’s performance. With regard
to the Rounds variable, the correlation shows a significant negative relationship
with a player’s average score, which follows our expectations. Also,
as anticipated, the dummy variable for academic age is positively correlated
with the player’s average score for freshmen and negatively correlated
for seniors. Lastly, for certain colleges and universities, there is a
significant correlation between a team effect and a player’s average

Pearson Correlation Coefficients

MEASURES Correlation with Average Score (AS)
Fairways Hit
Greens in Regulation (GIR)
Putts per Round
GIR Putts
Sand Saves (SS)
Short Game
Academic Age Dummy Variables
Team Dummy Variables
University of Arizona
Clemson University
Duke University
California State – Fresno
Georgia State University
University of Kentucky
Southeastern Louisiana University
University of Southern CA
Texas A& M University
Vanderbilt University
Coastal Carolina University

* significant at the 0.10 level
** significant at the 0.05 level
*** significant at the 0.01 level

In Table 4, we present the multiple regression results for four alternative
models. As previously noted, these models vary by which putting statistic
is used and by whether Short Game or Sand Saves is used in the estimation.
Model 1 uses Putts per Round and Sand Saves (SS), Model 2 uses Putts per
Round and Short Game, Model 3 uses GIR Putts and Sand Saves (SS), and
Model 4 uses GIR Putts and Short Game.

Regression Analysis (Standardized Beta Coefficients in parentheses)

Model 1
Model 2
Model 3
Model 4
Fairways Hit -0.28 -0.43 -0.99 -0.53
(-0.01) (-0.02) (-0.04) (-0.02)
Greens in Regulation (GIR) -22.34*** -21.60*** -15.73*** -14.97***
(-0.81) (-0.78) (-0.57) (-0.54)
Putts per Round 1.00*** 0.94*** —– ——
(0.56) (0.52)
GIR Putts —– —– 13.27*** 8.92***
(0.42) (0.28)
Sand Saves (SS) 0.67 —– -0.32 —–
(0.04) (-0.02)
Short Game —- -0.70 —– -7.09***
(-0.03) (-0.29)
Eagles 0.01 0.01 -0.01 -0.02
(0.01) (0.01) (-0.01) (-0.02)
Rounds -0.01 -0.01 -0.02** -0.01
(-0.04) (-0.04) (-0.12) (-0.07)
Academic Age Dummy Variables
Senior -0.40* -0.42* -0.20 -0.19
Junior -0.33* -0.36* -0.22 -0.20
Sophomore -0.48** -0.50** -0.46* -0.51**
Team Dummy Variables
University of Arizona -0.02 0.01 -0.23 -0.11
Duke University -0.06 -0.01 -0.33 -0.17
California State -Fresno -0.11 -0.10 -0.11 0.00
Georgia State University -0.79** -0.71* -1.25** -0.66
University of Kentucky 1.44*** 1.43*** 0.85* 1.18**
Southeastern Louisiana University -0.11 0.04 -0.50 0.40
University of Southern CA -0.13 -0.15 -0.45 -0.29
Texas A& M University -0.26 -0.20 -0.49 -0.14
Vanderbilt University 0.28 0.25 -0.37 -0.27
Coastal Carolina University 0.78** 0.79** 0.42 0.84*
F-Statistic 46.73*** 46.23*** 21.78*** 32.09***
R-Square 0.92 0.92 0.85 0.89
Adjusted R-Square 0.90 0.90 0.81 0.87
F-Statistic (full versus reduced) 4.38*** 4.16*** 1.93** 2.78***

* significant at the 0.10 level, assuming a one-tailed
test of hypothesis
** significant at the 0.05 level, assuming a one-tailed test of hypothesis
*** significant at the 0.01 level, assuming a one-tailed test of hypothesis

Overall, we observe that shot-making skills, player experience, and
team effects collectively explain a large proportion of the variability
in an amateur’s scoring average independent of the model specified.
Specifically, the adjusted R2 statistics across the four models range
from 0.81 to 0.90, values that are similar to those reported in Davidson
and Templin (1986) and Belkin, et al. (1994).

Of the specific shot-making skills, GIR and putting (either Putts per
Round or GIR Putts), are the most consistent predictors of an amateur’s
average score across the four models. In each case, GIR is significant
at the 1 percent level, as are both putting variables. However, the standardized
beta coefficients show that GIR is the most important predictor, as was
the case for the models estimated by Davidson and Templin (1986) and Belkin,
et al. (1994). Both putting variables also are significant at the 1 percent
level, though the standardized beta coefficients suggest that Putts per
Round might be a superior measure of amateur putting, which runs counter
to Shmanske’s (1992) view of these variable definitions, as noted

Interestingly, Short Game is a significant predictor of average score,
but only when the variable GIR Putts is included in the model, which is
Model 4 specifically. With regard to Sand Saves (SS), we find that it
is not a significant factor in predicting a player’s performance
in either Model 1 or Model 3. Davidson and Templin (1986) and, more recently,
Moy and Liaw (1998) find analogous results for their respective samples
of professional golfers. One explanation put forth by Moy and Liaw is
that all golfers have similar abilities in this skill category. Another
more likely justification is one presented by Dorsal and Rotunda (2001),
which is that bunker play is less frequent and, as a result, has a negligible
effect on a player’s overall performance.

To the extent that the number of eagles over the season captures driving
distance, the results indicate that driving distance is not a major factor
in determining a player’s performance. In general, this conclusion
agrees with the findings of Davidson and Templin (1986), Belkin, et al.
(1994), and Dorsel and Rotunda (2001). Hence, this finding seems to be
independent of whether the golfer is an NCAA amateur or a professional
player. However, such an assertion has to be made with caution, since
no direct measure of driving distance was available to include in this
amateur study.

In addition to a player’s shot-making skills, experience and team
effects appear to have an influence on an NCAA golfer’s performance.
With regard to the experience measures, the total number of rounds played
in the 2002-2003 season improves a player’s overall performance.
This assertion is based on the consistently negative coefficient on Rounds
across models, though the result is statistically significant only in
Model 3. As for longer-term experience, sophomore players consistently
achieve a lower average score than their freshman counterparts, and this
effect is statistically significant across the four models. Juniors and
seniors are found to enjoy the same performance effect linked to experience,
but the influence is found to be statistically significant only in Models
1 and 2.

As for individual team effects, the results suggest that a statistically
significant influence exists for certain collegiate programs. For example,
holding all else constant, all four models indicate that players on the
University of Kentucky team have higher and statistically significant
average scores relative to players on the Clemson team (the suppressed
dummy variable), who are the 2002-2003 NCAA Division I Champions. Conversely,
players at Georgia State University achieve lower average scores than
players at Clemson, independent of individual shot-making skills or experience,
and three of the four models show this finding to be statistically significant.
The absence of statistical significance for the other teams might be attributable
to limited variability of team effects within a single NCAA division.

Finally, an F-test comparing the full model to a reduced version was
conducted across each model specification, where the reduced model assumes
that the academic age and team effects are jointly zero. As noted in Table
4, the null hypothesis was rejected across all four models, indicating
that these two experience variables collectively help to explain the variability
of an amateur player’s performance. This outcome validates the belief
of other researchers, including Belkin et al. (1994) and Shmanske (1992).


The importance of shot-making skills to a professional golfer’s
success has been well documented in the literature. In general, research
studies point to the fact that a variety of shot-making skills are important
to a player’s overall performance. More specifically, four shot-making
skills – GIR, putting, driving accuracy, and driving distance –
are responsible for the majority of variation in a professional golfer’s
scoring performance. Of these four, GIR and putting have consistently
been found to be the more important factors. On occasion, driving accuracy
and driving distance have been found to statistically impact a professional
golfer’s average score, but typically the influence is weaker than
for GIR and putting skills.

Despite an accumulating literature seeking to validate or refine these
results, we know of no study that has extended this analysis beyond the
realm of professional golfers. To that end, we attempt to fill this void
in the literature by empirically identifying performance determinants
for amateur golfers. Using a sample of NCAA Division I male golfers, we
hypothesize that a variety of shot-making skills along with player experience
and team membership are expected to influence an amateur golfer’s
performance measured as average score per round. Using multiple regression
analysis, our results indicate that all these factors collectively explain
a large percentage of the variability in an NCAA golfer’s average
score. This is evidenced by R-squared values ranging from 0.81 to 0.90
across four different models distinguished by varying variable definitions.

We further find that the amateur golfer’s shot-making skills measured
through GIR and putting are the most important factors to explaining average
score per round. These findings offer an important contribution to the
growing literature on professional golfer performance in that they validate
and extend much of what has been shown in existing studies. Future research
should attempt to further extend these findings to other amateur data,
as they become available.


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2015-10-30T13:26:19-05:00March 3rd, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Coaching, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on Determinants of Success Among Amateur Golfers: An Examination of NCAA Division I Male Golfers

Sport in Turkey in the Pre-Islamic Period

This paper is a descriptive historical analysis of sport in Turkey from the earliest available records to the present. The development of sport in Turkey may be thought of as occurring in three periods: the pre-Islamic, the Islamic, and post-Islamic Republican periods. Evidence from the pre-Islamic period suggests that Turkey’s athletic culture was immensely rich, with games and related physical activities having an essential role and in many respects providing a way of life. In an environment in which the strongest and fittest were likeliest to survive, martial forms of games and physical activities were widely practiced by men and women, for instance archery, horsemanship, wrestling, and cirit (a javelin chase also known as jerid or jereed). In the relatively relaxed social climate of the pre-Islamic period, Turkish people were free to pursue these activities and express themselves through athletic culture.

Sport in Turkey in the Pre-Islamic Period

Athletic culture in Turkey during the pre-Islamic period involved at least three main outlets for physical competition: archery, cirit, and wrestling. Ample evidence exists that archery was among the most common sports in the pre-Islamic Turkish culture, practiced and performed by rich and poor alike. Survival, after all, depended heavily on skilled marksmanship. Marksmanship also made for ready entertainment, and the best archers were honored and rewarded. According to Celebi (1987), Turks were like other Central Asian peoples in their use of  short bows rather than the Western Europeans’ favored longbow. Lewis (1971) attributes the difference to the fact that, while Europe’s medieval archers traveled on foot, the Turks formed light cavalries, which, being on horseback, would have found the longbow unwieldy (p. 203). Turks’ bows and arrows were made of metal, bone, or wood; the material reflected the archer’s status in society (Celebi, 1987). Technical perfection was expected in making both arrow and bow, and the weapons were subjected to thorough testing before use (Celebi, 1987). Arrows were invested with certain symbolic powers in addition to their use as weapons. For example, a young Turkish man about to marry would shoot up an arrow to learn where his marriage tent should be placed (i.e., at the point where the arrow returned to earth) (Lewis, 1978).

Women in pre-Islamic Turkish culture enjoyed extensive freedoms; they did not “sit quietly in their tents all the time” (Adivar, 1930). Shoulder to shoulder with men, they hunted and fought. And they competed with men in archery contests. The pre-Islamic Turkish epic Book of Dede Korkut (translated by Geoffrey Lewis) recounts how Lady Burla, a Khakan’s wife, helped rescue her son from an enemy by using arrow and sword herself to dispatch the threat (Lewis, 1978). The pages of the Dede Korkut also make clear the popularity of wrestling among pre-Islamic Turks. Athletes and others approached the sport with respect; it was honored by heroes and heroines and it figured in many aspects of life (see the offset quotation from Dede Korkut, below, describing the prenuptial wrestling match between Prince Beyrek and his intended’s housekeeper). Finally, the sport of cirit (or jerid or jereed), a horseback javelin chase, was very popular among the nomadic Turks. Their diet consisting largely of game, they were dependent on hunting. The cirit javelin, made of wood or metal, was designed to kill large animals; during war it could also be used for close fighting. To use the javelin well required a strong arm and a practiced skill (Celebi, 1987). Using it in a game was very dangerous, involving speeding horses and attempts both to hit an opponent with the javelin and catch thrown javelins. Cirit was one of the culture’s most dangerous pursuits, and it was not uncommon for players to die on the field.

Turkish sport during the Islamic period was influenced significantly by the cultural habits and moral codes of Islam practiced in the Middle East (Arabia and Persia). These allowed only men to pursue certain athletic leisure activities, and in general in this period, athletic pursuits–sports–became a privilege of the rich and politically powerful. Again, archery, riding, wrestling, and cirit were the most popular events. It is during this period that athletics began to be institutionalized; a few primitive sports clubs became established. In the 19th century, European diplomats were largely responsible for introducing modern competitive sports to Turkey. The progress of sport in Turkey in the modern era has been problematic, influenced by national political, economic, and social challenges. This is, however, typical of developing countries. There has been very little scholarly research aimed at identifying problems in the development of sports in Turkey. Minimal data about lifelong physical fitness for the masses (i.e., “sport for all” programs) has been established. This article will focus on understanding whether Middle Eastern culture has worked to impede the development of Turkish sports culture by, for example, preventing Turkish women from participating in the activities of athletics and sports.

