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Student-athlete gambling: the invisible problem.

Gambling is well-accepted in our adult culture, particularly in sports. But it is hardly confined to adults. It has definitely become a hidden or at-risk behavior on both the high school and college levels, and it merits a lot of extra attention as an administrative and coaching issue.

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Allow us to shed a little stronger light on this "invisible" problem and provide a few recommendations for the coach and athletic administrator.

IS GAMBLING A PROBLEM?

Several factors have set a stage for the problem. An increase in legalized forms of gambling in some states, the sharp rise in internet gambling opportunities, the recent commercialization of gambling in the media (e.g., ESPN), the mixed messages sent by accepted gambling practices in our culture (e.g., raffles, lottery, etc.), and an increased emphasis on competition at younger ages are all factors behind the rise of gambling behaviors and problems among adolescents.

Recent research findings point to an alarming trend in youth gambling. Consider these interesting results reported in the literature:

* Approximately two-thirds of our college athletes gamble--one-third of collegiate male athletes and 10% of female athletes bet on college sports in the last year.

* Division III college athletes are the most likely to gamble.

* Gambling behavior increases significantly from ages 16-18.

* Adolescents are more likely to be pathological or addictive gamblers than adults.

* Most adult problem gamblers developed their addiction during their adolescent years.

* College athletes in non-revenue sports were most likely to wager on college sports.

Logic suggests that our high school athletes require special help for their gambling proclivities. First, the trends in high school sports usually follow trends at the college level. With the alarming increase of gambling on the higher levels, especially Division III, you have to worry about the scholastic setting.

Second, while the Division I athletes are monitored closely for gambling, little policing is done with DIII athletes.

The apparent lack of monitoring probably accounts for the bad statistics in DIII--its athletes have produced the largest increase in gambling problems. A similar landscape probably exists in scholastic sports.

Third, many athletes are risk-takers and competitive, perhaps predisposing them to gambling.

Finally, since we are assuming that most adult gamblers develop the habit in their adolescent years, can we deduce that it all begins on the high school level?

WHAT'S WRONG WITH GAMBLING?

Gambling is the invisible addiction. While alcohol and drug abuse are often easily detected, gambling behavior is not. At the moment, it may not even be on the radar of administrators or coaches as an at-risk behavior. An athlete who is performing poorly because of alcohol or drugs is much easier to detect than one who is spending too much time gambling.

To be sure, many youths gamble harmlessly on certain activities with no negative effects (e.g., cards, lottery, golf, etc.). The concern arises primarily when athletes bet on sports at their level of competition and, in the worst-case scenario, bet on the contests in which they are involved.

Attention should also be given to the addictive nature of gambling. We should be concerned about the two areas that are dearest to the hearts and minds of all scholastic coaches and administrators.

ATHLETE DEVELOPMENT

Our current national coaching standards (National Association of Sport and Physical Education) maintain that all coaches should adopt an "athlete-centered" philosophy.

For the scholastic coach, this means promoting behaviors that develop young athletes positively and in preparation for their adult life.

The problem gambling trend is one with potentially negative effects in personal, family, and career pursuits. In short, gambling can get in the way of normal and positive adolescent development.

With current gambling rates higher in adolescents than in adults, there is cause for concern. The values, attitudes, and character traits learned in adolescence (and during adolescent sports) are most transferable to adulthood.

Remember, most at-risk behaviors reported in collegiate athletes (substance abuse, gambling) begin in high school. The thrill of competition and the striving for victory in sports is a potential breeding ground for the development of risk-taking behaviors. If we are to argue that we teach through sport, and that it has the potential to develop positive values and behaviors, we must accept that it also has the potential to develop negative ones. Coaches and administrators should stand tall as a leader of fair competition and positive and appropriate risk-taking behaviors.

ETHICS OF THE SPORT

Athletes gambling on sports threaten the moral fiber and integrity of sport. While high-profile cases such as Pete Rose and Arizona State grab the headlines, it is the "silent" prevalence of gambling on lower profile high school and college sports that threatens the purpose and role of sport at these levels.

