Next to a parent, a coach is one of the most influential people in a young person’s life. They are constant role models: they help young people see the connection between choices they make today and their opportunities for tomorrow. They influence youth study habits, health, sportsmanship and personal responsibility, and they can serve as a powerful antidote to the temptations in our culture that can lead kids astray.
Coaches have the opportunity to practice and promote the highest qualities and best lessons of athletics. Talking to players about the health effects of tobacco use can mean making an investment in their future.
Coaches have unique ways to appeal to athletes by letting them know that, in addition to other harmful effects and health risks, tobacco can have a damaging affect on sports performance. Tobacco diminishes fitness levels so athletes cannot achieve goals or be competitive against tobacco-free teammates. A smoker’s heart beats three times faster than a non-smokers, and young smokers produce phlegm twice as often as those who don’t smoke. Tobacco diminishes lung growth and lung function, and users suffer from shortness of breath almost three times as often as a non-smoker. And, when in comes to sports injuries, tobacco use limits recovery.
Most people who use smokeless tobacco, or spit tobacco, begin when they are in high school or earlier. Tobacco companies actively target teens by marketing smokeless tobacco that is flavored or sugary. To compound this dangerous influence, one in three professional baseball players and well over half of all NCAA players use smokeless tobacco.
Coaches are uniquely positioned to emphasize the dangers of spit tobacco to athletes. Just like cigarettes, it can harm athletic performance. Smokeless tobacco is highly addictive, and it contains at least 28 known cancer-causing chemicals that lead to cancers of the mouth and throat. It also causes gum recession, tooth decay, bad breath and stained teeth.
The Tobacco-Free Athletes (TFA) Initiative was created to promote and support tobacco-free living for youth participating in all recreational and public school sports programs in Maine. The program leverages a coach’s influence with players to counter the messages that the tobacco industry aims at young people.
The Initiative collaborates with the United Soccer Federation of Maine, the head coach at the University of Maine at Machias, the 28 Healthy Maine Partnership Community/School programs, and with The Maine Center for Coaching Education at the University of Maine. The Initiative is endorsed by the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Wellness and the Maine Principals’ Association.
The Tobacco-Free Athletes Coach’s Manual provides coaches of all youth sports with information and support for talking to their players about the dangers of tobacco use and the importance of tobacco-free living. It provides talking points for discussing the health effects of tobacco use, information about secondhand smoke and asthma, and information about why spit tobacco isn’t a healthy alternative to smoking. The manual also provides information and support for developing tobacco-free team policies that support the healthy lifestyles we want for all our youth.
Also included in the coach’s manual: