Why do you and your kids love sports? Maybe it’s the pure joy that comes from playing alongside teammates united by a common goal. Maybe it’s the sense of wonder in what the human body can achieve through hard work and talent. Or maybe it’s the instinctive thrill of competition and the possibility of victory. Maybe it’s all of those things.
All these reasons, however, can be threatened by the same thing – cheating. And when cheating takes the form of doping, it not only threatens the value of sport, but more importantly, the health of the athlete.
With the competitive nature of youth sports escalating, the temptation to rise above the competition through the use of performance-enhancing drugs will also start occurring to athletes at a younger age. This, and the increasingly easy access to potent substances, is why coaches, parents, and youth sport role models must help shape an environment that prioritizes clean and healthy competition.
Promote a Level Playing Field
Using performance-enhancing drugs to gain an unfair advantage devalues the hard work and hours of training other athletes have invested in themselves and in their teammates.
According to the TrueSport Report released by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, “more than half of the general population agree that there are sports that are accepting of unethical behavior. In addition, more than one-third of children agree that some sports do a bad job of teaching the difference between right and wrong.”
But at every level of competition, athletes, coaches, officials, and parents can help create a culture of clean sport.
Whether it’s something as simple as faking a foul, or as serious as taking a performance-enhancing drug, young athletes need to know that no form of cheating is acceptable. Instead, help reinforce the concept that competing fair, with respect and integrity, is always more important than winning.
More specifically, you can help combat the ‘winning-at-all-costs’ culture by tracking teamwork, improvement, attitude, and resilience as closely as you do wins and losses. You can also communicate to athletes that failure is natural, and even preferred if the alternative is cheating.
Also keep in mind that young people often learn best from watching others, making it crucial that coaches, parents, and officials conduct themselves properly as an example of great sportsmanship for young athletes.
Keep Kids Healthy
It’s tempting for athletes of all ages to want to secure an edge over their competitors. But, there’s a difference between performing efficiently and taking a harmful shortcut with serious health consequences. Those potential consequences, both short-term and long-term, may not occur to a young athlete whose focus is on the immediate reward.
Help your athletes understand that there are serious health consequences associated with performance-enhancing drugs. Stimulants and anabolic agents, some of which end up illegally in supplements, are easily accessible on store shelves and online, especially those used for energy, muscle building, and weight loss. The effects may not always be immediate, but they can impact an athlete’s quality of life long after they stop playing sports.
To ensure your athletes are ready to perform at their best without dangerous substances, make sure they eat a well-balanced meal of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, while allowing themselves an adequate amount of recovery time between practices and big competitions.
Every young athlete deserves to have fun and compete in a fair game.
At the end of the day, competing clean and healthy is what matters. Any result aided by performance-enhancing drugs will rob young athletes, their teammates, opponents, coaches, and parents from celebrating a true victory.
It’s not too soon to start proactively cultivating a culture of clean and healthy performance that helps protect all athletes and sports from the physical and ethical effects of doping.