A qualitative exploration of adolescent athletes' perspectives, awareness, and experiences related to doping


Doping is a prevalent problem in sport, with athletes reporting using performance-enhancing substances (PES) as young as age 12. Adolescence is a high-risk period for initiating PES use because attitudes about doping are formed at this age. The purpose of this study was to explore adolescent athletes' perspectives, awareness, and experiences related to doping. Sixteen athletes (n = 7 male and n = 9 female), in grades 7 through 11, attended one of four focus groups. Verbatim transcripts were analyzed and coded into common themes. Our data revealed five main themes. First, the participants spoke about their prior knowledge about doping, which is mostly restricted to awareness of doping among professional athletes. Second, many did not consider doping to be a relevant issue for their age group or level of competition. Third, the athletes reported that their coaches and trainers seldom discuss doping and its associated risks. Fourth, adolescents viewed pressure from teammates or coaches as a significant reason for an athlete to start using PES. Finally, the athletes spoke about their perceptions of the primary deterrents to doping including; (a) the moral, emotional, or social consequences (mainly guilt) associated with doping or getting banned from sport, (b) the severe health consequences, including the development of tumours, heart problems, and death, and (c) the physical consequences associated with appearance, such as acne or gynecomastia. These findings provide insight about adolescent athletes' perspectives on doping, which has implications for developing primary prevention programs and educational resources for adolescent athletes.

Acknowledgments: This research has been funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency: Social Sciences Research Grant