Insider Look: What Drives Some To Pursue Contact Sports?

Why would some athletes pursue contact sports that puts them into harm's way, when there are so many options in choosing a sport to play? When this question is presented to sports medicine and performance professionals, as well as the athletes themselves, you get several driving forces.   After conducting interviews via telephone with Paul Aanonson CSTS, a Sports Performance Specialist, Annette Jaehn, Victor Poma Sr., and Allison Mock-Murphy the author gained a better picture of the motivating factors for athletes pursuing contact sports.   According to Paul Aanonson CSTS, the Sports Performance specialist who was certified as a strength and conditioning specialist at North Colorado Sports Medicine, “The reason a lot of athletes pursue contact sports is the initial rush of it.” He notes, “It's the ability to legally release aggression, to hit each other, to unleash on somebody and it's legal.”   Coming from his college football background as well as his sports medicine education gives him a unique view of contact sports from a medical standpoint, as well as having a players' perspective. He played football as a return specialist and wide receiver at South Dakota State University and was All American honorable mention. Aanonson remarked, “When people are screaming, thirty thousand people, because I just scored a touchdown, there's a huge rush.”   The adrenaline rush and thrill of playing a contact sport is definitely a draw, but it seems there are other driving forces as well. Sometimes they are not necessarily choosing to play a sport because it's a contact sport. It just is the particular sport itself that attracts someone.   Annette Jaehn, who was a former competitive roller derby player, as well as the founder of Slaughterhouse Derby Girls in Greeley, Colorado, was drawn to roller derby as a sport. It was the first sport that spoke to her, the contact part really never entered her mind as a seller or a discouragement.   Formerly known on the track by her teammates as Rolla Rella, she has had injuries due to playing contact sports. After enduring a broken collarbone in six places and the recovery that it involved, when asked if it was worth it, her answer was, “Oh yeah, definitely!”   As players of contact sports, they are aware of the risks involved and accept them when they happen. The injuries are part of the sport. According to Jaehn, during recruitment of new players, she would tell people it is full-contact and the hits are real. As Jaehn stated, “It's not a matter of if you get hurt, but when.” She noted, “Everybody gets hurt, some injuries are worse than others.”   Jaehn and most athletes would probably agree with the fact that playing contact sports really adheres you to your teammates. The physicality of the sport results in a close bond with teammates. As Jaehn could sense a camaraderie from the girls who were involved, and that's what probably drew her to roller derby. At the time of the interview she stated, “I know a big part of that camaraderie comes from the fact that you're bleeding together.”   This is a common thread in all contact sports. Victor Poma Sr. agrees, who was a star quarterback football player in California. He also went on to coach a pop warner football team known as the Las Vegas Posse. As Poma Sr. stated, “You are going to war, you're battling with this group of people.” Poma Sr. remarked, “These teammates become lifelong friends because we've sweat together, because we've fought together.” He has also played and coached non-contact sports such as baseball and hasn't seen quite the same bond and camaraderie amongst players as in the full contact sport of football.   When you are engaging full-contact you are going toe-to-toe, head-to-head with someone and injuries do happen. This adds an element of fear. Part of the excitement of playing contact sports is overcoming that fear. Victor Poma Sr. replies, “You realize that the other guy is just as fearful, so you've got to play off that fear.” He comments, “You realize if you wait to get hit, it is going to hurt worse than if you hit first.” These are some of the elements Victor Poma Sr. used to coach his team. He noted, “You have to have passion and love the sport that you play.” When asked what the first feeling that surged through him as he stepped onto the field for contact, his response was simply and powerfully stated, “Feeling Invincible!”   You really have to strive to get to that place of mental invincibility to put your body on the line for a sport. Allison Mock-Murphy for instance, has recovered from a broken leg and returned to contact sports as soon as she healed. She is a fifteen-year veteran rugby player who now plays roller derby. She was drawn to rugby and roller derby for the physicality of the sports. Being very competitive by nature, rugby fit her fitness needs. She also noted the team unity of this contact sport. Mock-Murphy stated, “In rugby, you really have to rely on other people, you are bound together, so you really rely on them being as physical as you.” She replied, “If you can't rely on them, it's going to fall apart.”   Bloody noses and concussions aside, after being recovered from a broken leg due to roller derby, she returned to the world of contact sports. She threw fear to the wind and as she put it, “You have to be brave.” She went on to say, “ I broke my leg doing something I love and life is here to live, it's not to be a bystander!” She did not fear getting re-injured but instead pushed aside that fear. As she put it, “The more aggressive you are, the better off you are.” She concluded with, “You don't take the hit, you give the hit!”   So if you question a sports medicine professional, a coach, or an athlete you get a variety of reasons that contact sports are played. However, there seems to be similarities in all of the answers. The rush, the fear, the camaraderie, and the aggressive physicality of the sport draws in the athletes. So it seems, the injuries sustained are worth the rewards of playing full-contact sports. As long as there are athletes willing to put their bodies in harm's way, they will continue to grow together as athletes and as comrades, one hit or one fall at a time.   Author: Brenda DeLano