For thousands of years, games and various types of athletic activities have been significant in the lives of the Turkish people (a people originating in Central Asia). In ancient times Turkish boys were not granted their public names until they had distinguished themselves in athletics. Indeed, during the pre-Islamic era, certain athletic activities were considered expressions of the Turkish religion, art, or love. In the oldest inscriptions on Turkish monuments in Outer Mongolia and Siberia (dating to roughly the eighth century B.C.), athletic skills are described as “first-rate” (Lewis, 1978); the gender of the athlete matters not. Exemplifying Turkey’s continuous tradition of sports, the annual Kirkpinar wrestling tournament in Edirne is 650 years old, predating tennis at Wimbledon by approximately 500 years. Turkish wrestlers’ many successes in the modern Olympic Games (until the 1968 Mexico City Games) were no coincidence, but were instead the extension of Turkey’s history and culture. Another example of centuries-old Turkish sporting tradition are the cirit festivals in Erzurum.

A number of literary works suggest the rich heritage of sports in Turkey. The Book of Dede Korkut, for instance, tells a story giving insight into the role of athletics in Turkish cultural background. The story concerns a Turkish girl who is a housekeeper for a popular Turkish princess, Chichek. A prince attracted to the princess must contend with the princess’s housekeeper to win an opportunity to meet the princess. The housekeeper presents him a challenge, as Lewis (1987) translates it:

Where are you from, young man? From the inner Oghuz, said Beyrek (the prince) . . . . I am he they call Bamsi Beyrek, son of Prince Bay Bure. And what is your business here? I am told, replied Beyrek, that Prince Bay Bican has a daughter, and I have come to see her. The lady Chichek is not the sort of person to show herself to you, said she, but I am her serving-woman. Come let us ride out together. We shall shoot our bows and race our horses and wrestle. If you beat me in these three, you will beat her, too. To horse! They both mounted and rode out. They spurred their horses and Beyrek’s horse passed the girl’s. They shot their bows and Beyrek’s arrow split the girl’s arrow. She said, well, young man, nobody has ever passed my horse or split my arrow. Come now, let us wrestle. At once they dismounted and grappled; they stood as wrestlers do and grasped each other. Beyrek picked the girl up and tried to throw her, and then she picked him up and tried to throw him. Beyrek was astonished and said, If I am beaten, I will be humiliated . . . . He made a supreme effort, grappled with the girl and seized her breast  . . . and threw her on her back.

The story illustrates how much a part of the lives of Turkish people athletics have been. And yet, despite centuries of pursuit of a range of games and athletic pastimes, the sporting legacy of this society has remained basically unwritten. Kurthan Fisek attempted to make up the omission in his 1962 book in Turkish, Devlet Politikas Ve Toplumsal Yapyla IIiskileri Acsndan Spor Yonetimi: Dunyada-Turkiye’de [The Administration of Sport in Turkey and in the World]. Fisek’s work provides an overview and historical analysis of the development and institutionalization of sports organizations and their management, both in Turkey and worldwide. It is the first and only academic book on Turkish sporting culture. While much is written about sports in Turkey, aside from Fisek’s canonical text, most of it emanates from sports journalism, and most of that is essentially pabulum, consisting of scores and attributions by athletes and coaches relating to individual or team achievements and quests for championships. Fisek’s book emphasizes mainly the emergence of sport and its transition from an individual level to the organized, institutional level.

When reading outside of Fisek, readers on sports tend to be fed a diet of traditional slogans, clichés, and ritualized trivia. Most texts on Turkish sports do not acquaint readers with, or encourage awareness of, larger social issues or the consequences of modern and indigenous sport forms: the ideological underpinnings, power relations, and social, economic, and cultural costs they entail. Many pertinent aspects remain ill-defined, if they are mentioned at all. An unsophisticated, escapist attitude tends to control sports; substantive studies in sport have been very much neglected in Turkey, only recently attracting the interest of a few researchers. It is a neglect that diminishes the traditionally rich sport culture of Turkish society. Study of the culturally significant roles the Turkish people ascribe to athletic activities helps document the nation’s values, spirit, and mentalities, in addition to its times, just as do studies of other cultural enterprises. Turkish academics have yet to adequately examine the significance of various cultural constructs regarding the body as a functioning organism and its influence on personality or character. Too little scrutiny has been focused on the human body’s capacity to serve as an icon communicating present and past social customs and social roles.

On the other hand, too much attention is paid to journalistic evaluations of medal counts in competitive sports, notably the Olympics and world championships. Until recently, journalists have generally reported only the failures and weaknesses of Turkish sports. Turkish wrestling, which led the world until the 1968 Olympic Games, and Turkish soccer, which has rarely been competitive with Europe, are especially criticized. The outcomes of competitions may be newsworthy, but basic inquiry into why these particular outcomes is rarely made. Hence, the traditionally important indigenous games and athletic activities (cirit, archery, wrestling) and their role in the historical development of Turkey have rarely been investigated.

As in nearly all the other developing countries, sports in Turkey in its institutionalized form is not maintaining itself competitively. Despite having a strong sport background, Turkey is ineffective, compared to advanced, primarily Western countries, in international competition, especially in the Olympic Games and world championships. In these arenas, advanced technology and science play a crucial role. As a distance runner for the Turkish national team, I have personally experienced the reality of Turkey’s technological handicap. In major international races I competed in between 1975 and 1982, my Western opponents wore technologically superior running shoes, while I ran in flat-soled shoes. I could afford neither the shoes nor the spikes that were attached to them.

Several factors are negative influences on the advancement of sports in developing nations like Turkey. A number of authors (William Baker, John Andrews, Donald Calhoun, Don Anthony) have linked the problems of third world sports directly to poverty. In order to understand the system of sports within a given society, it is essential to examine predisposing elements and how they interact with the development of sports. Whatever pattern of development exists in a nation, it is important to point out that the system of sports is a product of the society. However, it is highly conceivable that certain factors within a given country might have more influence on the system of sports than others at any given time. For instance, although Turkey has never been colonized, its problems can resemble those of formerly colonized developing countries.

Finally, on a global scale, problems in sports grow from various historical, cultural, religious, political, socioeconomic, and ecological issues that cannot be considered mutually exclusive but must be evaluated as they relate to one another. Sports discussed in Turkey today are those in which Turkish athletes compete internationally and those that are played professionally, such as soccer and basketball. Traditionally important indigenous activities like cirit, archery, wrestling, and polo have rarely been researched or included in journalists’ reports. It is the purpose of this article, therefore, to articulate sports’ development in Turkish society and to identify problems in sports affecting its development over time. It is also the purpose of this study to elaborate on what sports means in Turkey, identifying some of the structures formed by the society for the carrying out of competitive sports and athletic culture. Finally, some of contemporary Turkey’s major problems in the realm of sports will be examined.

