CORVALLIS, Ore. - The NCAA has adopted a web-based drug education and wellness program for student-athletes that is designed to help them make informed choices on such modern temptations as anabolic steroids, human growth hormones, nutritional supplements and painkillers.
Developed by researchers at Oregon State University, the web education program goes beyond drug education to embrace psychology, nutrition and individual decision-making.
The "Choices in Sports" website, funded by the NCAA, took two years to complete and is an extension of the research and teaching done over the last 16 years by Ray Tricker, an associate professor in OSU's College of Health and Human Sciences, who directed the project.
"We never really say, 'don't do drugs' in our classes, or on the website because people don't want to be preached at," Tricker said. "What we try to point out is that there are a lot of other things that student-athletes can do for themselves that in the long run are much more important.
"The information on drugs and supplements is in there," he added, "and the facts make the question as to whether you should take drugs pretty clear without delivering a sermon."
Mary E. Wilfert, the NCAA's program coordinator for education outreach, said the breadth of material and the design of the website reflect the seriousness of the effort and the project overall.
"The NCAA is confident this site will provide student-athletes - and athletics staff alike - with a trusted resource that will be maintained by The National Center for Drug Free Sport, the company selected by the NCAA to administer its drug-testing collections process," she said.
"With this effort, the NCAA reinforces its programming to prevent drug abuse and promote the health and well-being of its student-athletes," Wilfert added.
The website was designed by Jay Schindler, an assistant professor of exercise and sports science at OSU, and the university's WebWorks team. Tricker wrote most of the educational material, with assistance from Aida Shirazi, a Ph.D. student at Oregon State.
The drug education website is also aimed at coaches, athletic trainers, physicians who work with athletes, and "crew chiefs" - retired coaches, physicians and nurses - who coordinate drug testing crews.
The coaches' own section tells them how to recognize student-athletes who appear to have a drug problem and how to handle such situations. Trainers and crew chiefs are given tips on how to make presentations to student-athletes and present data in a straightforward, non-threatening manner.
Much of the information, though, is aimed directly at student-athletes. A section on anabolic steroids, for example, provides information on substances that are banned by the NCAA, how they work in the body, their side effects, who uses them, and the difference between them. Similar information is available for hormones, over-the-counter drugs, and recreational and street drugs.
A large portion of the site, however, has less to do with drugs and more to do with psychology.
It is based on a formula Tricker has developed over the years that is designed to help student-athletes get the most out of their abilities by looking at different factors that influence success.
"What we've basically done is create an assessment tool for student-athletes that helps them engender confidence in themselves," Tricker said. "By helping them recognize that long-term success comes from within, they will be less inclined to seek short-term help from external sources that ultimately won't provide them satisfaction."
Tricker points to a series of factors that includes genetics, a focus on decision-making, motivation, coaching, adaptability, rest and nutrition, injury management, learning from experience, use of intelligence, and positive use of educational experiences.
"If athletes evaluate themselves honestly, they can see areas where they need to work," Tricker said. "Success isn't all about genetics. Larry Bird wasn't the fastest or most explosive basketball player in the NBA. But he got the maximum out of other areas, including focus, motivation, and learning from experience.
"When I was at (the University of) Kansas, there was a basketball player named Milt Newton, who was having trouble finding the basket," Tricker added. "He went through a similar self-evaluation and really connected with the idea of focus, recognizing that his problem was one of concentration. He made a tape of himself describing his shot and visualizing the 'swish' of the net. About three weeks later, he set a Kansas record for three-pointers in a game.
"The point is," Tricker said, "all athletes can improve. They need to take a hard look at their lifestyles and their own decisions."
Tricker acknowledges that some athletes seeking success will continue to try performance-enhancing drugs because they can make individuals stronger and have more endurance. But strength and stamina are only two factors out of many and success achieved from artificial means is ultimately unsatisfying, he said.
"Each student-athlete must ask themselves what values define success and happiness," Tricker said. "Is it money and fame? Ask Darryl Strawberry if he is happy with the choices he made. Is it a world record? Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100-meter title and banned from racing. How many East German swimmers have had to turn in their gold medals? The list of examples of how drugs and poor decisions have devastated athletes goes on and on.
"Developing inner strength and confidence in yourself is a much longer-lasting reward," Tricker added. "We're trying to provide the tools to help."