Strategies to Curb Risk Factors in Adolescent Athletes
By Detavius Mason
Today’s athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger then ever before. From a young age, athletes know to play on the high school team, on a Division Ι college roster, and eventually on the pro level, they have to be “better” then their peers. Adolescents are faced with that type of pressure to succeed starting in middle school! With this type of pressure for success coupled with the negative examples presented to them by the athletes they see on TV and/or admire, it is not surprising to anyone why some high schools choose to random drug tests their student-athletes throughout the sporting year. Three of the top sports in America (basketball, football & baseball) have had great players tarnish their legacies due to illegal performance enhancing drugs, narcotics, alcohol related incidents, or steroids. These professional “role models” who get arrested for such buffoonery help to reinforce the “everyone does it so that makes it ok” notion, add to that the dream of playing professional sports & the win at all costs attitude makes high school kids the ideal target to implement an intervention program to attempt to reduce risk behaviors. Two of these programs, the Athletes Training & Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS) program for males and Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives (ATHENA) program for females focus on anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS), alcohol, marijuana, amphetamines, narcotics, as well as sport supplements, dieting pills, and eating disorders.
The ATLAS Program uses small groups (6-8 per group) in this 5-24 week program to deter the use of illegal performance enhancers and to promote the legal, more effective ways to increase muscle and size. The program is peer led under the direction of the coach, using techniques such as role-playing, educational games, public campaigns, & competitions to foster a relationship of trust between players & between the coach and his players which helps to create a team centered social psychological effect needed to excel in team sports amongst adolescents.
The ATHENA program is very similar to the ATLAS program except that it touches on issues deemed most vital to female adolescent athletes. Issues such as depression, eating disorders, and body shapes are discussed in small numbered (6-8), peer led, 6-8 min. long sessions, each lasting approximately 45 minutes.
Both programs show positive results: reduction in new substance abuse by 50%, a reduction in other risky behavior such as drunk driving by 24%, a more in depth knowledge of the effects of AAS, nutrition, etc. can be boasted by the ATLAS program, while an increase in healthy eating, increased resistance training, decrease in the use of diet pills and performance enhancing substances, and a reduction in other risky behavior such as drunk driving.
These programs take up valuable time that could be spent practicing, but are good life lessons that are important to every young athlete. Adolescent athletes look to their parents, their coaches, and their peers for any kind of helpful guidance, why not be more then a coach and make a positive impact that is sure to shape their life. Implement a program or just take the time to talk to athletes about the dangers all around them and the negative consequences if they become overwhelmed with them. In a time where athletes are always in the spotlight, remember attitude reflects leadership.