R M Cullen
MD MSc MFM BA DipStats DipProfEthics
|elite athlete development||diabetes reversal||genome topology||evolution|
|tamaki sports academy||diabetes blog|
These are the kind of results young men are looking for!
Promising teenagers smoke, drink, have sex, get into fights, use marijuana, and perhaps experiment with other recreational drugs. Some good young players who are 'too small' try anabolic steroids, peptides, or banned supplements in an attempt to get bigger and stronger faster than nature intended for them. Many, perhaps even most, players on a weight training programme use supplements as well.
These are all issues that, more often than not, are dealt with poorly by sport at all levels from national governing body (where the driving concerns are funding and pleasing the media) down to club or school, where the focus, as it must be considering the narrow skill set of club administrators and school coaches, is most often 'on-field performance'.
So, how can these issues, particularly those round size and strength of 16 and 17 year olds, be fronted in an elite athlete development environment? These youngsters are confident they know everything. When they don't know, they ask their mates. They certainly know when they are being played. For example, when they are gathered together and lectured for half an hour or longer on how they should live their lives. That's nap time.
The first strategy we use is confronting transference or denial. Our core document is the player development matrix and associated individual plan. Over a number of years we have developed a tool, where five factors in each of five domains are assessed for each player and allocated points and a colour (red for zero, orange for one, green for two, and very rarely gold for three) to yield a possible score out of 50, and an often dramatic visual aid. We have had enough experience now that we know what score a schoolboy must reach to make a junior team at professional level. The player assessment is talked through with the young man, and a development plan negotiated with him. It is fair to say that we have never seen a 16 or 17 year old where the main obstacle to a professional career is insufficient size. Most often "I'm too small" is used to deny the existence of bigger problems.
Size and strength are important in professional sport. Our second strategy is to teach these boys how to do it right. It is a source of continuing amazement that youngsters can have been in elite development programmes since age 13 and still come to us at age 16 or 17 with no idea of the fundamentals. They don't know what to do, and they don't know why. The why is more important as it allows the athlete to take control of this part of his or her development. As a general rule, we have found that off season gains (i.e September to mid January) of 3-5 kg of lean muscle mass are the norm if the right nutrition (including protein, and sometimes combined protein and carbohydrate, supplements) is combined with a good exercise and weights programme.
Our third strategy is a directed discussion programme, over a number of sessions, on the broad topic of athletes and competition. We introduce the Olympic Games as the historic exemplar, with the idea that the contest is between individuals in their natural state. Sport is about making the most of natural attributes through training, coaching, and diet. The contest is fair, in the sense that both sides play by the same rules and the referee or umpire is, in the long run, equally bad for both sides.
Drugs and supplements that introduce hormones into your body at levels your body can't produce itself are cheating. We follow the anti-doping rules not because they are right, but because they are the rules. Marijuana is a banned drug for political reasons, not because it is performance enhancing.
We look at various reasons that are offered by teenagers as reasons why they want to try, or have tried, anabolic steroids.
The final part of this discussion programme is a bit of a lecture. It points out that steroid or other illegal supplement use just does not work for the 'nearly there' young athlete trying to break into a professional team. It has never worked, and it will never work because once the steroid use drops (as it must once he is in an environment where drug testing is the norm), performance falls. It is obvious, and would be obvious to team-mates, if Joe stopped using steroids. He would, in a matter of weeks, get smaller and weaker, and lose tone. His energy levels would drop, so he would find training much harder.
This opinion piece was motivated by a thoughtful article in a local newspaper ('Fears over drug use in schoolboy rugby') The article begins by mentioning 'concerns' held by Drug Free Sport chief executive Graeme Steel. Those concerns result from 'a major survey of supplement use in schools'. That survey is not referenced either in the article or on the drug free sport web-site. It is quite possible that Mr Steel's concern is to generate more work for his firm by extending the reach of drug testing.
Gregor Paul, the reporter, is simply wrong to suggest that there might be a significant steroid or illegal supplement use problem in a Polynesian competition such as the Auckland first fifteen 1A. These Samoan and Tongan boys have a superior natural genetic endowment that it would be foolish to tamper with other than through the introduction of a proper training programme and dietary supplements.
The problem in Auckland first fifteen rugby, if there is one, will be with white boys in the rich areas, if their school has not already imported a Polynesian first fifteen. It will be a second fifteen problem as much as a first fifteen one. However, elite teenage athletes are less likely to use illegal supplements than other gym users of the same age. They are happier with their bodies, confident that they are better than the competition, are not looking for shortcuts, find it easy to attract girls, and are big enough to join the police or military. Auckland is not Minneapolis, where 5% of high school boys reported using steroids in the last year, with no difference between those in a sports team (of any level) and those not in a sports team.
I am not at all sure that this is a problem worth pursuing. We are talking about second or third tier athletes who will go on to successful careers as lawyers, doctors, and accountants. Why should their futures be tainted because of self-harm at age 16 or 17? In New Zealand, the prospect of a professional rugby career is grounds for a discharge without conviction for players convicted of assault. However, the prospect of a professional 'white collar' career would not prevent a sports tribunal finding a doping violation. That is not fair. Testing should be restricted to adult competitions of some importance.
Drug cheating as a teenager is futile, however tempting it might be. There are no examples of teenagers who have used steroids to get into a professional team, stopped the steroid use (and the stopping is obvious), and gone on to have professional careers. It doesn't happen. The gap between Sonny Bill and the scrawny white wannabe cannot be closed with a needle.
The difference between SBW then and now is time, good diet, thousands of hours in the gym, no alcohol, and no smoking. There are no shortcuts.
sonny bill now. There is one of this.