June 4, 2020

Young members set to reap lifelong rewards as sporting clubs re-open

Junior club members and coach in training

With sport starting to resume to varying degrees around the country, the role of the community sporting club is as important as ever.

As we tentatively emerge from COVID-19 isolation, local clubs can once again open their doors to members and provide an important sense of community and belonging – feelings we have yearned for during the recent sporting blackout. Clubs can also continue to position themselves as an important protective factor against alcohol and other drug harms.

Many Australians are involved in one or several types of sporting clubs at some point in their lives – especially young people, whose connection to their club can be a core part of their identity as they grow up and find their place in the world.

While going through significant social, physiological and developmental changes; this is a time when some young people begin experimenting with alcohol and other drugs.1 It is also a time when involvement in recreational activities, such as sport, can be a particularly positive influence.

Why does sport matter?

Sport is often viewed as a vehicle to achieve beneficial health outcomes.2

For young people, the physical upside can include increased fitness, decreased body fat and a reduced likelihood of developing serious health conditions later in life, such as heart disease, stroke or diabetes.3

While there are many physical advantages of participating in sport, the mental and social aspects are also beneficial.

Youth sport participation can help with general skill development, maturation, transferrable life skills (e.g. time management) and positive mental health outcomes.4

Sport is also linked to promoting positive social behaviours such as empathy, social (community) connectedness, social capital, positive peer relationships as well as positive ethical and moral behaviour.4

Sporting clubs as a protective factor

A young person’s involvement in a sporting club may mean that they experience enhanced feelings of social acceptance and lower feelings of social isolation. This can lead to increased self-esteem and decreased feelings of depression and anxiety – feelings that may be linked to alcohol and drug use.3

Playing sport might also increase feelings of self-control, self-regulation and mastery, which can impact a young person’s decision-making abilities.4 For example, adolescent athletes might be less inclined to smoke cigarettes than non-athletes because cigarette smoking is viewed as unhealthy and can directly influence athletic performance.5

Drinking cultures

While sporting clubs provide young people with many benefits, it is important to recognise that the peer-group interactions within a club can normalise a drinking culture that encourages risky levels of alcohol consumption.5-7

Many junior sporting clubs operate from a facility with a formal bar and canteen where alcohol is available during and after a competitive match, after training and during social events.7 As a result, there is potential for alcohol to be sold to or consumed by young people under the age of 18.

A study was conducted in regional Victoria during the 2016-17 sporting season in which a male who looked younger than 18 years of age successfully purchased alcohol from 41 of 43 sporting clubs, with only four clubs asking for proof of identification.7

What can clubs do?

Watching adults frequently drink and enjoy alcohol is linked to the development of a young person’s positive expectations of their own use of alcohol.8

As a result, young people at a sporting club might be influenced by the drinking behaviours they observe from parents, coaches and other adults.

To minimise the potential for negative influences, clubs should adhere to their liquor license obligations, which include:

  • not selling alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years or intoxicated patrons
  • making sure serving staff have achieved their Responsible Serving of Alcohol accreditation
  • ensuring the supply of alcohol is only during specific times
  • ensuring supply and consumption of alcohol is within an approved ‘red-line’ area
  • not permitting drunk or disorderly patrons on licenced premises.7

Good Sports

To further encourage a healthy club environment, clubs can sign up to the Good Sports program.

Good Sports helps clubs to not only comply with liquor licensing laws, but also implement further strategies such as providing food and low alcohol beverages while the bar is open, and safe transport arrangements to avoid drink driving.9

Good Sports clubs can also become involved with the Tackling Illegal Drugs (TID) program. The TID program works with clubs to develop and implement an illegal drugs policy so that clubs can be prepared to respond appropriately should an illegal drug incident occur. When dealing with alcohol or illicit drug use at a sporting club, it is important that members and young people are dealt with fairly, with respect and without added stigma. The goal is to reduce further harm on not only the club, but also the individual and their family.

  1. Stone AL, Becker LG, Huber AM, Catalano RF. Review of risk and protective factors of substance use and problem use in emerging adulthood. Addictive Behaviors. 2012;37(7):747-75.
  2. Edwards MB, Rowe K. Managing sport for health: An introduction to the special issue. Sport Management Review. 2019;22(1):1-4.
  3. Eime RM, Young JA, Harvey JT, Charity MJ, Payne WR. A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport. International journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity. 2013;10(1):98.
  4. Clark HJ, Camiré M, Wade TJ, Cairney J. Sport participation and its association with social and psychological factors known to predict substance use and abuse among youth: A scoping review of the literature. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 2015;8(1):224-50.
  5. Cristello JV, Trucco EM, Zucker RA. Exploring pathways to substance use: A longitudinal examination of adolescent sport involvement, aggression, and peer substance use. Addictive Behaviors. 2020;104:106316.
  6. Kwan M, Bobko S, Faulkner G, Donnelly P, Cairney J. Sport participation and alcohol and illicit drug use in adolescents and young adults: A systematic review of longitudinal studies. Addictive Behaviors. 2014;39(3):497-506.
  7. Kremer P, Crooks N, Rowland B, Hall J, Toumbourou JW. Underage alcohol sales in community sporting clubs. Drug and Alcohol Review. 2018;37(7):879-86.
  8. Smit K, Voogt C, Hiemstra M, Kleinjan M, Otten R, Kuntsche E. Development of alcohol expectancies and early alcohol use in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review. 2018;60:136-46.
  9. Hart A. Good Sports, drinking cultures and hegemonic masculinities i

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