Youths engage in risky behaviours that can be detrimental to their own health, and it increases during adolescences while leveling off or decreasing when one is in one’s 20s. (Mahalik, Levine Coley, McPherran Lombardi, Doyle Lynch, Markowitz & Jaffee 2013). Many know examples of risky behaviours such as alcohol substance abuse, tobacco use, crime, illegal substance use, reckless driving, and suicidal ideation. These are mostly examples that pose a risk to physical health. Interetingly, few definitions of the term “risky behvaiours” have included the aspect of mental health.


After reviewing some of the work by the Committee on Health and Behavior: Research, Practice and Policy and Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health (2001), I developed a new deifnition of “risky behaviours” that classify them as “behaviours that exert a strong negative influence on one’s own or others’ physical and, or, mental health.” As such, examples of risky behaviours extend to, but is not limited to, verbal degradation of peers.

calvin and hobbes

With an increase of risky behaviour rates during adolescence, we need to pose the following question: “How can we reduce this increase as much as possible?”

Social Identity Theory

Approaching this question from a theoretical aspect, we find social identity theory as proposed by Tajfel (1979). Tajfel (1974) said that a person’s social identity is one’s identity of self in relation to one’s group memberships. Not much is needed for groups to come into existence; it could simply be that half the people in a group wears a white t-shirt, whilst the other half wears a black t-shirt. This is known as the minimal group paradigm because it shows the minimal difference that needs to be present in order for group distinctions to occur (Tajfel, Billig, Bundy & Flament, 1971). Once a group has been created, members of that group will display in-group favouritism and out-group derogation (Turner, Brown & Tajfel, 1979).

In-group favouritism is beneficial for the human being because by favouring one’s in-group and increasing the status of the group one is a member of, one is indirectly increasing one’s own status in society.

in-group favouritism

As the cartoon above shows, much in-group favouritism occurs at sporting events. By identifying with teams that are successful, one feels a little successful oneself. Personally, I support Liverpool in Premier League. In recent years I have not been able to pay too much attention, but since Liverpool was not doing too hot, I felt like I was not missing out. However, this year Liverpool is finally doing well again. As of right now we (yes, I used the word we) are 2nd, just under Arsenal. Because Liverpool has done well this season, it has caught my attention again. By identifying more with Liverpool in its success, I can feel that I am a member of those who are successful. If such strong team identity relations can come from just being a Liverpool supporter, being a player on the team itself creates avenues for team identity as part of self identity.

Research manipulating social identity theory by signalling group identity of undergraduate and graduate students at a university, was able to successfully decrease risky behaviours such as consumption of junk food and alcohol (Berger & Rand, 2008). With the undergraduates favouring their own group, when it was signalled that the graduate students drank a lot in certain freshmen dormitories, rates of alcohol consumption were significantly less than freshmen dormitories which did not receive such identity signalling information. By using social identity theory, one can successfully change engagement in risky behaviours.

Team Sport Participation

Participating on team sport is a setting in which one automatically becomes a member of a group. However, previous research has found varying results of sport participation and engagement in risky behaviours. Hartmann and Massoglia (2007) found that with sport participation in adolesence, there was an increase in drunk driving, but a decrease in shop lifting which lasted into participants’ late 20s and early 30s. This demonstrates that there is a need to investigate how to reduce risky behaviours in sport settings as well.

The intervention I propose focuses on manipulation of social identity thoery through team sport participation to reduce engagement in risky behaviours.

Formula in picture format

Intervention Structure

By making sport participation mandatory in school one can ensure that as many as possible receives the benefits of sports. Before such a programme can be implemented, the coaches of the school need to be trained on how to manipulate social identity in a positive manner that focuses on not engaging in risky behaviours (but, rather, engage in healthy behaviours). The coaches will be trained in six-day workshop expanding over three weeks to learn how signalling avoidance of risky behaviours as an important part of the team identity. By using current coaches one protects the current jobs people have. If questions on the workshops, feel free to contact by commenting below.

Further, the physical education (P.E.) structure of the school will be changed to make it mandatory for everyone to be active. In 1st through 2nd grade, student s will rotate through regular P.E. with a new sport every third week. Before entering 3rd grade, students will choose a sport to commit to that will count as their P.E. credit. However, recognising that not everyone enjoy sports, there is the option of staying with the regular P.E. structure. These students must also complete three school-arranged events per semester. SUch events can be a weekend hike, survival skills workshops, or museum touring.

To measure if the intervention was effective or not, students in schools receiving the intervention and students from school not receiving the intervention will complete two questionnaires pertaining to team identity as self-identity, and engagement in risky behaviours. This will be done at four points in time: 1st, 6th, 9th, and 12th grade. Recognising that people might not be honest on self-reports, parents will also complete such questionnaires.

It is hypothesised that as team identity of avoidance of risky behaviours becomes becomes more internalised, engagement in risky behaviours will decrease.

If you would like further information concerning previous research, the training workshops for coaches, or the structure of the intervention; please comment below!


Berger, J., and Rand, L. (2008). Shifting signals to help health: Using identity signaling to Reduce Risky Health Behaviours. Journal of Consumer Research, 35, 509-518

Committee on Health and Behavior: Research, Practice and Policy, Board on Neuroscience and Behavioral Health   (2001). Health and behavior: The interplay of biological, behavioral, and societal influences. Washington, DC US:   National Academy Press.

Hartmann, D., and Massoglia, M. (2007). Reassessing the relationship between high school sport participation and deviance: Evidence of enduring, bifacturated effects. The Sociological Quarterly, 48, 485-505

Mahalik, J. R., Levine Coley, R., McPherran Lombardi, C., Doyle Lynch, A., Markowitz, A. J., & Jaffee, S. R. (2013).   Changes in health risk behaviors for males and females from early adolescence through early adulthood. Health Psychology, 32(6), 685-694

Tajfel, H. (1974). Social identity and intergroup behaviour. Social Science Information, 13(2), 65-93

Tajfel, H., Billig, M.G., Bundy, R.P., Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149-178

Turner, J.C., Brown, R.J., Tajfel, H. (1979). Social comparison and group interest in ingroup favouritism. European Journal of Social Psychology, 9, 187-204

Image References

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