Led by Dr Kelsey Erickson, the study ‘Doping in sport: do parents matter?’, published today in the Journal of Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology, highlights the significant influence of the parent-athlete relationship in the context of sport doping.
“While anti-doping efforts have traditionally focused on individual athletes, there is growing recognition for the significant influence of athlete support personnel (ASP) in relation to athletes’ doping behaviours,” said Dr Erickson. “Meanwhile, there is limited evidence of how particular ASP populations actually influence such behaviours.
“In response, the purpose of this research was to inform the psychology of doping in sport by exploring British track and field student-athletes’ attitudes, experiences and behaviours towards doping in sport whilst simultaneously looking at the potential influence of others in this context. Student athletes are an important group to target due to growing evidence of their susceptibility to doping.”
Participants included 14 British student-athletes (eight males and six females), aged between 19-26, representing various track and field disciplines and multiple UK universities. Data was collected through face-to-face interviews.
“By considering the participants’ broader athletic experiences, this study has demonstrated that parents established participants’ initial sense of right and wrong which, in turn, has guided athletes’ decision-making and behaviours throughout their athletic careers. The influence of parents has remained constant and significant across the duration of participants’ careers – establishing their enduring impact. Ensuing from this, participants commonly exhibited a desire to give back to their parents through their athletic endeavours. Assuming their parents would not approve of them using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), they were deterred from doping.”
Illustrating this, a participant named Steve said that if he was doping: “I couldn’t look at my friends and family in the face”. Another athlete, named Richard, said that PEDs are out of the question for him and to use them would mean disrespecting the important people in his life; whilst participant Lucy stated: “My family would be horrified if I ever did anything like that… my mum doesn’t even like it when girls make comments about losing weight for running. I mean the thought of taking something… she couldn’t stand it.”
“The finding that parents have a (in)direct influence on athletes’ doping attitudes, experiences, and behaviours is particularly significant considering previous research has found that among ASP, family and friends held the least amount of doping knowledge,” said Dr Erickson. “Our research stresses the importance of making parents aware of the influence they can have on athletes’ doping attitudes and behaviours. Likewise, it underlines the importance of targeting parents with bespoke anti-doping education and equipping them with skills and knowledge necessary to transmit anti-doping messages directly to athletes."
Dr Erickson concluded: “Anti-doping policy makers and researchers are tasked with helping parents recognise and accept their role in shaping athletes’ attitudes, experiences and behaviours towards doping in sport. Future research should explore the role of parents in shaping athletes’ attitudes and values from the perspective of the parent and the athlete and the evidence gathered should be integrated into anti-doping education and efforts. This approach has the potential to develop and shape education interventions that are personally meaningful to athletes and parents alike, increasing the likelihood of them engaging with the programmes.”