Games and other forms of athletic culture have been pastimes of Turks for thousands of years. From a handful of written materials we have learned that the early Turks celebrated success–whether of the hunt, the fight, or pertaining to religion–by dancing and convening games and other physical contests. Ancient inscriptions in Outer Mongolia and Siberia allude to the Turks’ pre-Islamic-era organized religious festivals involving dancing, games, and tests and demonstrations of strength and skill. Religious and civic commemorations and celebrations involving people of every class employed games and athletic activities. For example, weddings, khanship inaugurations, and military victories in the pre-Islamic era were the primary entertainments and were celebrated through sports and athletics (Lewis, 1971). Athletic activity, sports and sportsmanship, were thus related to spiritual beliefs, and they were also part of daily work and customs including the expression of art and love.

Athletic activities are also portrayed in ancient Turkish epics as well as in folk songs and Turkish miniature paintings. The Book of Dede Korkut, for example, with its origins in the period AD 1000-1300, is a famed Turkish epic much given to descriptions of certain games and athletic activities. To the men and women of Turkey this epic ascribes “first-rate” athletic skills, especially in horsemanship, archery, wrestling, polo, and cirit or javelin. These are today considered Turkey’s national sports.

The nomadic Turks of the pre-Islamic period were “patriotic,” brave, practical, and physically active. From the beginning of their history they lived in a world in which wars were virtually constant. This social environment, along with a harsh natural environment, meant that the weak and the old were left to die. As a result, Turks developed athletic skills to help them survive. As in most other ancient societies, athletic activities had military and political dimensions. Several historians have indicated that pre-Islamic Turks were “fit, intrepid hunters, expert horsemen and brave warriors” (Lewis, 1974). Every Turkish man was considered a soldier for life, and a significant amount of attention was paid to military skills. History shows that these characteristics made the Turks far superior, militarily,  to their settled, relatively sedentary neighbors. Quite naturally, then, in the pre-Islamic period martial sports and activities like archery, horsemanship, wrestling, and cirit were more important than other sports. A primary reason for advocating discipline and promoting strength and martial skill was the Khakans’ belief that, for boys, challenging sports and games enhanced not just physical but moral, ethical, and patriotic well-being, as is suggested in the Book of Dede Korkut. Khakans believed that sports instilled courage and loyalty to a boy’s community and to the leader of his nation. As Lewis (1978), explained,

[B]oys were routinely taken for rigorous physical and military training. . . . In about one year in training camps the boys were expert warriors in running, slinging, shooting the bow and throwing [the] javelins . . . and riding . . . After gaining some skill in these activities, the boys were allowed to participate in the hunt, enduring the extremes of heat and cold, to make forced marches day after day, to cross streams without wetting their weapons, to eat very little food, perhaps one meal in two days, to support themselves by foraging, and to stalk and kill the wild animals, such as the lion, the leopard, the wild boar, and the antelope. . . . When not on the hunt the boys continued the regular training in archery, riding, and athletic sports. (pp. 156)

The heroic code ordained that “the boys were not granted their public names until they accomplished something heroically (including athletics)” (Lewis, 1978, p. 156).

Like other nomadic societies (e.g., Tartars, Kazaks, Mongols, Kirghizes), the Turks were “devoted to the cult of horse and were born horsemen” (Celebi, 1987). Gurun (1981) went so far as to credit the Turks with the domestication of the horse. Turkish men indeed could not imagine life without their horses. As the legendary phrase has it, a Turk is born in a hut and dies on horseback on the prairie.  One Turkish soldier left the following message in a cave: “I will die /  If my horse dies / I will survive / If my horse survives” (Celebi,1987).

Turks of the pre-Islamic period saw leisure as an invaluable gift from God to their people. Turks’ fondness for athletic activities and games shaped their culture and made these an important feature of daily life. The ancient Turks of Central Asia recognized play as a primary impulse in both human beings and Tengeri, their sky god. According to their belief, the kainat (universe) was the “play arena of divinity . . . Mother Earth [w]as the play yard of human beings” (And, 1987). Religious forms of dance had an especially revered role in this context. A small, 15th-century Turkish manuscript describes the relationship between the shaman and dance, which involves symbolic explanation of the origins of music and dance. The anonymous author writes that it was during the creation of the world that dance had its spiritual birth, explaining that, “When God created the Universe, divine energy resounded and from that sound arose the tonalities of music, and this gave birth to several forms of dance” (And, 1987). Dance, of course, was accompanied by music, including song. The manuscript’s author goes on to link the movement of the physical body in dance to the spiritual experience of the dance, in such a way that, according to And, “the whole cosmos is a dancing mystery.” A thousand years later, scholars began examining apparent affinities between the shamanistic philosophy reflected in the ancient manuscript and later Islamic mysticism, especially the Sufi dancing recognized as symbolizing the cosmos (And, 1987).

Turkish folk tradition links dancing and lore, and this had an influential role in the development of Turkish athletic culture. To this day, Turkish people entertain and enlighten themselves and others with dances dramatizing their folktales and folk songs. In ancient Turkey, dance was among the most common entertainments, and the men and women who danced were highly skilled performers. Dances performed differed to a degree from region to region. The most popular dances were those that had been influenced by military life. Lewis (1971) calls these dances “mimed battles of fierce exploits, always intense and energetic, with or without weapons, increasing in speed and excitement and often ending with a leap over the flames.” Dancers’ movements might also mimic animal behavior or other natural phenomena. Lewis (1971) observed the following :

The courtship of cranes, birds sacred to the ancient Turks; an eagle approaching its prey; an encounter between a dignified lion and a ferocious hyena; a clownish camel, danced by two men in the animal’s skin. Some of the dances were mimics or imitations of natural features, like flowing water or swaying poplar trees; others mimed daily acts of home and village life, like bread making, weaving or hair washing; these were interspersed with a promenading dance among the audience and always ended with a lively dance of thanksgiving.


Adivar, H. E. (1930). Turkey faces west: A Turkish view of recent changes and their origin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

And, M. (1987). Culture, performance and communication in Turkey. Performance in Culture, 4. Tokyo: Institute for the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa.

Andrews, J. C. (1982). Problems of physical education in the third world. FIEP Bulletin, 52(1), p. 7.

Andrews, J. C. (1985). Physical education, sport and recreation in developing countries. FIEP Bulletin, 55(1), pp. 5-15.

Baker, B. G. (1913). The Passing of the Turkish Empire in Europe. London: Seeley, Service.

Baker, J. (1877). Turkey. New York: Holt.

Calhoun, D. B. (1986). Sport culture and personality (pp. 157-161). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Celebi, Evliya. (1987). Evliya Celebi Seyahatnamesi. Ankara: Ucdal Nesriyat.

Fisek, K. (1963). Devlet politikasi ve toplumsal yapiyla iliskileri acisindan; Spor yonetimi-dunyada ve Turkiyede. Andara, Turkey: ‘Siyasal Bilgiler Facultesi.

