Doping will cause ongoing emotional harm to athletes, says leading sports psychologist

Professional Australian athletes using performance enhancing drugs are often unequipped to deal with the pressures they are facing, and run the risk of causing themselves not only physical but psychological harm by taking illegal and untested substances, according to one of Australia's leading sports psychologists.

Adjunct Associate Professor Patsy Tremayne is a former Commonwealth Games high board diving bronze medallist, and is a foundation member of the Australian Psychological Society's College of Sport and Exercise Psychologists (CoSEP). She was formerly a psychologist with the AFL Players Association.

Dr Tremayne says professional athletes, especially in team sports, sometimes adopt a hardcore mob mentality that could easily transfer into a culture where the clandestine use of performance enhancing drugs is accepted.

"For an athlete whose life revolves around training, playing and partying with the team, it's easy to see how there could be pressure to take performance enhancing substances if others in the team are doing it, especially if they have been sanctioned by the coach and the team doctor," says Dr Tremayne, from the School of Social Sciences and Psychology at UWS.

Besides the unknown damage many illegal and untested drugs can cause athletes, Dr Tremayne believes they potentially face ongoing psychological damage as they work to keep their activities undercover.

"The stress of covering up drug use would be ongoing. These athletes are essentially living a lie by keeping their doping to themselves and hiding it from their friends and families, and the constant subterfuge would eventually take a toll," she says.

"Not only that, many of these athletes will feel remorse for their actions long into the future, and instead of looking back at their careers with fondness they may later simply feel deep regret and shame because of their actions."

Dr Tremayne says the pressure for professional athletes to achieve is intense, as their performance is so publically scrutinised and easily measured, and compared, with others.

"The loss of income, or the angst associated with perceived high expectations from the coach, media, teammates and fans can tempt athletes to search for ways to obtain a performance edge," she says. 

"Sometimes the therapeutic drugs used for rehabilitation after serious injury, are the same drugs that can enhance performance, and you cannot rule out the possibility of continued drug use by athletes because of the fear of a performance slump due to slow recovery after injury."

Dr Tremayne has praised the resolve shown by the authorities to combat doping.

"If we can keep our sports clean then athletes will be competing on a level playing field, and it will avoid the temptations of drug use for those less disciplined athletes," she says.

"To quote John Wooden, a former legendary American basketball coach, 'mental toughness is about our character as a person, not just our ability to make plays.'"


11 February 2013

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer

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