The development of a measuring instrument to determine the knowledge and attitudes of elite adolescent athletes about ergogenic aids and banned substances
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The use of sports supplements and banned substances amongst adolescent athletes is high. The literature review reveals that supplement and banned substance use is a complex health and social issue. Athletes use supplements in the belief that it improves performance in various ways, although there is a lack of scientific evidence of the efficacy and safety of nutritional supplements. Health risks exist with regard to using supplements due to lack of quality control and contamination with banned or dangerous substances. Contamination can cause inadvertent doping offences. A continuum from supplement use to banned substance and recreational drug use was identified. The use of banned substances have pronounced health, psychological and socio-ethical risks. The risk of getting ostracised for a doping offence is probably limited to elite sports. Banned substance use is driven by the belief that others are using it and not following suit reduces the chances of athletic success. Especially adolescents are vulnerable to controlling influences from significant others. Athletes with an external locus of control are more prone to use supplements and banned substances. Moral disengagement has been associated with the use of banned substances. The zero tolerance (ZT) approach to doping by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has not reduced the prevalence of doping. The harm reduction (HR) approach accepts the reality of widespread doping in sports and approaches the problem with the social drivers of doping in mind. Many athletes are willing to use substances to achieve their goals even at the expense of their health and wellbeing. It is therefore important to not only evaluate the prevalence of use in the adolescent athlete population, but to develop effective preventative interventions. Understanding adolescents’ knowledge, their preferred sources of information, attitudes and beliefs about sports supplements and banned substances are required in this regard. Therefore, the aim of this study was to develop a reliable measuring instrument (questionnaire) to be used in South Africa to assess the knowledge and attitudes of adolescent athletes about ergogenic aids and banned substances. The study was done in two phases. A mixed method research model was used to gather both quantitative and qualitative data. In the first phase of the study a questionnaire was developed and the relevancy and validity of the questionnaire ensured by means of qualitative research methods. In the second phase, the questionnaire was tested with a cohort of elite adolescent athletes of the University of the Free State Athletics Club, where both quantitative data (closed-ended questions) and qualitative data (open-ended questions) about the habits and knowledge of the cohort were gathered and analysed. The questionnaire was assessed as functional and user friendly. The majority of the athletes in the test population (90%) reported the use of sports supplements in the previous six months; however, all the participants (100%) claimed that they would refuse the use of banned substances even if its use was encouraged by a coach or trainer. The main reasons for using sports supplements were reported as “to increase energy” (65%), “aiding recovery” (45%), “to improve endurance” (35%), “to improve strength” (20%) and “to improve sporting performance” (15%). Thirty-five percent (35%) of the participants indicated that they were not aware of any dangers of sports supplements. Supplement information was obtained from the internet (35%), coaches (30%) and friends (30%). This complex social and health issue requires in-depth analysis and intervention, including holistic educational programmes. If these factors are addressed and their effects monitored, a positive contribution could be made to the knowledge and attitudes of adolescent athletes about ergogenic aids and banned substances in South Africa.