Gurun, K. (1981). Turkler ve Turk devletleri. Birinci Cilt.: I, II, III. Istanbul: Karacan Yayinlari.

Lewis, G. (1974). Modern Turkey. New York: Praeger.

Lewis, G. L. (1978). The Book of Dede Korkut. New York: Praeger.

Lewis, R. (1971). Everyday life in Ottoman Turkey. London: Batsford.

Author Note

Ergun Yurdadon,Department of Recreation Management, United States Sports Academy.

2013-11-26T20:50:26-06:00February 22nd, 2008|Sports History|Comments Off on Sport in Turkey in the Pre-Islamic Period

How Viewing Professional Wrestling May Affect Children


This study investigated the effects on children of viewing professional wrestling. Elementary and middle school teachers (n = 370) were surveyed and asked to indicate (a) the popularity of professional wrestling among their students, (b) any preconceived notions they held about students who enjoy viewing professional wrestling, (c) their beliefs about spectator harm caused by professional wrestling, and (d) the nature and extent of their students’ imitation of verbal and other behavior from professional wrestling, as they had personally observed that imitation. The results of the survey, findings of prior literature, and research on marketing ethics together raise questions about the appropriateness of professional wrestling as sport-entertainment for children.

How Viewing Professional Wrestling May Affect Children

In the last decade professional wrestling (to describe which World Wrestling Entertainment  owner Vince McMahon has coined the term “sport-entertainment”) has skyrocketed in popularity. It is broadcast in 12 languages to over 130 countries, is viewed by 34 million people in the United States, and generates industry revenues above $1 billion annually. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is the industry leader in virtually every statistic (e.g., television ratings, live event attendance, licensing revenue). Attendance at WWE events rose from 1.1 million people in 1997 to 2.5 million for the year 2000 (, n.d.). While live event attendance has fallen a bit in the past two years, the WWE still drew 2 million attendees in 2002 (, n.d. a). WWE’s flagship television show, Raw, on TNN, is consistently the top-rated regularly scheduled cable television program, and the company’s other core show, SmackDown, on UPN, is consistently one of the highest ranked sports programs (as categorized by Nielsen) on network television. The shows have drawn combined weekly Nielsen ratings of 6-12 over the last two years (, n.d.). Other, more mainstream sports are losing coveted young viewers to the WWE. For example, in the 12-17 age group, 143% more males (and 73% of males and females combined) watched the WWE’s Monday night Raw than the 1999 NBA finals. Further, the WWE continually outperforms a number of professional sporting events, in key demographics: the play-offs of Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup play-offs, Monday Night Football (BW SportsWire, 1999).

Wrestling’s popularity has blossomed for two primary reasons. First, over a decade and a half ago, the WWE’s McMahon liberated wrestling from the constrictions that came with being labeled a “legitimate” sport. Throughout much of the 20th century, professional wrestling was thought of as a legitimate sport contest, that being a contest in which the outcome is not predetermined. However, as the industry evolved, society began questioning the genuineness of match outcomes, feuds between wrestlers, and the like. The industry found itself performing a balancing act between desiring to be perceived as legitimate sport and desiring to entertain with engaging and creative storylines. In essence, the quest to retain the perception of legitimacy necessarily restrained the ability of wrestling to present itself as creative “theater.” McMahon, in a visionary move that angered many other promoters in the business who thought the move would destroy the industry, abandoned the presentation of wrestling as legitimate sport, admitting publicly that the outcome of pro matches was predetermined. Rather than destroying the industry, however, McMahon’s tack liberated wrestling, freeing the WWE and other promoters to engage fans with wacky, funny, outrageous, entertaining camp. Fans did not care about legitimacy, they wanted to be entertained. This newfound freedom allowed, quite simply, for increased entertainment, and the industry’s popularity grew.

The second reason for pro wrestling’s growth is successful target marketing. Pro wrestling, and in particular the WWE, actively and successfully targets the coveted 18- to 34-year-old male demographic, with its ample disposable income. The industry does this by filling television programming and live events with ever-increasing amounts of the sexual and violent content that is clearly attractive to a large number of young males. Recent WWE programming, for example, has included oral sex on a wrestler by a transvestite, attempted castration of a wrestler who is portrayed as a porn star, necrophilia by a wrestler named Triple H, baring of breasts in the ring at live events by female “valets” (or “divas” in WWE terminology), and the use during matches of sledgehammers, metal folding chairs, garbage cans, quantities of thumbtacks, and even the proverbial kitchen sink. Needless to say, blood is spilled liberally and regularly. WWE divas regularly wrestle in sexually themed matches. In a “bra and panties” match, the first to strip her opponent to her undergarments is the winner; in a “paddle-on-a-pole” match, the diva who can subdue her opponent long enough to climb a pole in the ring corner and retrieve a paddle placed on top wins the match and uses the paddle to spank her opponent.

While the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic is clearly targeted by and drawn to such content, the WWE also targets and draws children. It profits from licensing revenue linked to wrestling-related adult toys and merchandise sold to children. (In 2002, total WWE licensing revenue reached $101.5 million, according to, n.d. b). It also profits from advertising by companies targeting children, including toy and videogame manufacturers as well as food companies like Chef-Boy-R-Dee. It profits from children’s attendance at live wrestling events. Indeed, the WWE trumpets these facts to potential investors (WWE is traded on the NYSE) and advertisers. Its website states that is the top sport website and the number one entertainment site for males age 12-17, adding, “Our brand of entertainment appeals to a broad demographic audience, with WWE’s advertising focus being males 12 to 24” (, n.d. b). WWE weekend morning programming has also targeted children and encourages children to tune in to the more violent and risqué Monday and Thursday night programs. In sum, the WWE intentionally and successfully targets two demographic segments, 18- to 34-year-old males and children (primarily male children).

]Research Question[

While some critics (such as the Parents Television Council, which led a partly successful advertiser boycott of WWE programming) question the acceptability of wrestling’s program content for any audience, that is not the intent of this work. This research examines issues surrounding the fact that, while the majority of pro wrestling’s audience is the young male adult, a significant portion of its audience has been and remains children 2-17. Wrestling indeed has issues with ethical targeting that beg examination. By creating significantly violent and sexual content in order to attract 18- to 34-year-old males and at the same time targeting and reaching children, does pro wrestling knowingly market a potentially harmful product to children?

Sport and entertainment researchers have given relatively little attention to such ethical questions. Indeed, Laczniak, Burton, and Murphy (1999) note the dearth of attention to ethics in sport marketing, although the general marketing literature gives significant attention to ethical targeting issues (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997; Smith & Cooper-Martin, 1997). Much of that sport marketing literature that does address ethics tends to focus on ambush marketing (Meenaghan, 1996; O’Sullivan & Murphy, 1998; Sandler & Shani, 1989). The deficit begs to be addressed, and the purpose of the current study is to provide initial insight into whether pro wrestling’s targeting strategy meets the generally accepted tests of the ethicalness of such strategies. That is, to what extent are children vulnerable to the professional wrestling industry’s campaigns, and to what extent are children harmed by consuming the industry’s products?

