Chemical curriculum introduction continues tonight in EdwardsburgPublished 8:38am Wednesday, September 30, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Sixty-one percent of NCAA athletes say their social drug use has impacted practice or game performance.
“That’s two thirds. That’s pretty bad,” John Underwood said Tuesday night at Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center, bringing his chemical curriculum to Cass County. “This is today’s culture. We play hard. We party hard.”
For not much of a return on investment for parents who pour thousands into equipment, travel teams, even Gatorade.
With three teen student-athletes, “I must spend thousands a year on Gatorade,” he said. “You can gather data in your own school districts with a survey and go to parents with this information and Boards of Education. You will have so many people say, ‘This is wrong and we need to do something about it.’
“Even people who reach the top level of sport maybe realize 80 to 85 percent of their full potential. Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, 90 percent. We think it’s around 40 to 65 percent of the students you coach from seventh to 12th grades.
“You may have kids come in at 20 and get them to 40. Or, 35 and get them to 55. It’s not a homogeneous population. They come in all varying levels of talents that you have to deal with, like math class.
“Our goal is to take them as far as we can. You know what our other goal should be? To do it in the best way possible. That shouldn’t even be negotiable with all the money invested in salaries, equipment, fields, lights and uniforms that will be wasted if we don’t do it in the best way possible.”
If 14 percent of seventh graders admit drinking alcohol, “the single biggest increase in the whole continuum” is the 13.4 percent jump by eighth grade. By senior year, two in every three consume alcohol during the school year, according to survey data from 817,000 high school students studied in 39 states.
“Athletes have to realize that they have to live a lifestyle that’s conducive to optimal performance – and that’s not happening,” Underwood said.
“Kids today on all levels have no reservations about hanging out and being around kids who do drugs or doing drugs themselves. It’s not going to help anybody to have student-athletes hang out with people who are smoking pot or drinking. Is there any coach here who thinks it’s okay or wants your student-athletes hanging out with kids who are smoking pot and drinking? Because last week in Nebraska I had my first one.
“As a parent, you make the same decision: You can know your kids’ friends and what they’re doing or you can leave it a giant question mark. Sometimes that can be a really dangerous situation.”
Underwood cited a survey showing that 7 percent of people who don’t drink don’t think it hurts athletic performance; moderate drinkers, 45 percent; heavy drinkers, 59 percent. “That’s denial,” he said.
Underwood said the “scary part” is that teens teeming with testosterone can party and continue to improve until age 23, before hormone levels begin to decline.
“When you’re 80 you’ll have no hormones. These kids are getting huge amounts of muscle mass. It slows down in college, but in high school they’re not going to connect the dots. I love dealing with high school kids because they’re the ones you can influence the most,” he said.
“I was just up in Canada a few weeks ago talking to 150 national coaches,” Underwood related. “I had talked to their women’s Olympic hockey team. Every sport in Canada was represented. We have these programs because parents don’t get it, kids don’t get it and coaches don’t get it: ‘That’s just what kids do. We did it,’ ” except the THC in marijuana is 10 times more potent than in their day.
“If we give people better information, they tend to make better decisions,” he said. “We have started fourth, fifth and sixth graders on this program.”
Research shows almost 70 percent of elite athletes use alcohol, he said, with 12 percent drinking in sixth grade. That number increases to 58 percent by senior year of high school. “That’s higher than the general population; 49 percent of students drink regularly. When they go to college, it goes way up into the 80s and 90s before it comes back down.
“When all things are equal, and you can win by a run, a goal, a free throw, think how many games you’ve lost by a point or a step,” Underwood said.
“The 1-percent factor has to do with your lifestyle. There are three parts of training. That’s the biggest misnomer. Kids think you train and you get better. You train, you recover from it, then you get the adaptation. It’s a triad. You can play the same, play better or play worse. What do you think you’re going to do with pot or alcohol? After 10 years of studying this, we’ve not found one positive effect of alcohol on athletic performance. There are none. They’re all negative. It’s a lifestyle decision, plain and simple. Kids grow up around it, seeing the example set by adults and parents and the cultural examples of how prevalent alcohol abuse is. You coaches are the biggest role models for your programs, and it’s a lot different than when we were kids. Parents want to say, ‘We did it.’ Well, we didn’t do it when we were 12 years old, and that’s the problem. It’s getting younger, plain and simple, because of the lack of guidance from adults – especially parents. Parents want to blame everyone around them – the school, the community. The alcohol industry is $22.5 billion, and only $6 billion of it is college drinking. Do the math.”
While boys take their first sip at age 11.9 compared to 13.1 for girls, regular drinking with a pattern, such as every Friday night, begins at 15.9 years. Once they start drinking, girls outpace boys until age 18. Boys drink more by age 19. Of those kids who start drinking before 15, 40 percent can look forward to becoming chemically addicted.
“This is one lottery you don’t want to win,” he said. “I’ve heard coaches say, ‘My role is to win games, not all this stuff.’ Come off that. Your job is to influence the life of a kid. You chose to do it. Like I told both groups of kids today, anything of value the rest of your life, it’s not just what you’re willing to give to get it, it’s what you’re willing to give up.
