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A Dubious Distinction

February 24, 2012    3555 Views

The NCAA recently published its quadrennial survey of substance abuse trends among student-athletes in 23 sports. The survey, which included over 20,000 responses from student-athletes regarding the 2009 school year, revealed that men’s lacrosse players used amphetamines anabolic steroids, cocaine, marijuana and narcotics at greater rates than student-athletes in any other sport over a twelve-month period. 

Here’s a synopsis of  the differences in reported drug use: 48.5% of men’s lacrosse players indicated that they had used marijuana, followed by men’s soccer players (29.4%) and wrestlers (27.7%); 9.7% of men’s lacrosse players reported using cocaine, followed by men’s ice hockey players (3.8%) and  wrestlers (3.7%); and, 10.8% of men’s lacrosse players claimed they used narcotics, followed by wrestlers (6%) and football players (4%).  With respect to alcohol use, men’s lacrosse (95%) trailed only men’s ice hockey (95.5%).
The statistics for women’s lacrosse were equally concerning. 30% of women’s lacrosse players reported that they had used marijuana, second only to field hockey (35.7%); 3.6% of women’s lacrosse players said they used cocaine, followed by field hockey players (1.7%) and women’s soccer players (1.3%); 5.4% of women’s lacrosse players reported that they used narcotics, followed by softball players (4.4%) and women’s volleyball players (3.8%). On a relatively positive note, women’s lacrosse players (85.7%) trailed field hockey (94.2%), women’s golf (89.9%), softball (88.2%), women’s volleyball (86.5%), women’s swimming (85.9%) and women’s soccer (85.7%) in alcohol use.
Every lacrosse coach and parent should be laser focused on these numbers because they indicate a very disturbing trend that can’t easily be explained away. The sport’s growing national footprint has expanded far beyond its parochial roots over the past twenty years, yet a negative cultural image remains. We should ask ourselves, “Why?”
There is nothing about the nature of lacrosse that predisposes participants to alcohol and drug use. But there are elements of the sport’s culture for which coaches and parents need to be held accountable. Certainly, coaches are not responsible for raising a child; that’s the exclusive responsibility of a parent. But coaches have been entrusted to care for a child within the confines of their team…and coaches should be responsible for establishing a team culture that holds players accountable for their behavior. From my perspective, that hasn’t been enough of a consistent priority for lacrosse coaches at any level.
Few parents would argue in favor of relaxed rules regarding drug and alcohol use among their high school and college lacrosse-playing sons and daughters, so why haven’t coaches embraced a clear and consistent zero-tolerance policy that results in immediate dismissal from a team for any violation? To me, it’s unconscionable for a coach to be aware or even suspect that players are drinking alcohol or using drugs without taking action.
It’s likely that many will quietly downplay the results of this NCAA survey, perhaps believing that the data collection methods were somehow flawed, and that the use of alcohol and drugs among lacrosse players is no different from that of other athletes in other sports or the general student population. And that’s the problem. Is the goal simply to be no worse than other sports? I sure hope not.

The complete NCAA study can be found here:

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