The literature suggests that pro wrestling does meet the first criterion for unethical targeting (at least to some degree), in that when the industry targets children, it targets a “vulnerable segment,” defined as consumers especially susceptible to economic, physical, or psychological harm because of characteristics that limit their ability to maximize their utility and well-being (Smith & Cooper-Martin, 1997). Related to the current issue, research has shown that children’s limited life experience and developmental-stage cognitive abilities leave them particularly vulnerable to learning from televised messages (Dorr, 1986; Eron & Huesmann, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1988). Television teaches children “cognitive scripts” that influence their behavior, including social interaction. Cognitive scripts tend to be learned early in life, serving as a guideline for future behavior (Huesmann, 1986). Regularly consuming, or viewing, pro wrestling introduces children to a cognitive script for handling conflict (i.e., through the kind of violence seen in pro wrestling) and for approaching relationships with the opposite sex (i.e., sexual object or objectifier). While children are particularly vulnerable to picking up from pro wrestling certain attitudinal and behavioral scripts, we do not know the extent to which they act out such scripts. This is the issue addressed by the current data.


Teacher ratings are commonly used to examine child behavior (Bates, Bayles, Bennet, Ridge, & Brown, 1991; Sawyer, Baghurst, & Mathias, 1992). As is the case in the current study, teacher ratings have been most often used in the assessment of externalizing disorders like outward aggression, as opposed to internalizing disorders like anxiety or depression. Externalizing disorders involve behaviors that lend themselves relatively well to observation and reliable assessment by others (Epkins, 1993). Teacher ratings of children’s aggression provide the most practical basis for any wide-scale screening and have been shown to be accurate. When teachers have rated aggression in children of the same ages as those in the current study, the teacher ratings have accurately predicted juvenile delinquency and violent offenses in the chidren as they aged to 26 years (Bates et al., 1991).

To explore the effects that viewing pro wrestling has on children’s aggression, a survey was mailed to 1,200 second-grade through eighth-grade teachers around one state in the Southeast. The sample was randomly drawn from a list of elementary and middle schools, both public and private, throughout the state. Teachers returned 370 usable surveys, for a response rate of 30.8%. Elementary teachers comprised 72.9% of the sample, while 23.7% were middle school teachers and 3.4% taught both elementary and middle school students. Females made up 84.8% of the sample, and 15.2% of respondents were male. As to age, 22.8% of the teachers were in their 20s, 26.5% were in their 30s, 32.1% were in their 40s, 18.0% were in their 50s, and 0.6% were in their 60s.

Teachers in the sample were asked four series of questions. The first allowed the teachers to indicate the popularity of pro wrestling among their students. The second allowed them to indicate preconceived notions they might have had about students known to be fans of pro wrestling. The third series comprised global questions asking teachers to indicate their own attitudes toward pro wrestling and their own general opinions on how harmful to children the industry is. The fourth comprised questions allowing teachers to rate the extent to which their students imitate pro wrestling (i.e., wrestling moves, aggressive or vulgar language, aggressive or vulgar gestures, sexually connotative language or behavior). In order to avoid order effects on both the global attitude questions and the imitation items, the third and fourth series of questions were rotated, creating two versions of the survey which were pooled for analysis (surveys with global items first, n = 205; surveys with global items last, n = 165).


Teachers’ Assessments of Wrestling’s Popularity

Just how popular is pro wrestling among children? The overwhelming majority of the teachers (97.0%) indicated that they had currently, or had had within the past four years, students who watched pro wrestling on television. Further, teachers estimated that 45.08% of their current students were “fans of professional wrestling,” with middle school teachers giving a significantly higher estimate than elementary teachers, 50.33% vs. 43.74%, t = 2.12, p = .035. Finally, teachers were asked if they had seen, over the past four years, an increase, decrease, or no change in the number of their students who were fans of pro wrestling. (Four years was the period chosen, as it essentially coincided with the time frame in which pro wrestling exploded in popularity, following the significant change in program content described above.) An overwhelming 80.8% of teachers responded that they had seen an increase in the number of students who were fans of pro wrestling; 14.9% reported they had seen no change, and just 4.2% had seen a decrease. These results clearly indicate that, as pro wrestling has ratcheted up violent and sexual content over the past four years, seeking the male 18- to 34-year-old demographic, increasing numbers of children are watching as well.

Teachers’ Preconceived Notions

In order to gain initial insight into both the attitudes of teachers toward pro wrestling and the observations of teachers about whether children imitate wrestling, teachers were asked if they had any preconceived notions, or expectations, concerning students known to be fans of pro wrestling. Teachers were asked to describe these, if they existed. The software QSR NUD·IST, a qualitative data analysis package, was used to analyze these responses. While the majority of teachers (75.3%) stated that they did not prejudge students, nearly one quarter (24.7%) stated that they did. Of teachers reporting that they had made such judgments, 54.8% used the terms “violent” and/or “aggressive.” Examples of comments include the following:

1. “It has been my experience with these students in the past that now causes me to expect more aggressive behavior and rougher play at recess. Students practice what they see at matches. The students also use inappropriate language that they have heard either while attending matches or watching them on TV.”

2. “These students are more physically active and aggressive in the classroom and at recess.”

3. “They generally get in trouble more. They are loud and somewhat aggressive. They are tired due to staying up too late watching wrestling [The two main WWE programs air on weeknights, one from 8:00 to 10:00, the other from 9:00 to 11:00.] They are usually not at the top of the class grade-wise.”

Of teachers who reported that they had preconceived notions about children who viewed pro wrestling, 22.6% also anticipated “rebellious” behavior and/or “discipline problems” on the part of these children. The surveys repeatedly included statements like the following:

1. “I expect them to be more active and to have more difficulty following rules, especially where roughness is concerned.”

2. “The students tend to misbehave, are very loud and boisterous, often times rebellious and want to play by hitting or acting out what the wrestlers do.”

Smaller percentages of the teachers who said they had preconceived notions expected that students who were consumers of pro wrestling  would (a) demonstrate relatively poor academic performance (14.3% of these teachers) and (b) use inappropriate language (11.9%of these teachers).

Teachers’ Attitudes Toward Pro Wrestling

Teachers’ attitudes toward pro wrestling were assessed directly, by asking teachers to rate their agreement with the global statement “I like professional wrestling,” using a 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree). Overall, the teachers indicated a strong dislike of pro wrestling (M = 1.7). However, this measure does not necessarily indicate that teachers find pro wrestling harmful to children. Three additional questions were asked to assess the teachers’ attitudes about the industry harming children.

