Research Article: Sport motivation and doping in adolescent athletes

Date Published: October 4, 2018

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Jiri Mudrak, Pavel Slepicka, Irena Slepickova, Amir H. Pakpour.


Although performance-enhancing drugs appear to be prevalent in adolescent sports, relatively little attention has been paid to why adolescent athletes decide to use these drugs. In this study, we examine doping among adolescents from a motivational perspective and explore how motivational variables, such as achievement goal orientations and the perceived self-determination of sports activities, may be related to moral attitudes, doping intentions and doping behavior in adolescents who participate in competitive sports.

The study included 1035 adolescents participating in competitive sports from all regions of the Czech Republic (mean age = 16.3 years). The respondents completed a battery of questionnaires assessing their achievement goal orientations (task, ego), sports motivation at various levels of self-determination (intrinsic motivation, external regulation, amotivation), moral attitudes toward sport competition (acceptance of cheating, keeping winning in proportion, attitudes toward doping), doping intentions and doping behavior. A structural equation model was used to test the relations among motivational variables, attitudes, intentions and doping behavior.

Our analyses indicated a good fit with the proposed model, which explained 59% of the variance in doping intentions and 17.6% of the variance in doping behavior. Within the model, task orientation was positively associated with intrinsic motivation and lower amotivation, whereas ego orientation was positively associated with extrinsic regulation and amotivation. Furthermore, intrinsic motivation was positively associated with keeping winning in proportion and negatively associated with acceptance of cheating and attitudes toward doping; the less self-determined forms of motivation showed opposite relationships. However, only the acceptance of cheating and attitudes toward doping were related to doping intention, which subsequently predicted doping behavior.

The results provide further evidence that sports motivation represents a psychological variable that should be considered in anti-doping policies, programs, and interventions aimed at the adolescent population because motivation was linked to the doping-related attitudinal variables and also partially mediated the effect of achievement goal orientations in this regard. On the basis of these results, we may argue that the focus on intrinsic enjoyment, self-referenced criteria of success and self-improvement may be related to more negative attitudes toward doping and cheating, lower doping intentions and less frequent doping behavior, whereas the emphasis on competition, comparison with others and external motivation appear to be related to the opposite outcomes.

Partial Text

The abuse of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) represents a significant problem in both competitive and leisure sports. The use of PEDs violates the spirit of fair play [1] and represents a significant health concern because doping has been linked to a number of health issues, including cardiovascular, neurological, and psychiatric disorders [2–3]. The World Anti-Doping Agency [4] reported that approximately 1% of the tested samples from Olympic sports athletes and approximately 3% of the tested samples from non-Olympic sports athletes showed positive results for doping. However, these relatively low numbers contrast with the results of questionnaire surveys that suggest a much higher prevalence of doping: approximately 10%-15% of competitive and recreational athletes report past or current use of doping, with some studies suggesting even higher percentages [5]. (Doping represents an umbrella term encompassing PED use, blood doping, gene doping, etc. However, we use the term doping in the article to refer only to the use of PEDs.)

To understand the complexity of the psychosocial influences that determine an intentional behavior, Fishbein and Capella [33] proposed hierarchical relationships among behavior, an intention to carry out the behavior and behavior-related attitudes. Those authors suggested that “any given behavior is most likely to occur if one has a strong intention to perform the behavior, has the necessary skills and abilities required to perform the behavior, and there are no environmental or other constraints preventing behavioral performance” [33]. From this perspective, behavior-related intention is the direct determinant of a behavior, and we should strive to understand the factors that influence how an individual’s intentions to carry out a behavior are formed. Numerous studies have shown that doping-related attitudes represent a significant predictor of doping intentions [24, 27, 29]. However, we may hypothesize that the key attitudes related to doping intentions may be broader in scope and include more general attitudes toward cheating and winning in sports competition [19, 27] because the doping represents an instance of a cheating behavior [27] and has been related to increased emphasis on competition and winning in youth sports [19]. The attitudinal variables may then be considered proximal predictors of doping intentions that mediate the effects of other distant variables, including motivational beliefs [21, 24–25, 27].

Based on the theoretical framework introduced above, we formulated a set of hypotheses regarding the relationships among the constructs of achievement goal orientation, self-determined sport motivation, attitudes, intentions, and doping behavior. We empirically tested these hypotheses within the structural equation modeling framework on a large sample of Czech adolescents involved in competitive sports. The implemented structural model was based on the following hypotheses:

Descriptive statistics and correlations of all variables included in the analysis are reported in Table 2. We observed significant but rather weak correlations among the majority of the variables included in the analyses. There were moderate to strong correlations among the motivational variables, such as task orientation-intrinsic motivation (r = .396) and ego orientation-external regulation (r = .315). Additionally, we observed strong correlations between doping intention and attitudes toward doping (r = .513) and between doping intention and acceptance of cheating (r = .663).

As we hypothesized, the proposed model showed a good fit, and the observed relationships largely confirmed our expectations regarding the possible effects of sports motivation variables on doping attitudes, intentions and behavior in adolescent athletes. From the model, we may infer several main findings. First, doping intention may be perceived as an important predictor of doping behavior in competitive adolescent athletes, although not a perfect predictor. Overall, our model explained nearly the same amount of variance in doping behavior as an aggregate model based on meta-analysis of studies stemming from the theory of planned behavior, in which doping intentions were also used as the proximal predictor of doping behavior [5]. As argued by Fishbein [33], behavior-related intentions are particularly predictive of behavior when people have an opportunity to engage in the behavior and no environmental constraints are present. This is, of course, not a case of doping in adolescent athletes because this group can be expected to have limited access to doping and also perceive severe penalties related to doping. Therefore, we may argue that other variables also should be considered to explain doping behavior; simultaneously, however, doping intentions represent an important factor that should be targeted in doping prevention [24, 27, 29].

The present research makes theoretical as well as practical contributions. Theoretically, we used well-established constructs of sports motivation and tested their hypothesized relations with doping-related variables in a complex model, largely confirming our hypotheses regarding the possible effects of achievement goal orientations and self-determined sports motivation. The tested model suggests a series of relationships between sports motivation and doping-related variables that are partially modifiable. Our findings thus suggest practical implications that may be used in doping-prevention efforts. First, it seems that it would be useful to target both doping-specific attitudes and general moral attitudes to decrease doping intentions and perhaps doping behavior. Second, sports motivation appears to play a significant role in attitudes toward doping and cheating and consequently toward doping intentions and actual doping behavior. The dimensions of sports motivation related to intrinsic immersion in the activity appear to have beneficial effects whereas the less self-determined forms of sports motivation may have some undesirable effects with regard to doping. Third, our results also suggest that achievement goal orientations are related to different levels of self-determination in sports activities and through this path, also to moral attitudes. In this manner, self-referenced task-goal orientations focusing on self-improvement appear to be beneficial whereas ego-goal orientations toward competition and comparison with others seem to have some detrimental effects. Therefore, our results further support the suggestions of numerous authors [9, 19–21, 63, 66] that the values present in contemporary youth sports that emphasize high-level performance, success in competition and victory at all costs may have negative consequences, including a greater susceptibility to doping. Positive change could come from parents, coaches, and teachers as well as sports and educational organizations, which all co-create a motivational climate and provide feedback that shapes individual motivational orientations [39, 67]. On this basis, we should once again endorse the classic Coubertin motto that “the important thing is not winning but taking part; the essential thing is not conquering but fighting well”.




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