What to Say About Steroids

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.7, September 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/cm/cm1307/bbsteroids.htm

As clouds of suspicion in pro baseball have evolved into what some see as a bona fide epidemic, fears that steroid use will trickle down to college and high school players are more real than ever. Even as individual school districts and some state governments look into how best to focus their prevention efforts, the job of steering athletes away from dangerous performance-enhancing substances still lies in large part with coaches, whose message can come across more clearly than that of any other authority figures.

For the coach who believes steroid use may be a problem in other quarters but not on his team, some recent eye-opening statistics offer good reason to think again. The National Institutes of Health’s ongoing Monitoring the Future study found in its 2004 survey that 270,000 eighth, 10th, and 12th graders nationwide (3.4 percent) have used steroids, and noted a 62 percent in--crease among 12th graders since 1991. A Texas A&M study cited this winter in a multi-part Dallas Morning News exposé into high school steroid use reported that nearly 42,000 Texas students in grades seven through 12 (about 2.3 percent) had used steroids. And at the college level, the NCAA’s most recent survey of student-athlete drug use showed that baseball, at 2.3 percent, had the second highest incidence of steroid use of any college sport (behind football).

With researchers and experts agreeing that statistics like these chronically understate the true size and scope of the problem, it’s never safe to assume that your players are immune. A responsible app-roach to prevention involves knowing the warning signs and symptoms of steroid use, understanding what makes young people turn to steroids, and emphasizing education and good choices when talking to your team.

The traditional physical signs of steroid use in males are not hard to recognize—they include rapid muscle growth, jaundice, hair loss, breast dev-elopment, and severe acne, particularly on the chest and back. Equally telling, however, can be unexplained changes in behavior.

“Not all anabolic steroid users will exhibit the classic physical symptoms, so we now tell coaches to look for changes in mood, behavior, and activity,” says Frank Uryasz, President of the National Center for Drug Free Sport. “Sometimes you’ll see aggressive or erratic behavior, but often a steroid user will become withdrawn or more isolated from the team. Maybe he’ll even change where he works out. Those types of changes in behavior, together with physical changes, should immediately raise a red flag for coaches.”

Uryasz says many athletes who use steroids first try to gain weight or strength by taking protein or amino-acid supplements, such as creatine. But when they don’t see the desired results, steroids become the logical next step.

“I’m convinced that dietary supplements are the training wheels for anabolic steroid users,” Uryasz says. “Athletes will often use a host of dietary supplements before resorting to a steroid.”

For this reason, it is essential for coaches to conduct infor-med discussions about safe and unsafe practices whenever they talk to athletes about performance enhancement. “If a coach tells a young male that he would become a better player if he gained strength, but doesn’t say how to do it, that silence can be interpreted as approval for turning to various substances,” Uryasz ex--plains. “We can educate with brochures, posters, and educational sessions, but I don’t know of any greater prevention tool than a strong non-use message from a coach.”

Uryasz recommends bringing in an expert to talk to your team about the dangers of supplements and steroids, and to discuss safe and effective ways to enhance performance, such as responsible strength training and improving nutrition and hydration. Educational resources from organizations like the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and the American Dietetic Association can help coaches provide their athletes with quality information about performance enhancement.

High school state associations and even state legislatures are diving into the issue. The California Interscholastic Federation adopted regulations earlier this year mandating that all coaches in the state complete a steroids education program by 2008.

“Each coach will take part in a program that consists of eight hours of training, followed by a certification test,” says Courtney Johnson, Director of Educational Services for the CIF. “We’ll be providing a lot of information on things like how to recognize students who might be using, the various names and categories of the drugs, where kids are getting them, and how they are being used. We’ll also be teaching coaches about the negative physical effects of steroids, and pointing out athletes who have died from steroid use and high school students who have committed suicide as a result of steroid-linked depression.” The new CIF regulations also prohibit coaches from selling, distributing, or promoting any performance-enhancing supplements to their athletes.

Among governments, the focus has been largely on testing. Florida’s legislature recently considered a bill that would have required the state association to develop a testing program for one sport, and a Michigan legislator introduced a bill this spring that would mandate testing of athletes at state competitions. The governor of New Mexico is urging his state’s legislature to institute random drug testing for high school athletes during its next session, and has pledged $330,000 to finance a program. While no state has mandatory steroid testing yet, some localities are acting on their own, such as Polk County, Fla., where the school system began testing athletes for steroids this January, and Fort Zumwalt, Mo., where a voluntary steroid testing program was approved by the school board in May.

The Dallas Morning News series on high school steroid use can be viewed at: www.dallasnews.com/s/dws/spe/2005/steroids/index.html.