First, the teachers were asked for their opinions about the degree to which viewing of televised violence negatively affects children’s behavior, from 1(not at all)to 7(a great amount). They indicated a strong belief that viewing televised violence has a negative behavioral effect, M = 5.99. Next, the teachers were asked for their opinions about how harmful pro wrestling is to child fans in terms of behavioral tendencies and behavioral development, from 1(not at all harmful)to 7(very harmful). Teachers indicated a general belief that pro wrestling is indeed harmful to child fans, M = 5.59. Comparison of the mean to the midpoint of the scale indicates that it is significantly higher, t = 22.77, p < .000. Third, the teachers were asked, “Compared to other forms of entertainment and television programming, how would you rank pro wrestling in terms of harmful effects on children’s development?” Responses to this question ranged from 1 (least harmful) to 7 (most harmful). Teachers indicated a belief that pro wrestling was relatively harmful compared to other forms of entertainment and television programming, rating it significantly higher than the midpoint, M = 5.54, t = 22.88, p < .000. Strikingly, 8.8% of the sample responded that there were no forms of entertainment or television programming more harmful to a child’s development than pro wrestling. In sum, results indicate that in these teachers’ experience, professional wrestling is a negative influence on the children among its fans.

Teachers’ Observation of Children’s Imitation of Wrestlers

The fourth series of questions asked the teachers about the degree to which their students engaged in imitating various forms of behavior common in pro wrestling, with responses ranging from 1 (not at all imitative) to 7 (very imitative). The mean was significantly higher than the scale midpoint, M = 4.96, t = 10.80, p < .000, suggesting that the teachers had observed a considerable degree of imitation. Interestingly, elementary school teachers reported having observed more imitation than middle school teachers had, 5.07 vs. 4.55, t = 2.41, p = .016. The teachers were asked, moreover, whether over the past four years they had seen an increase, a decrease, or no change in how often their students imitated wrestlers. Over half of the teachers (59.2%) reported seeing an increase, while 35.2% reported no change and only 4.9% reported seeing a decrease.

The specific kinds of imitation the teachers’ students engaged in was explored in some detail by the survey. Using a 5-point scale that included 1 (not at all), 2 (sometimes but not often), 3 (somewhat often), 4 (often), and 5 (very often), teachers were asked how regularly they had observed each of the following:

1. imitation of wrestling moves and/or other aggressive wrestling behaviors

2. injuries resulting from imitation of wrestling moves and/or other aggressive wrestling behaviors

3. imitation of aggressive and/or vulgar language specifically attributable to viewing pro wrestling

4. imitation of aggressive and/or vulgar gestures specifically attributable to viewing pro wrestling

5. imitation of sexually connotative language, gestures, or other behavior specifically attributable to viewing pro wrestling

For each of the five kinds of imitation, teachers were asked to specify, in open-ended format, what they had observed. Again, the data were analyzed using QSR NUD·IST; during the process, it was important to include only those teacher accounts of imitation specifically attributable to pro wrestling, so responses were separately coded by the principal researcher and an assistant, both familiar with wrestling programming content. Minimal differences in coding were resolved through discussion.

Wrestling moves, injury. Results for the elementary and middle school teachers did not differ significantly with respect to how frequently they had observed children imitating wrestling moves and/or other aggressive wrestling behaviors. The teachers rated the frequency, on average, between somewhat often and often (M = 3.41). Over one quarter of the teachers (28.1%) said they had observed children imitating a form of “body slam”; nearly one quarter (23.5%) said they had observed hitting or kicking. Improperly executed wrestling moves have killed and injured many wrestlers by injury to the neck. The “clothesline” is a dangerous example and is a move in which one wrestler slings another wrestler into the ropes and uses his arm to hit the opponent in the neck as he bounces back. The “piledriver” is another, a move in which a subdued wrestler, held upside down and vertically, has his head driven down into the mat.

The number of cases in which a child died as the result of imitating such moves is large and includes several recent incidents (Clary, 2001; Davis, 1999). Over one-fifth of the teachers surveyed for this research (20.9%) said they had observed imitative behavior involving the neck, in that their students used the words “clothesline,” “chokehold,” “pedigree,” and “piledriver” in a context of physical aggression. The fact that the teachers cited such industry-specific terms suggests that they quite accurately attributed the observed physical behavior to an imitation of pro wrestling. A further 8.1% of the surveyed teachers reported students’ use of “headlocks,” while 6.8% reported observing imitative moves involving a jump from a raised surface of some sort (typically a desk or jungle gym) to land on another child, as wrestlers frequently jump onto their opponents from above.

The teachers were asked whether they had seen students injured as a result of imitating wrestling moves, and 57.9% of them had not. However, 42.1% said they had observed injury occurring as students imitated wrestling moves. Clearly, the potential for bodily harm through such imitation is occasionally realized. Most often, the injuries teachers had observed were bruises, cuts, and scrapes (74.4% of teachers) They also reported observing injuries to the head or neck (24.1% of teachers), muscle injuries such as sprain or strain (10% of teachers), and broken bones (5.7% of teachers).

Language. Findings for elementary and middle school teachers did not differ significantly with respect to their reports of how often students used aggressive or vulgar language while imitating wrestling programming. The teachers rated the frequency of such imitation between sometimes but not often and somewhat often (M = 2.64). According to the teachers, the most commonly imitated phrases included “Suck it,” which was the catchphrase of the defunct group of wrestlers known as “Degeneration X.” One quarter of the teachers (25.1%) reported this as the most commonly imitated wrestling expression among their students, who they said frequently mimicked a wrestling gesture (arms crossed in an X and moved repeatedly toward the pelvis as the hips are repeatedly thrust) to accompany the phrase. The students of 10.3% of the teachers had regularly used the term “ass,” for example in talking about the wrestler “Bad Ass Billy Gunn” and quoting the Rock’s slogan, “I’m going to whip your candy ass” (the Rock is another wrestler). Students had used other phrases to imitate the wrestler “Stone Cold Steve Austin,” according to 7.3% of the teachers, calling a peer “son of a bitch” or cheering, “Give me a ‘hell yeah.’” Other teacher reports of aggressive or vulgar language their students used could not with confidence be directly linked to pro wrestling.

Gestures. The teachers rated the frequency of children’s use of aggressive or vulgar gestures in imitation of pro wrestlers as between sometimes but not often and somewhat often, M = 2.53. Degeneration X’s gesture (see preceding paragraph) had been observed by 31.9% of the teachers, according to their reports. Stone Cold Steve Austin’s signature raised middle finger was mentioned by 27.8% of the teachers. It should be noted that some of WWE’s most popular merchandise alludes to Austin’s signature gesture, including a large foam hand with the middle finger raised and t-shirts bearing the gesture. No other gestures were cited by significant numbers of the teachers.

