By Dr. Andrew Jacobs
Over the past month, several stories have been reported about athletes who have been caught cheating.
In baseball, San Francisco Giant star outfielder, Melky Cabrera, the MVP of this year’s All Star Game and former Cy Young award winner, Bartolo Colon of the Oakland Athletics, both failed drug tests and were each suspended 50 games by Major League baseball. Both tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone. Each admitted they were guilty, apologized and took their suspensions.
In swimming, Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa the gold medalist in the 100 meter breaststroke, admitted he took extra dolphin kicks during his gold medal swim. According to van der Burgh, “If you’re not doing it you’re falling behind. It’s not obviously – shall we say – the moral thing to do, but I’m not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it.”
So far, no discipline has been taken against him. Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner, is going to be stripped of his titles and banned for life from cycling because of allegedly taking illegal substances during his career. Armstrong has never tested positive, but has been accused by many former teammates of taking illegal substances to enhance his performance. And finally, at the Scrabble National tournament a 13 year old player was evicted from the tournament after being caught hiding blank letter titles!!
WHY is this happening??? Why must athletes at these levels, even a 13 year old feel they must cheat?
Obviously, several factors play into this issue, but I think the core of all of it relates to fear and a lack of self confidence. Fear in many areas plays a role. There is a fear of failure, a fear of not living up to expectations of others, and a fear of not being good enough.
Van der Burgh stated it very clearly when he said that you are falling behind others if you are not doing it. Why can’t four years of training, pushing yourself to your natural limits be enough? I believe it is because athletes today feel they have to constantly look for an edge that will get them to the top.
Our society rewards winners and cheating has become in my opinion, too normal and too accepted. As I talk with athletes, coaches and parents in my practice and on my radio show, it seems that the pressure to win at all costs, now includes cheating as an acceptable behavior. Cabrera and Colon both admitted they cheated and took their punishment, but both made a lot of money doing so. And my guess is that both will probably get signed next year again by another team.
So what can we learn from this? I feel it is important to discuss cheating in the context of building self-confidence.
I believe that young athletes should be taught that confidence is about the belief that you will succeed and you will fail. No one likes to fail, but it is part of the learning curve in sports and if you teach young athletes to accept this and to not be scared of failure, the need to cheat will hopefully not be as easy to give in to as they progress in their sport.
What is your opinion?