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Dean Kriellaars

Dean Kriellaars

Dean Kriellaars, PhD, CEP is an exercise physiologist that works in rehabilitation, and in high performance sport.


Substance Use In Soccer

Written by on February 15, 2011 | 8 Comments »
Posted in Coaching and Sports Science

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.

8 responses to “Substance Use In Soccer”

  1. Gus Keri says:


    I once read that George Best’s most dazzling performances came after nights of binge drinking. I don’t know if it is true.

    By the way, I am not promoting drinking here. It’s just an observation. And don’t try it at home

  2. Soccerlogical says:

    And do “women weaken legs”?


  3. Bryan says:

    I’m afraid I can confirm that alcohol DOES have an effect on your commenting career.

    Dean – Are you talking about American rugby players?
    I’ve never seen one chewing and spitting before in the games I’ve watched.
    And as for that Tiger Woods…
    You do have to wonder why more footballers haven’t tested positve though ,you know it has to be going on.

    Gus – Georgie Best could roll out of bed nine sheets to the wind and STILL be the best player on the pitch.
    He was the fifth Beatle ,and the twelfth Chelsea player!

  4. rdm says:

    He was also in the 99th percentile as far as talent goes and trying to teach that is nearly impossible, hence taking care of the things that are simple to fix and provide the greatest benefit to the athlete.

  5. Theo van Arshavregas says:


    George Best broke the rules of this article wrt drinking and sleeping. He’s reknowned for binge drinking all night without any sleep and ripping his opponents a new one the next day. I’m not sure how often this happened but that’s the way the legend goes …

    I never adhered to this article after games wrt alcohol. It was a drinking culture after the games and almost looked forward to as much as the match itself.

  6. Best also died aged 59, after years of ill health and personal problems.

    I guess the hardest thing when dealing with young athletes is to convince them that they aren’t immortal and that the decisions that they take now will affect their future.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to give them the examples of Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe, and ask them where they want to be in 15 years time.

    Still challenging for the top honours or desperately looking for the next reality TV show appearance?

  7. Dean Kriellaars says:

    There always is one player that can toss his cookies before a game and then go on to play a good game. This is the exception not the rule. In the end the question is whether or not the other players that went out the nite before had a good games as well. Not likely.

    We have had very good success with a program here for reducing in season alcohol use. Over five years we have seen the behavior shift from once a week to once a month. Not bad.

    And as far as a young male immortality goes, we have found that the way to deal with it is to use the hypocrisy of it. Youth may feel that they are immortal but they are even better at detecting hypocrisy in adults. We just turn that around on themselves and let them have a look at their behaviors. It seems to keep the good ones good, stops the ones on the edge, but rarely converts the problem one. Still useful.

    Happy to share this program with folks.

    I will leave this conversation with a common notion of young males. When they drink they think they can dance really well. The real judge of performance is the one they were dancing with. So I ask, does the coach think the person had the best game of their life while severely hung over? Or was it just that they remembered that they played well.

  8. Dean Kriellaars says:

    Often young talented athletes who have risen up through the ranks due to their genetic prowess and devotion to technique, have not found it necessary to restrict alcohol or perhaps get really fit. I often wonder how good they could have been. I guess we will never really know.

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