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Testing the feasibility and efficacy of a clean sport bystander intervention program (reACT)

Doping research has increased in span and scale over the past decade but few studies have considered the way athletes approach their contemporary’s use of performance enhancing drugs, nor how they intervene to address this issue. Furthermore, cross-cultural comparisons for intervention effectiveness are rare, yet necessary, when generating evidence-based programs to tackle global issues such as doping in sport. Addressing this absence of evidence, this research project offers a viable alternative to current anti-doping practice by developing a bystander intervention.

Through the application of the situational model of bystander intervention, this project will explore the role of confrontation as a self-regulatory approach to addressing substance use behaviours, within a student-athlete population.

If you are interested in taking part in this research, please contact the research team. Also, please see the links attached that provide further information for potential gatekeepers and/or participants.

reACT sport group

Project overview

The ‘reACT’ ('recognise and take action') project is funded by the International Olympic Committee, with the support of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and UK Anti-Doping.

The project offers a complementary approach to current doping education practice by developing a bystander intervention to address substance use behaviours. Specifically, it will explore if confrontation can be employed as an effective self-regulation approach to address substance use behaviours within a student-athlete population. To do so, it will apply the established situational model of bystander intervention (Latane & Darley, 1970) which offers five decision making steps towards intervention:

  1. Notice the event.
  2. Interpret the event as a problem.
  3. Assume personal responsibility.
  4. Know how to help.
  5. Implement the help.

The StepUP! Bystander Intervention Program ("StepUP!," N.D.) has been used as a guiding framework for the design of the reACT intervention. StepUP! was designed specifically for student-athletes and is the most used bystander intervention across NCAA universities. It is backed by research support from various athletic departments (e.g. Long, 2012) demonstrating its effectiveness for increasing bystanders’ intentions to intervene. The original design emerged from a pilot study indicating that student-athletes wish to help friends in distress but feel ill-equipped to do so safely and effectively (StepUP!, 2006). Importantly, similar concerns were raised in preliminary research conducted at Leeds Beckett University with student-athletes from the US and UK (Erickson, PhD Thesis).  Student-athletes asserted that doping use warrants action, however, as most were reluctant to report it and uncertain about the appropriateness of confronting users, they frequently suggested overlooking it. Accordingly, the project presents a modified StepUP! bystander intervention specifically targeting substance use behaviours that have been identified as particularly relevant to student-athlete populations.

Project objectives

Substance misuse (i.e. dietary supplements, appearance and performance enhancing drugs, prescription medications, recreational drugs) is a growing concern across all sports and competitive levels. As a result, individuals are increasingly encouraged to play an active role in preventing misuse. In direct response to calls for prevention, our project aims to raise awareness of intervention-worthy substance use situations in sport and empower student-athletes to take personal responsibility and confront such situations. Being knowledgeable and prepared if/when faced with these situations increases the likelihood that student-athletes will do something. This In turn, encourages a community-based approach to deterring substance use and misuse.

The objectives of the project are:

  • Raise student-athletes’ awareness to intervention-worthy substance use on campus (i.e. dietary supplements, appearance and performance enhancing drugs, prescription medications, recreational drugs).
  • Help student-athletes recognise their personal role and responsibility in such situations.
  • Equip student-athletes with the skills/knowledge necessary to safely confront these situations.
What does the project involve?

The reACT program will be delivered to university student-athlete populations in the US, UK and Canada beginning Autumn 2016.  Once identified, student-athletes will be randomly assigned to one of two groups.

Experimental Condition

reACT consists of three workshops. The first workshop (75 minutes) will familiarise student-athletes with the theories and evidence underpinning the situational model towards bystander intervention (i.e. 5 Steps towards Intervention) and introduce concepts related to effective confrontation. This will be followed by two topic-specific workshops (60 minutes each) covering: (1) dietary supplements & appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs), and (2) prescription medications (e.g. Adderall, painkillers) & recreational drugs. Each workshop will be interactive, including discussions and opportunities to practice addressing hypothetical substance use scenarios.

Control Condition

Participants will receive a 60-minute anti-doping education workshop that will focus on detection-deterrence approaches. Key compliance messages will be shared (e.g., WADA Prohibited List, Doping Control Procedures) and participants will be signposted to relevant anti-doping websites (e.g., WADA and National Anti-Doping Agency websites).

Each session (i.e. Control and Experimental) will be delivered in person by Dr. Kelsey Erickson.

Program Evaluation

For the evaluation, both groups will be invited to complete the same questionnaire pre-, post- and three-month post-evaluation (approximately 10 minutes).  Participants will also be invited to take part in an informal post-intervention interview (15-30 minutes) to discuss their experience with the project.

Are there benefits to participating?
Participating in this project will provide student-athletes with an opportunity to openly discuss substance use in sport with fellow student-athletes.  Also, it offers an opportunity for student-athletes to gain and practice skills for addressing substance use behaviours in sport. In turn, this has the potential to increase the number of individuals actively involved in discouraging substance use.  Thus, encouraging a community-based approach to substance use prevention in sport.  Importantly, the communication skills introduced and practiced in this project can also be utilised to address problem situations extending beyond sport (e.g. workplace, academics, relationships).
Who is involved in the research project

Professor Susan Backhouse (Principal Investigator)
Director of Research, Leeds Beckett University
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Dr Kelsey Erickson
Research Fellow, Leeds Beckett University
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Dr Laurie Patterson
Senior Lecturer, Leeds Beckett University
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Dr Lisa Whitaker 
Research Officer, Leeds Beckett University
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Professor Jim McKenna 
Professor of Sport, Leeds Beckett University
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Advisory Panel

Ms Becky Bell, Associate Athletics Director, C.A.T.S. Life Skills, Arizona Athletics, US (Step Up Program Originator)

Mr Matthew Perry, Next Generation Education Officer, UK Anti-Doping

Professor Philip Sullivan, Chair of Social Psychology, Brock University, Canada.

Contact us

For further information about the study contact:-
Dr Kelsey Erickson

Principle investigator:
Professor Susan Backhouse

Independent representative:
Dr Nicola Kime

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