For example, lower profile DIII athletes and college athletes in non-revenue sports such as golf, lacrosse, and wrestling are more prone to wager on college sports. High school athletes wagering on sports threaten the educational purpose of sport in the school setting.

If we are to lobby the role of sports as an integral part of the educational system, the integrity of sport at this level is paramount. While professional sports may be a different animal altogether, we must not permit a compromise of the values and integrity of sport at the educational levels.

WHAT'S A COACH OR ADMINISTRATOR TO DO?

Coaches might ask themselves, "Why should I worry if my athletes want to gamble in their free time on activities such as cards or billiards?" Most research suggests a progression of gambling behaviors in athletes, with gambling starting at the recreational or social level (e.g., cards and dice) and escalating to more high stake forms such as sports in which they have involvement or inside information.

For most young athletes who bet on sports, recreational gambling no longer satisfies their desire to take more and greater risks. We should be aware of this natural progression of gambling behaviors, beginning at middle and high school ages.

The NCAA is taking a leadership role at the national level to address this problem before it reaches "crisis" proportions. NCAA president Myles Brand established a national task force to study and recommend strategies to curb gambling habits among athletes.

We suggest a similar position for high school athletics. At the very least, readers of this magazine should be aware of the emerging problem, and be prepared to recognize preliminary warning signs of problem gambling in young athletes.

These "visible" warning signs are often similar to other addictive behaviors, and are presented in Table 1. Armed with an awareness and recognition of gambling behaviors, coaches and administrators can begin work on addressing and preventing the development of negative gambling behaviors. A five-step prevention approach is provided in Table 2.

If gambling among young athletes is ignored, their behaviors may easily escalate into habits and negative actions that can harm both the well being of the student-athlete and the integrity of scholastic sport.

By Dr. Gib Darden & Dr. Don Rockey, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC
Table 1. Top 10 Warning Signs of Problem Gambling Behaviors for High
School Athletes

 1. The athlete seems preoccupied with gambling and/or betting, even if
 not with sports, and even if just with "harmless" recreational
 activities such as cards.
 2. The athlete seems all too willing to "bet" on anything during a
 normal day.
 3. The athlete shows a need to gamble with increasing amounts of risk
 or money to achieve satisfaction.
 4. The athlete resists or avoids suggestions to control or stop
 gambling, and may act agitated if attempting to cut back.
 5. The athlete uses gambling as a way to escape other problems, replace
 work, or relieve stress or depression.
 6. The athlete gambles on consecutive days, perhaps trying to get even
 on earlier losses.
 7. The athlete tries to hide the extent of his/her gambling involvement
 from family members, teammates, and coaches.
 8. The athlete jeopardizes a significant relationship, job,
 educational, athletic, or career opportunity because of gambling.
 9. The athlete loses sleep or study time due to gambling or betting.
10. The athlete asks others to help finance gambling or betting.

Table 2. Five-Step Approach to Address Problem Gambling Among High
School Athletes

1. Increase Education Among Your Players.
 Include gambling among other ethical or at-risk behaviors such as
 drug use, eating disorders, cheating, and sportsmanship. Share
 videos, web sites, and reading materials on the topic.
2. Communicate with Other School Personnel.
 Athletes are often skilled at hiding behaviors from their coach. Make
 school personnel aware of the issue of gambling. If it is becoming a
 problem for an athlete, someone else in school likely knows about it.
3. Inquire.
 Ask your local, state, and national associations about what is being
 done to address gambling in high school sports. Apply available NCAA
 guidelines and strategies if appropriate. Seek assistance from state
 or national gambling agencies who specialize in problem gambling.
4. Revisit Team Policies.
 Review current team rules and conduct policies to assure that they
 address team expectations with regard to gambling behaviors.
5. Review Mission of Team and High School.
 Review current school policies with respect to gambling and fund-
 raising to assure that they support the high school's and team's
 mission and values. Forms of gambling such as raffles are commonly
 used to raise money for sporting teams. Does this send mixed signals?
 At the very least, work to emphasize forms of appropriate gambling
 and gambling in moderation.
COPYRIGHT 2006 Scholastic, Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Rockey, Don
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:1570
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