We are all interested in cheaters in sport – as a curiosity, or actually being interested in weeding them out. Improving sport by deterring cheaters is one thing, but from my experience we could improve sport to a greater extent by reducing the use of non-performance enhancing substances.
A staggering 75% of young male soccer players are binge drinkers; drinking 5 more or pints a night between 1X/week and 1X/month. Not really any different from any other team sport such as hockey, rugby or football. So what is the issue?
If you think about this behavior, and especially from a coach’s viewpoint, you have to wonder, and possibly be a bit bewildered. If performance athletes binge drink on one night and the next day they are are tested on field, about 19 of 20 players will show a drop in performance.
My experience tells me this, sadly, there is very little research on alcohol effects (hangover) on athletic performance. Certainly there is clear evidence that while drunk – you can’t perform.
So, if I am right, an athlete that binge drinks once a week will basically throw away 1.5 to 2 days of quality training per drinking session. This is self-imposed, alcohol induced flu.
So, at a rate of 1X/week, this would total a whopping 104 days a year of ETOH flu! So when coach asks for 100%, the binge drinking player responds “I will give you 70%”.
Never mind the financial burden of drinking this much, the long term health consequences of binge drinking, or even the stupid injuries athletes incur off the field of play while drunk. Tragically, alcohol abuse is still one of the greatest causes of athlete death.
I have long been an advocate of removing one’s weaknesses to become a stronger player. Alcohol misuse and abuse is a weakness. We should address it face on.
I am not asking players to be alcohol free, but consider the impact of it. I have athletes consuming vitamins and supplements so they don’t get sick a few days a year – but paradoxically they get hammered weekly or monthly.
Let’s think this through and move our so-called performance athletes in the right direction. Have the chat. Athletes KNOW it is performance degrading.
They need consistent and persistent messaging from coaches and parents – please – no more “head in the sand”.
Protein Powders and Creatine Monohydrate
The consumption of protein powders (50-80% of players) and creatine monohydrate (up to 45%) is staggering among the young male athletic population.
All wanting to look buff and maybe have a bit more muscle to perform on field. Athletes pay too much attention and use too much of their financial resources on these products, when they should be devoting their limited resources to getting “consistent, quality training with good rest and nutrition”.
Protein consumption for an athlete should range between 1.0 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Most meat eating young males are already in that range.
Sadly, the number one resource person identified by athletes for the use of supplements and vitamins is the “trainer” – the least qualified person to provide advice on this topic.
I accept that every athlete is looking for an “edge”, but we all need to help them redirect their efforts to known performance enhancers. I am not anti-supplementation – I just like to focus the athlete on behaviors with the greatest returns.
I always start my talks with athletes about supplements with “We can talk about supplementation after we have achieved consistent quality training with good rest and nutrition”.
The vast majority of athletes KNOW they are sleep deprived. Good sleep involves adequate sleep duration (7.5-8.5 hours, 7 days a week) and sleep quality (not restless, deep).
Sleep deprivation leads to a lack of focus and decreased motivation. Athletes will spend plenty of time playing Call of Duty Back Ops and populating Facebook till all hours of the night.
However, they do little to remedy their sleep problems and spend tonnes of time and limited dollars on protein concoctions.
Athletes often focus on practices and behaviors which provide little benefit to themselves, while ignoring well known basics like sleep and performance oriented nutrition.
Rejuvenation of the athlete between training sessions and games is vital to the success of the team.
If exercise is prescribed then rest must be prescribed, and this includes sleep. FYI: Alcohol and chew use decreases sleep quality.
The World Anti-Doping Agency has marijuana on the list of prohibited substances for Olympic sports.
In fact, the number ONE substance that athletes test “positive” for is marijuana.
Dwarfing steroids by a whopping 14:1 ratio!!! That is 14 athletes get caught for marijuana while 1 gets caught for an anabolic agent (steroid).
About 35% of 16-18 year old youth uses marijuana and about 70% of the time it is consumed at a party.
Interestingly, despite the fact that athletes in North America don’t smoke tobacco, they will smoke pot (or eat hash brownies) at exactly the same rates as their non-athletic peers.
Pot is not performance enhancing, it is simply against the spirit of sport and harmful to the athlete.
Baseball is renowned for the use of smokeless tobacco by it’s players (55%). Interestingly, hockey now has about 50% of young males (15 to 21 years old) using chew.
Rugby nearly 40%. The use of chew is growing rapidly in American football.
The use of smokeless tobacco products in soccer is not well studied – but at the rate that it is invading these other team sports I would not be surprised that it is growing in soccer as well.
Talk to your athletes. Tell me your stories. Chew is a very addictive habit and has many downsides.
Substance Use in Soccer
How many one goal games have you been on the losing side of? Well, it is changing practices like the ones mentioned in this article that just might make that one goal offset work in your team’s favor.
If you add up the financial outlay of athlete consumption of alcohol, protein, supplements, chew and marijuana per year – the total for a team is staggering!
This represents a misdirection of resources. If you want to be a performance athlete, then one has to focus on what is known to help athletes – consistent quality training with good rest and nutrition (along with great coaching).
In soccer, it is not really about the cheaters, it is about athletes cheating themselves of performance through the inappropriate use of substances.
P.S. This article has used male statistics on substance use. For reference, the average female athlete does not supplement with protein and creatine, takes multivitamins, has a slightly lower binge drinking rate, about the same pot use, had similar disordered sleep levels, and almost no chew use.
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