Until recently, elite athlete anti-doping education centered on event-driven outreach programs providing “just-in-time” knowledge, yet research and maturity acquired in anti-doping now show that information alone will not prevent doping.
WADA has channeled this greater understanding and knowledge into what is known as the Athlete Learning Program about Health & Anti-Doping (ALPHA), a program launched at the WADA Anti-Doping Organizations Symposium in March.
ALPHA adopts a fresh approach to anti-doping education by addressing how an athlete’s attitudes shape his or her intentions, and ultimately determine doping or anti-doping behaviors.
ALPHA also approaches doping issues from a positive mindset. “Instead of telling athletes ‘Don’t do this, this or that,’ which can come across as negative and daunting, ALPHA provides athletes with solutions,” explains Rob Koehler, WADA’s Director, Education & Program Development. “We want athletes to understand that a number of options and actions are available to them. None involve doping and all take into consideration an athlete’s need to perform and succeed.’”
In development for nearly two years, ALPHA brought together leading psychologists, behavioral scientists, education technologists, eLearning specialists, prevention specialists, as well as video testimonials from WADA’s Athlete Committee.
Athlete focus groups also contributed to the team approach, as athlete feedback was cited as central to ALPHA’s continual improvement and enhancement.
ALPHA was designed to be a state-of-the-art resource that Anti-Doping Organizations could easily implement and sustain. The program is available in English, with French and Spanish versions to follow later this year. Stakeholder demand will determine the need for further languages to follow.
Education on Doping Issues and Clean Solutions
ALPHA consists of eight sessions and takes two hours to complete. Athletes are encouraged to take the course in several stages. Progress is then saved from one visit to another.
A pre- and post-course anti-doping knowledge test and attitude survey are included to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. An ‘About You as a Person’ questionnaire measures the athlete’s level of kindness towards others. Responses can be submitted only once, and those that relate to attitude and kindness questions are anonymous.
A score of 80% or higher is required for ALPHA certification, though athletes with insufficient scores are able to repeat the program.
ALPHA’s first six sessions address the World Anti-Doping Code requirement for athletes to be educated on the following: Doping Control, Whereabouts, Therapeutic Use Exemptions and Results Management processes, and medical and ethical reasons not to dope. Sessions seven and eight offer practical help on how to stay clean and how to resist the pressure to dope.
Each session opens with a brief animated scenario depicting two athletes discussing a doping issue. An audiovisual tutorial follows this exchange. Relevant anti-doping terminology is bolded in blue, the definition appearing on mouse-over.
Each session closes with a scenario of the two athletes reviewing solutions: the tools and options available to the athlete to stay clean and never to engage in doping out of ignorance or vulnerability.
The Pledge to Play True appears at the start and finish of the program that athletes can sign to demonstrate their commitment to clean sport.
ALPHA includes several candid video testimonials from elite athletes. These peer-to-peer testimonials provide a point of reference, particularly on the role of patience and failure in sporting life.
Setbacks are part of the process. WADA Athlete Committee Member Andréanne Morin speaks from experience. It took eight years for the three-time Olympian in rowing to win her silver medal.
Experiencing ups and downs with periods of training hard, but not playing well, are considered part and parcel of sport’s nature.
“You just have to know you will start playing well again. It’s about having confidence that you’re doing the right thing,” says Pedro Yang, Olympic badminton player and member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes’ Commission. “We all fail in sports. But it is by failing that we learn to be better.”
Legitimacy and Acceptance
ALPHA also recognizes the relation of legitimacy to athlete acceptance.
WADA’s Manager, Education Léa Cléret explains. “Once athletes believe a process is legitimate, they are more likely to accept it. Present the rationale behind the multiple processes involved in doping control, and athletes immediately make the connection,” she says.
For ALPHA’s interactive “Reasoning Challenge” card game, athletes validate the rationale for clean sport. Athletes are asked to shuffle the deck, then click and drag the card that they think best completes the missing piece of an “if, then” statement related to doping.
Dynamic Duos: Coach True, Play True and ALPHA
ALPHA is the latest initiative to have joined WADA’s stable of eLearning tools, which includes Coach True, Play True Challenge and Play True Quiz.
In order to reinforce an effective cycle of anti-doping awareness and education, a combination of either the Youth Quiz and Play True Challenge (for ages 13 – 17), or the Youth Quiz and ALPHA (for ages 18 and older), can be adopted.
Koehler outlines the game plan:
- WADA’s Outreach Center raises anti-doping awareness at major sports events.
- Athletes register and take the Play True Quiz, providing their e-mail address.
- Shortly after, these athletes receive an e-mail on ALPHA certification.
- The athletes enroll, complete the program and are certified.
- A sixth-month booster session coincides perfectly with the next event. WADA’s Outreach Center performs double-duty: raising awareness and collecting data.
“ALPHA positions athletes at the center of their world,” concludes Cléret. “Athletes learn essential facts on anti-doping processes, how to handle risk situations, and are equipped with the tools they need to progress and compete clean.”