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Doping in Sport: Do Parents Matter?

Do parents matter when it comes to doping?

It’s a simple question, but the answer can have profound implications.

What does existing research tell us?

  • In research comparing performance enhancing drug (PED) users and non-users, PED using athletes had a marked history of poor and dysfunctional relationships with their parents (Laure, Lecerf, Friser, & Binsinger, 2004).
  • Multiple sanctioned professional athletes – including Lance Armstrong (Macur, 2014) and Dwain Chambers (Chambers, 2009) - have openly spoken about negative and/or non-existent relationships with a parent.
  • Among athlete support networks, family and friends possessed the least amount of doping knowledge (Mazanov, Backhouse, Connor, Hemphill, & Quirk, 2014).

Scary, isn't it?

However, that's not all. More recently, research I conducted with British university track and field student-athletes reiterated initial findings suggesting that ‘YES’, parents matter in the context of doping.

Specifically, parents were influential in shaping student-athletes’

attitudes, experiences, and behaviours towards PEDs. Within my research, parents served as a deterrent to doping.

Parents as Deterrents for Doping.

Deterrent: a thing that discourages or is intended

to discourage someone from doing something


How can parents serve as a deterrent to doping?

Within this group of British track and field student-athletes, parents were influential in deterring doping in three key ways:

1.  Shaping athletes’ initial sense of ‘right and wrong’

Parents' views informed athletes’ sense of right and wrong, as well as the evolution of their personal morals over time. In turn, these same morals influence the way athletes currently approached PEDs. When discussing their views toward doping in sport, student-athletes commonly made references to the way they were raised and what their parents reinforced in relation to right and wrong behaviours.

Since leaving home, these athletes had adopted the morals instilled by their parents

and now apply them to the context of doping in sport.


Interestingly, for many student-athletes, it was not until our conversation that they made the connection between the way they were raised and the way they currently view the issue of doping

2.  Offering continued support to athletes.

Athletes spoke of their parents sacrificing for them and helping establish their careers. They also suggested that parents were – and are – their main support group. Establishing a strong relationship with parent(s) early in life resulted in enduring connections.

In their current situations, athletes continued to turn to parents

for support, comfort, and guidance with decision-making.

Parents did – and do – represent a key source of support for these student-athletes in relation to their sport careers and beyond

3.  Pay Respect

Athletes demonstrated a desire to give back to their parents and assure them that their time and effort in supporting their athletic careers was not spent in vain. Assuming their parents would NOT approve of doping, athletes were deterred from doping given their desire to ‘pay respects’ to their parents.

Athletes assumed that doping would be seen as

disrespectful and disappointing to their parents.


In sum, athletes' assumption that parents would NOT approve of doping served as deterrent.

Summary of Key Findings

  • Parents (can) play an important role in influencing athletes’ likelihood to use banned substances in sport
  • Student-athletes developed a resistance to doping as a result (in part at least) to their parents’ influence
  • Parents become significant from an athlete’s earliest days, either directly or indirectly establishing their initial sense of right and wrong
  • Athletes commonly transferred (and applied) the personal morals they established in childhood to the context of doping in sport
  • Parents (in)directly influenced athletes’ attitudes, experiences, and behaviours towards PEDs

Key Implications

  • If parents can/do indirectly influence athletes’ attitudes, experiences, and behaviours towards PEDs, then they can also DIRECTLY influence them
  • Therefore, parents can (and should) be utilized as a vessel to directly transmit anti-doping messages to athletes


If you are a parent, you must recognize and accept your role in preventing doping in sport. A key part of that is being educated and informed on anti-doping rules and regulations. Engaging with anti-doping education efforts is critical for you, in the same way that it is essential for your kids.

How can parents actively engage in doping prevention?

  • Recognize and accept that you have a role to play in deterring doping
  • Engage with anti-doping education and become educated on key matters (e.g., risks, facts, warning signs)
  • Be mindful of the fact that you can indirectly influence athletes’ doping attitudes, experiences, and behaviours
  • Have (on-going) direct conversations with your children about doping issues (e.g., risks, facts)
  • Reiterate that you do NOT approve of doping in sport

Final Thoughts

As parents, you are in a prime position to influence and shape the way your children approach and experience sport. My research has highlighted that parents can indirectly serve as a deterrent to athletes’ using PEDs. Why not directly serve as a deterrent? Engaging with anti-doping education and transmitting that information to your children is an excellent place to start!

Where can I learn more?

National Institute of Drug Abuse: www.drugabuse.gov 

Taylor Hooton Foundation: www.taylorhooton.org

TrueSport: www.truesport.org

UK Anti-Doping: http://www.100percentme.co.uk/education/parents/

World Anti-Doping Agency: www.wada-ama.org


Chambers, D. (2009). Race Against Me: My Story: Libros International.

Erickson, K., Backhouse, S. H., & Carless, D. (2017). Doping in Sport: Do Parents Matter? Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. doi:10.1037/spy0000081

Laure, P., Lecerf, T., Friser, A., & Binsinger, C. (2004). Drugs, Recreational Drug Use and Attitudes Towards Doping of High School Athletes. International journal of sports medicine, 25(2), 133-138. 

Macur, J. (2014). Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong: HarperCollins.

Mazanov, J., Backhouse, S., Connor, J., Hemphill, D., & Quirk, F. (2014). Athlete support personnel and anti-doping: Knowledge, attitudes, and ethical stance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(5), 846-856. 

You can follow Dr Erickson @kelslee777


Dr. Kelsey Erickson is a Research Fellow in the Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure (ISPAL) at Leeds Beckett University, UK. Her expertise is in the psychology of drugs in sport and she is particularly interested in developing an understanding of the psychosocial factors that influence performance and image enhancing drug use. Given her cross-cultural background (former US and UK student-athlete), exploring potential cultural and contextual differences associated with doping behavior is of particular interest. You can follow Kelsey @kelslee777