Sexually connotative language, gestures, other behavior. As described earlier, the sexual content of wrestling programming has increased dramatically in the last several years. Female characters are scantily clad, their roles often revolving around activities having sexual connotations, as in the “wrestling” matches between “divas” described earlier. Television’s place in social learning and the formation of cognitive scripts suggests that regular viewing of women in such roles may contribute to children’s development of harmful gender stereotypes and sex roles (Honig, 1983). Teachers in the current study indicated that they had observed children imitating sexually connotative pro wrestling behaviors sometimes but not often, M = 1.94. According to descriptions of such imitation provided by 15.7% of the teachers, the sexually connotative command “Suck it,” accompanied by the Degeneration X gesture directed at female classmates, was the most often observed.

Other sexually connotative behavior observed included male students’ imitation of the wrestler called “the Godfather.” At the time of data collection, this character was a pimp who was walked to the ring by scantily clad women called the “’ho train.” In imitating this wrestler, the students called female classmates “ho.” They also repeated the Godfather catchphrase “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy.” The teachers cited certain other sexually connotative language and behavior that could not with confidence be attributed clearly to wrestling’s influence and so was not included in the study. The results do tend to indicate, nevertheless, that imitation of sexually connotative behavior from pro wrestling does occur among children to some degree; it may perhaps contribute to their development of cognitive scripts that direct men and women to view each other as the men and women characters of pro wrestling appear to do.

Children’s Favorite Wrestlers (and Likely Models)

Prior research has shown that the relationship between televised violence and viewer aggression is strengthened when actors committing the violence on screen are perceived as attractive (Huesmann & Eron, 1986; National Television Violence Study, 1997). It was therefore proposed that the wrestlers whom children find most attractive and “cool” are those with whom they will most likely identify and those likeliest to eventually contribute to their cognitive scripts. In light of the proposal, teachers were asked for the names of any wrestler their students had ever mentioned. The wrestler most popular among children appears to be Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was mentioned by 61.4% of teachers (additionally, 34.0% of teachers named the Rock, 24.0% named Goldberg, 20.0% named the Undertaker, 14.3% named Hulk Hogan, and 13.5% named Degeneration X). The Stone Cold character’s popularity stems from his rebellious (presently, his main nemesis is WWE owner McMahon), mistrustful, take-no-prisoners attitude. For children to learn and imitate Austin’s coarse language and gestures goes against injunctive societal norms. One teacher’s remarks included the following:

I think that wrestling emulates things that we work hard to remove from the school environment. I understand that usually the good guy prevails, but before he prevails, he has to be run into the ground. The bad guy seems to gain all of the popularity. Characters like Stone Cold Steve Austin are such. He shows no respect for authority, values, or trust. The attitude is “I will get what I want at your expense.” Where does this take us?

It takes the WWE into the black, with enormous profits from sales to children of licensed merchandise featuring wrestlers like Austin: names, likenesses, coarse gestures, and violent sayings. One top-seller is a shirt stating, “Austin 3:16 says I Just Whipped Your Ass.”


The present research has provided initial insight into the ethical implications of professional wrestling’s targeting of children. It has asked whether wrestling, as it has targeted the valuable 18- to 34-year-old male demographic by making its products attractive to young adult males with sex and violence, has placed a potentially harmful product in the path of a vulnerable market segment: children. Social contract theory states that corporations exist only through a society’s cooperation and commitment, meaning there is a social contract providing legitimacy to businesses based on consent from those whom the business affects (Dunfee, Smith, & Ross, 1999). Relative to this ethical theory, pro wrestling and society hold each other responsible for the condition of their mutual existence. If this theory holds, and corporate legitimacy is provided by the consent of those affected by a business, society must critically examine the effects of professional wrestling and other forms of sport-entertainment marketed to its children. As this initial exploration has found, according to elementary and middle school teacher accounts, professional wrestling does indeed produce negative effects in the form of physical, verbal, and attitudinal imitation by children who are regular viewers of wrestling programming.

It should be noted that any discussion of ethics risks being perceived as normative or judgmental in tone. Indeed, the Code of Ethics of the American Marketing Association provides what many would consider a purely normative directive, stating that marketers should not do harm knowingly and should offer products and services that are safe and fit for their intended uses. Much of the marketing literature on ethical targeting issues deals primarily with assessing product harm and a target population’s vulnerability both to a marketing message and product (Rittenburg & Parthasarathy, 1997; Smith & Cooper-Martin, 1997). For this reason, assessment of and commentary on product harm and consumer vulnerability most often contain at least some statements perceived to be normative judgments, yet ethics’ importance from a non-normative, solely business standpoint cannot be ignored. As an example, consider Kotler’s (1997) “societal marketing concept” that organizations should build social and ethical considerations into their marketing practices and act in the best long-term interest of society. Because consumers make ethical judgments, Kotler claims, ethical business practices should in turn make positive impacts in the long-run success of an organization as consumers accept or reject products based in part on their ethical judgments. Indeed, Kotler’s societal marketing concept seems reflected in several areas of sport, such as the public’s rejection of athletes perceived to have engaged in unethical acts and the negative public reaction to sporting goods manufacturers’ perceived unethical acts (e.g., the labor practices of Nike). Sports marketers, including sport-entertainment marketers such as the WWE, must not lose sight of the relationship between ethical practices and financial success. In the language of Laczniak, Burton, and Murphy (1999), sports marketers should, in light of ethical considerations, begin to examine their current practices and justify, modify, or eliminate as necessary. It is toward this end that this examination of pro wrestling’s targeting of children was carried out.

Finally, Laczniak and Murphy (1993, 1999) suggest a series of tests be used to evaluate the ethics of marketing practices, including those of firms in the sports and entertainment industries. Two of these tests directly apply to the current issue. The “consequences test” asks, “Is it likely that any major damages to people or organizations will result from the contemplated action?” The “justice test” asks, “Does the proposed action leave another person or group less well off?” as well as “Is this person or group already a member of a relatively underprivileged class?” If underprivileged class is taken to mean vulnerable class/market segment, which would reflect the spirit and intent of the justice test, it could be argued that the professional wrestling industry performs questionably on both tests.


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Author Note

Matthew J. Bernthal, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, University of South Carolina.

All correspondence concerning this research should be addressed to Assistant Professor Matthew J. Bernthal, Department of Sport and Entertainment Management, College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208; phone 803-777-4579 (office), 803-732-1405 (home), 803-777-8788 (fax); e-mail: .

2017-07-06T07:51:10-05:00February 22nd, 2008|Contemporary Sports Issues, Sports Studies and Sports Psychology|Comments Off on How Viewing Professional Wrestling May Affect Children
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