There’s no question that the pressure in youth sports has become increasingly high over the years. The money and time dedicated to exclusive camps, extended travel, and elite club teams have reached epic proportions in the quest for stardom, scholarships, and status. Even in youth sports, there are also many examples of success or self-worth being sought through darker means, including the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) like human growth hormone (hGH) and testosterone.
When it comes to how success is achieved, there’s also no question that young athletes are very much influenced by those around them. In addition to parents, athletes are often influenced by coaches, trainers, medical support personnel, professional sports idols, and their peers.
Young athletes exposed to the win-at-all-costs attitudes of others are susceptible to adopting the behaviors that go along with that climate, and in some cases, may even be directed to abuse substances. These substances can enhance performance and violate the rules of sport, but more importantly, they can lead to devastating physical and mental effects.
As parents, it’s important to evaluate the influencers in your athlete’s life and be aware of substance abuse warning signs. Here are three red flag phrases that might indicate your athlete is in a risky situation or facing pressure to dope.
The phrase “everyone does it” has been used to justify doping for decades at all levels of sport, from high schools to the Tour de France. This reasoning can result from exposure to PED abuse by peers, as well as the many examples of professional athletes who’ve found success through shortcuts.
Unfortunately, the life-threatening impact of this mentality is evidenced by the story of Taylor Hooten, one of the most well-known examples of a student athlete whose quest for success through steroid use led to the worst possible outcomes, including physical effects like back acne and rapid muscle growth, as well as mental effects like depression and aggression, and finally, suicide.
Taylor sourced the steroids from a local gym, and even in 2003, before widespread internet use made substances even more accessible, Taylor’s close friend Billy Ajello told the New York Times that steroid use was “extremely widespread” at the boys’ high school before Taylor’s death.
In addition to the “everyone does it” mentality among peers, Ajello believed that students construed mixed messages from coaches. ”Coaches don’t come out and say, ‘Take steroids,’ ” Ajello told the New York Times. ”Freshman, sophomore, junior year, they tell you you’re too small. A kid thinks high school sports are everything: ‘I have to take it to the next level to get bigger and stronger to play.’”
He also noted, “I think the coaches know and almost kind of turn their heads. I think if they knew for sure, certain coaches would pull a kid aside and say, ‘What are you doing?’ I think other coaches would turn their heads, and even if they knew wouldn’t say anything to a kid.”
As the TrueSport Report further confirms through national research and data, “High school and college coaches who turn the other way on bad or delinquent behavior (e.g., drinking, violence off and on the field) are sending a strong signal that such behavior is acceptable.”