In early December, former Senator George Mitchell released the results of his study about steroid use in Major League Baseball. In his report, he released the names of over 80 current and former Major League players who he believed had either used or were using steroids or human growth hormone as a way to enhance their performance on the field. Many of the players accused in the report are well known and have had a long history of success.
Early in the NFL season, during a game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, the Patriots were accused of videotaping the Jets sidelines during the game in attempt to steal the Jets defensive signals. The Patriots are in the midst of an undefeated season, something that has not happened since the 1973 Miami Dolphins.
Unfortunately, almost every summer, we hear about cyclists riding in the Tour de France who test positive for performance enhancing drugs that are banned by the sport. Earlier this fall, Olympic sprinter Marion Jones, gave up her five Olympic medals after admitting she had used performance enhancing drugs during the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Since 1981, I have been working as a sport psychologist with athletes from youth sports to the professional and Olympic levels. Unfortunately, throughout my career the topic of cheating has repeatedly been discussed at all levels of competition. Whether it is a youth sport coach who knowingly uses an athlete who is older than the age requirement or a high school coach who turns his head when the discussion of steroid use comes up among his star athletes, coaches at all levels are looking for whatever venue they can to win. And many will break the rules in the quest to get that championship.
The use of steroids and human growth hormone has become widespread in our society. The benefits to using them has been well documented. Athletes who use either steroids or human growth hormone will increase their strength and/or endurance. For many athletes and coaches, they know that using these substances will give them the edge they are looking for to defeat their opponents. However, even though they are against the rules, many will use them anyway. WHY? In my opinion, it is simple. It is because of fear, insecurity and a lack of confidence with themselves. I recently heard a quote that, “You are not trying if you are not cheating.”
So what do we do to stop this and start competing by the rules again? I think it is fair to say that no matter what the rules are, no matter how strongly they are enforced, there will always be someone who will cheat. It doesn’t matter what sport or what level, someone will always be looking for a way to avoid the rules. Obviously, the professional sport leagues, the Olympics and collegiate sports have implemented a drug testing policy. Some are successful and some are not. All have weaknesses. I believe we must start at the youth level. Not with drug testing, but with an emphasis on the importance of sportsmanship. I recently spoke with an official with the United States Tennis Association, who told me that cheating has exploded in tennis, not only on the court, but in applications to play in leagues. Many people who apply to play, blatantly lie about their tennis experience in order to play at levels where they will be able to win. This official said that the lies are getting to a point where it is almost out of control.
The National Alliance of Youth Sports, one of the top educational organizations for youth sports, has a one strike and you’re out policy. If a parent, who is coaching is caught cheating, he/she is banned for life, along with their child. Sounds harsh, but the organization’s founder, Fred Engh, has stated it is a necessity, because otherwise the problem will just continue. I feel, now more than ever, we must promote sportsmanship at all levels of sport, and we must begin with the young athletes and their parents who are just starting out. Proper sportsmanship policies should take precedent over winning and losing at the youth sports level. There must be appropriate education for parents, athletes and coaches. Young athletes should be taught the importance of being a good sport, and should be taught to not be afraid to tell their coach or parent if someone is cheating. Fear should not be the barrier to handle this problem. Being good communicators should become the emphasis for all involved.
I believe if we educate young athletes, parents and coaches we can help to keep this problem from developing at the levels it has grown to today. Teaching kids fundamentals is essential to learning how to play a sport. However, teaching them the values of honesty, integrity, respect and fair play will help them grow and develop not just as an athlete, but as a productive member of our society.