“These kids nowadays want to do it all and be just like everybody else without the sacrifices it takes to live your life a different way to get something different. That’s a problem. When you talk to Olympic athletes, the question they often get after they win is, ‘Could you imagine in your wildest dreams that you’d be standing up here with a medal around your neck?’ They say, ‘Yeah, I’ve thought about it every day of my life.’ You make incredible sacrifices to reach the elite level of anything or go to some great school like Harvard. Parents sacrifice to make good things happen for their children – or they don’t.”
Underwood cautions young athletes about wasting time by breaking their seasons down.
“Senior year isn’t. It’s not even a half year, it’s 180 days. A high school season is 10 to 12 weeks. You guys have played five weeks. Can you give up this stuff for 70 to 84 days and be at your best? How can you not if you care about winning and being successful? And yet they won’t. Kids think they have all the time in the world, but they don’t. Two percent of high school athletes go on to any level of NCAA sport. There’s a statistic for you and parents who think their child is going on to the NBA or NHL – 1/100th of 1 percent will be on a national, Olympic or professional team. Have the dream, but realize you need a backup plan.”
Sports are not like other pursuits such as art and music which you can methodically improve your skills throughout life.
“Sports has a very small window of opportunity,” said Underwood, who recently visited the University of New Hampshire. Last year he presented at Central Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University and the University of Michigan.
Life of an Athlete, or LOA, is a free five-part curriculum required in New York state.
Underwood lives an hour from Lake Placid, where, on Feb. 22, 1980, at the Winter Olympics the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union.
The “Miracle on Ice” was selected in 2008 as the international hockey story of the century.
The five parts include athletic codes of conduct, seven non-negotiable conditions for involvement in high school sports (serious criminal acts – assault, stealing or sexual assault; out of character behavior – insubordination; social drug use; supplement/steroid use; cyber images; not maintaining academics standards; and hazing), coaching effectiveness training, developing leadership to confront behaviors of concern and stakeholder unity. It takes five years to fully implement LOA.
A former NCAA All-American, Underwood was an international-level distance runner and World Masters Champion. He has coached or advised 28 Olympians, including five medalists.
He grew up in a “powerhouse” upstate New York town of 10,000, the son of the athletic director and football coach.
He started college as a health science major, but became a coach “because it’s all I ever wanted to do.” Since, he studied three years in Europe to become a physiologist.
Underwood consults with the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention to address underage drinking issues on U.S. military bases.
“I’m the lead consultant for the Navy SEALs on the Human Performance Project,” Underwood said. “That’s my favorite project, believe it or not.”
Besides conducting the only physiological case study of the residual effect of alcohol on elite athletic performance, Underwood has appeared as a guest commentator for ABC Wide World of Sports on Olympic drug scandals.
He has worked with almost all sports federations, including the NCAA, ECAC, NHL, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Sport Canada and the International Olympic Committee.
Earlier in the day, before addressing coaches and administrators Tuesday night for 75 minutes at Dowagiac Middle School Performing Arts Center, Underwood made presentations to Union High School athletes and to DMS sixth, seventh and eighth graders about his American Athletic Institute sport consulting firm’s prevention and intervention series on chemical health, “Pure Performance.”
Seven hundred and 75 school districts in New York state implemented this curriculum over the past five years. New York has 370,000 seventh and eighth grade athletes, 585,000 high school athletes and 60,000 licensed coaches who can lose their positions for a drunk driving infraction.
“Get rid of the word ‘drug,’ ” he said. “It should be student chemical health. As soon as you say the word ‘drug,’ (whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, caffeine or energy drinks guzzled to compensate for inadequate sleep), the fire doors come down. People don’t want to talk about it. Even their nutrition is not conducive to them being successful. We’ve written a diet program for high school athletes and their parents because the kids aren’t the ones buying the food.”
Van Buren-Cass District Health Department, in collaboration with the Michigan Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (MCRUD) has taken the initiative to introduce the program in these two counties.
Tracy Johnson and E.J. McAndrew of the district health department are AAI-certified trainers and can provide LOA training free of charge.
Underwood will be repeating his presentation tonight at the Edwardsburg PAC so Marcellus and Cassopolis educators can pick whichever night best fits their schedules.
Cass County Sheriff Joseph Underwood attended; his office, like Lewis Cass Intermediate School District, is a community partner.
AAI’s (www.americanathleticinstitute.org) approach couples elite athletic experience with scientific research.
The focus is on athletes because of studies indicating that athletes as early as middle school are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as drugs, carrying weapons, unsafe sexual practices and fighting.
In addition to being at a higher risk, 65 percent of seventh to 12 graders in Cass and Van Buren counties participate in at least one school sport, which allows for a positive impact on a larger percentage of students in the school system.
Athletes also experience the most health and performance benefits from the LOA program, which is more than a conduct code.
The program provides training and education for athletes, coaches and parents on the damaging effect of alcohol and other drugs, such as marijuana, on performance and brain development and guidance on addressing chemical health issues.
LOA furnishes guidelines to schools that have been tested and proven to improve the quality and integrity of athletic programs.
LOA develops teams led by exceptional, well-rounded student-athletes.
Annual mandatory meetings for athletes and parents keep everyone informed of policy and rules changes, potential health hazards and physical fitness research.
Most importantly, it reconfirms everyone’s commitment to providing a safe and healthy environment for student-athletes.