The Future of Tobacco-Free Sports: Best Practices for Coaches and Teams
The relationship between sport and tobacco is a long and complicated one. Tobacco and tobacco products have been supported, advertised, and instrumental in many areas of the sport industry around the world since, in some cases, the two industries’ respective beginnings. And the tobacco industry has, in turn, often held a prominent position amongst the supporters and funders of sporting endeavors.
However, many of today’s tobacco products have been conclusively proven to be harmful, damaging, and highly addictive. A massive effort has begun to remove tobacco’s influence from sporting environments.
Stakeholders across the board are working to help athletes and sporting environments steer clear of tobacco. Here are some best practices to encourage a shift away from tobacco within your team or sport organization.
Why Reaching a Tobacco-Free Sports Landscape is so Important
The most dangerous consequence of ingesting or inhaling tobacco through cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and other forms of tobacco products is contracting lung cancer (or other types of cancers). Though impressive developments are being made in the realm of cancer treatment technology and practices, cancer is still a deadly diagnosis in many cases and can be a difficult, expensive, treacherous road. The causal relationship between tobacco product usage and higher rates of cancer is strongly supported by academic research.
Tobacco has been proven highly harmful to its users and should no longer be associated with sport or athleticism. Because tobacco causes particularly devastating problems for one’s lungs and breathing capacity, its historic association and close relationship with sport is particularly ironic. Removing the associations between sport and tobacco products is a vital part of reducing tobacco use and adoption to protect people from endangering their health.
Does Tobacco Affect Your Team? How Do You Know?
Depending on your sport, geographical location, and the type of athlete that you work with, you may never need to engage with tobacco usage with your players, your staff, or your stakeholders. However, some coaches might be surprised to find out that tobacco products are being used within their teams or organizations. If you are a coach or someone in a leadership role for a sport organization, don’t assume that no one in your purview is using tobacco.
Regardless of your sporting context, you can help positively influence those within your organization or team towards better tobacco usage choices. If you are a coach, make it a priority to talk to your players and staff about tobacco usage. If your organization has a policy or stance on using tobacco, it’s important to make sure your team knows what that is. And whether there is a standing policy or not, it’s important to share with your team the realities and risks of tobacco products. Even if you aren’t a coach, you can use your voice to propel this conversation as well. Whether you’re an athlete, trainer, volunteer, parent, or other stakeholder, ask if you can share with the team or organization about tobacco and initiate more conversation and awareness around the topic to get the ball rolling.
How to Support Athletes, Staff, or Other Stakeholders if They Struggle with Tobacco Usage
Tobacco usage can be a sensitive, difficult topic to discuss within a team or organization. This can be because of its stigma, its reputation, its addictive properties, or its controversial politics. It’s important to tread lightly and to help move your team or organization in a positive direction rather than risk shutting people down or creating division. Here are a few helpful practices that can help you establish a positive tobacco treatment strategy for your team:
Be Clear with Any Policies or Requirements
Before addressing tobacco usage with your team or organization, it’s important to know whether your organization has any pre-existing policies or rules in place. You don’t want to use language or institute expectations that are different from your organizations. After you know whether there are any existing policies you need to respect, you can develop any additional or necessary rules and communicate them clearly with your team.
Educate, Don’t Lecture
Tobacco usage is still surrounded by plenty of misinformation. If you have players or organization members that might use tobacco products, chances are that they don’t know the extent of tobacco’s risks, the resources available to them to help them curb any addictions, or both. It’s important to take an informative and educational (rather than judgmental) approach when talking to your team or organization about tobacco.
It Starts at the Top
It should go without saying that if you plan to restrict tobacco usage or discourage your organization from engaging with tobacco products, you should definitely not be a tobacco user yourself. Likewise, any other leadership within your organization should also be committed to living tobacco-free so that you don’t send mixed messages to your players or organization. Make sure you have conversations with your leadership and any other coaches or management first before you plan to make team-wide announcements about tobacco use.
Make Your Organization or Team into a Supportive Environment
If anyone on your team or in your organization currently uses tobacco products and wants to stop, they will greatly benefit from a supportive, collaborative, open environment in which to deal with tobacco usage and move past addiction. This might include allowing space to talk about tobacco in healthy environments or settings within the team, making sure the locker room or workout facility is stocked with helpful alternative snacks like nuts or hard candies that can help mitigate cravings, and setting up regular support meetings or check-ins with coaches.
Get Help from the Outside
It takes a village to help individuals curb tobacco addictions. If you have members of your organization that are working to end tobacco usage, connect with entities outside the team to help align efforts and provide a cohesive support network for those individuals. Talk to parents or caregivers when applicable and connect with support organizations and resources outside the team to make sure you are providing strong, uninterrupted support for your team members.
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