An athletic care network should provide the guidance and medical care to intervene and help prevent negative social behaviors among athletes, like alcohol or drug use, sexual promiscuity, gambling, violence or criminal activity. In a presentation today at the 54th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), team physicians from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst outlined strategies to handle athletes behaving badly.
The athletic care network should include team physician, certified athletic trainer, nutritionist, sports psychologist and possibly other team personnel, according to the panel. Pierre Rouzier, M.D., head team physician at UMASS, recommends the committee meet as often as monthly to identify and mentor at-risk athletes.
“When the Duke lacrosse incident broke last year, sexual behavior and alcohol use among athletes was quickly thrown under the microscope,” said Rouzier. “Athletes are often highly scrutinized anyway – from their class schedule to their workout schedule to their practice schedule – so their care network can help identify at-risk athletes or issues before there are major consequences.”
On the other hand, Rouzier recognizes some athletes who behave badly live by a sense of entitlement. “That’s one of the major problems,” he says. “From adolescence on, some are simply getting special treatment because they are athletically gifted. This is where the coach and athletic director come in to set the tone, handle discipline and teach kids how character plays into their program. But, just like some parents, there are coaches who do it right and coaches who just want to win.”
Some common problems athletes may encounter involve off-field risk-taking behaviors, including gambling, violence and criminal activity. Group behavior, such as hazing, can also be prevalent among athletes. Alcohol use and sexual behavior leading to sexually transmitted diseases are also factors.
“There is no clear evidence whether off-field problems are due to a sense of entitlement or related to the individual characteristics that help athletes excel in sports, including obsessive traits, drive, focus and sense of immortality,” said J. Herbert Stevenson, M.D., a physician on the panel. “Research does show a higher rate, particularly in males and in contact sports, of risk-taking behaviors among student-athletes compared with their peers.”
Collegiate athletes may be apt to fall into risky behavior patterns because oftentimes, they are previously high school athletes who have encountered social, medical and mental health behavior problems. “Colleges inherit these kids with a dream. Their community has perpetuated it when they were the best kid in Pop Warner or All-State. When they get to college, it’s like going to an ice cream shop. There are more perks, more girls or vice versa thrown at them,” said Rouzier. “There needs to be a component of the athletic care network available to athletes so they can perform not only in their program, but with a schedule to have something in life after sports.”
Rouzier and his team physicians emphasize most college athletes are like most other college students: kids in the four-year process of becoming adults.
“The effect of individual, institutional, and societal factors on negative off-field and risk behaviors by athletes needs to be the focus of future research,” said Stevenson.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 20,000 international, national, and regional members are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.