The Coach's Playbook Against Drugs
Key Plays How To Get Your Message Across

The best defense is a good offense. If you want to follow through and keep drugs and alcohol off the playing field and out of your players' lives, here are 10 key plays to help you get your message across.

1. Encourage participation in athletics by making your team an integral and exciting part of school or community life. Spending large amounts of time unsupervised after school and on weekends greatly increases the odds that teenagers will experiment with drugs. Therefore, you should make a special effort to involve youth in constructive after school activities, such as athletics. Equally important, however, is for teenagers to find these activities fun and rewarding. Try to provide opportunities for kids of all abilities to participate and have fun.

A soccer team needs players who are responsible and make good decisions. Taking drugs of any kind is not a good decision. As a coach, I have tremendous respect for those people who stand up to the pressure and won't tolerate drug use. We all need these kinds of people.

Bob Bradley
Head Coach
Chicago Five

Soccer Ball

2. Clearly express your expectation that players will not use drugs. Some adults, especially those who have used drugs themselves, find it difficult to talk to youth about drugs. Unless adults clearly state an expectation that youth should not use drugs, however, adolescents may not understand what standard, if any, they are being held to.

3. Ensure that your players know the risks of drug use, especially those that affect athletic performance and their future. Getting high has both long- and short-term consequences for an athlete -- consequences that young people may not be aware of, but that you, the expert on performance, understand. For example, short-term risks of marijuana use include decreased stamina, weight gain, and reduced muscle strength. Steroids can lead to heart disease, infertility, and skin disease, and cause aggression in a person's daily life. Laziness, lack of motivation, loss of control, and poor decision making are additional risks associated with drug use. Any of these can affect a player's long-term goals, like winning a championship or getting a college scholarship.

4. Emphasize the benefits of participating in sports, particularly benefits that young people care about, including:

  • Gaining the respect of peers.

  • Sharing new and exciting experiences with close friends.

  • Earning the respect and trust of parents and siblings.

  • Setting a good example for others (especially younger siblings).

  • Having a strong sense of self-worth and self-respect.

  • Increasing control over one's life and its direction.

  • Achieving personal growth and progress toward one's goals.

The last three benefits are particularly important to high school students.

Psychologists have long made the case that the "carrot-and-stick" approach works far better than the "stick" alone. When you link the attainment of benefits that young people care most about to activities other than using drugs, you help them develop closely held reasons for staying drug free.

5. Make sure your players know that drug use among preteens and early teens (ages 11 to 14) is a "fringe" behavior. Eighty percent of eighth-grade students do not use drugs, yet most eighth graders believe drug use among their peers is common. This "myth" exerts a subtle and insidious form of peer pressure. Studies show that when the myth is debunked, preteens and early teens are less likely to try drugs.

6. Encourage athletes to set personal goals and assist them in making progress toward those goals. People who know how to regulate their behavior effectively are more likely to set and achieve goals. Studies show that adolescents who learn self-regulation skills are far less likely to use drugs (presumably because they become more involved in setting and pursuing larger goals).

As a former player, I know the value of a good coach. As a coach, I know you can send the right message to kids about drugs. Coach your students away from drugs.

Mookie Wilson
First Base Coach
New York Mets
Former Outfielder for the
1986 World Series Champion
New York Mets


All athletes can set goals for what they want to achieve throughout the season.Help them to do so, and assist them in tracking their progress. Let them know that you have noticed their accomplishments, and praise them to other team members and peers.This gives young people specific, measurable ways to gauge the benefits of spending time on athletics.

Skills shown to be helpful to teens in setting goals and measuring progress toward them include identifying appropriate goals, not only for the short term but also for the long term; recognizing situations and people that are a threat to accomplishing the goals; and thinking through the consequences of one's actions.

7. Have older players reinforce the idea that real "cool" kids don't use drugs -- they disapprove of them. The vast majority of preteens and early teens disapprove of drug use, and even a majority of older teens disapprove.Yet, preteens and early teens routinely under estimate this disapproval; most believe that the majority of their peers approve of drug use. Heightening the perception of disapproval by peers and older teens is one of the most powerful ways to prevent drug use.

A simple way to do this is to select a number of your older players who don't use drugs (including some likely to be considered "cool" by younger players) and have them meet as a group with your younger players. Encourage the older players to speak openly about the negative consequences of using drugs that they have observed -- including effects on physical abilities and school performance. Most importantly, have these players talk about how using drugs lets other people -- parents, teachers, friends, teammates -- down. Remind your older players that they are role models. Encourage them to speak out, and reach out, to younger kids.

8. Help young people to develop appropriate decision making skills. Adolescence is a time of life when teens must make an increasing number of decisions. Many adolescents, however, have not been taught how to make good decisions.

To help your players develop decision making skills, let them share in decisions that affect the team as a whole. For example, let players help decide on the structure of a practice or the specific skills to work on during a practice session. Guide athletes through the decision making process by teaching them to (1) identify/clarify the decision to be made;(2) consider all possible options and outcomes; (3)choose the best option; and (4) follow through.

9. Let players know that they can talk to you about their fears and concerns regarding drug use. Most adolescents yearn for a close relationship with a caring adult and for the ability to communicate honestly.They may find it easier to talk to a coach than to their parents about sensitive topics such as sex and drugs. By responding openly when such a topic is raised, you will help your players learn new ways to broach sensitive subjects and keep important lines of communication open.Tell players where they can find more information and steer those who need help toward it. One place to start is the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Web site . For additional information, refer to the Resources section at the end of your playbook.

10. Develop meaningful relationships with the young people you coach. The most common reason young people give for not wanting to use drugs is a desire to please the caring adults in their lives. Be a caring adult -- someone your athletes can count on for support and guidance.