Anywhere you go, any high school, there’s going to be drinking,” says Dan Labosky, a senior forward for the Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School varsity hockey team in St. Louis Park, Minn.
Parents may not like hearing such statements, but for high school students across the country, they know the reality. Athletes, in particular, are typically associated with peer groups where alcohol consumption and partying can be prevalent.
With popularity comes peer pressure, which has a huge affect on the decisions that athletes have to make. This is the nature of being a teenager in today’s world.
Players like Labosky and senior teammate T.J. Moore are no strangers to these daily decisions.
“You do feel [peer pressure],” admits Moore, who helped BSM capture the Minnesota Class AA state title last season. “It’s hard to look at your buddy and say ‘No, I’m not going to [drink].’ ”
“The kids at school tempt you,” adds Labosky, who is verbally committed to play hockey at Colorado College.
“You just got to know it’s not worth it. I don’t want to risk it.”
When it came to making a decision about how to handle the temptations of drinking, both Labosky and Moore found hockey to be the most convincing part of the decision-making process.
“I’ve been talking to my dad a lot lately and he said, ‘Don’t drink until you want to stop being a hockey player,’” Moore says. “That’s kind of what I’m living by right now.”
As important as parental advice can be, it doesn’t always strike a responsive chord, which is why the team setting can offer a positive support group for hockey players. Even then, there’s no guarantee it will lead to better decisions.
“There’s no question, we try to send the positive message of not to [drink], but we are also not naïve,” says Ken Pauly, head coach at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
“No matter what the coach says or how much hockey means to [the players], that can seem a million miles away on a Friday night and those temptations are there.”
Pauly knows that it’s the players’ peers that could have the biggest impact on the decisions they make.
“My main concern is when [the players] get around people who don’t share their same goals and dreams and people who don’t truly understand the implications of this stuff,” says Pauly, who has been coaching for more than 25 years.
“I’m concerned about all kids from that standpoint. Their peer group is a lot more powerful than we are.”
Not every player may find him or herself in the same situation as the players at BSM, but there are other equally important factors to consider for athletes faced with a decision regarding drinking.
The consequences of underage drinking are well documented from both legal and health standpoints, but there can also be significant detriment to athletic performance and the training required to achieve success on the ice.
“[Alcohol is] a dead end for athletes when it comes to performance and recovery,” says Dave Ellis, a registered dietician and certified strength and conditioning specialist who works with elite athletes up to the highest level of professional sports.
As most players are aware, it is awfully difficult to achieve their peak physical condition, and then to maintain it. It takes patience, dedication and a lot of hard work. But according to a study conducted by the American Athletic Institute, just one night of drinking to the point of intoxication can erase 14 days of training.
That’s a lot of hard work down the drain. Then there’s the issue of how alcohol can negatively impact performance, even if it’s consumed days prior to competition.
According to Ellis, alcohol’s diuretic properties negatively impact the body’s ability to reform glycogen, which essentially stores energy to fuel muscles and the brain. Without proper glycogen levels, an athlete’s muscles will fatigue quicker, take longer to recover and keep the brain from firing the way it should.
“[Alcohol] doesn’t do anything for anyone’s ability to deal with the speed of the game,” Ellis says. “Reaction time is such a huge factor in a game like hockey. Being able to process and anticipate when somebody is still metabolizing alcohol, it’s going to be compromised.”
There is evidence that alcohol can slow reaction time and impact balance, hand-eye coordination and visual perception – vital aspects for hockey – for up to 72 hours after consumption.
Hockey players also have to deal with a series of practices and games packed into a short time span, especially at tournaments, which makes muscle and energy recovery even more essential.
As the American Athletic Institute found, a body that normally recovers from a strenuous workout in 24 hours may take two or three times long when alcohol is still being processed by the body.
And while Ellis advocates greater education to reach young athletes, he knows that it will ultimately come down to a personal decision by the individual.
“It’s tempting, but you’ve got to know there are bigger things in life than partying,” Labosky says.
“It gets easier and easier to say no and shrug it off,” Moore adds. “Your friends learn to respect you when you make a decision to say no to drugs and alcohol.”
How Alcohol Affects Athletes
The American Athletic Institute has conducted studies of alcohol use and athlete performance. Here are some of the findings:
Every time you get drunk, you lose approximately 14 days of training effect. That’s right, one night of drinking and two weeks of training effect is erased. You are wasting your time and your career.
Alcohol suppresses your training hormones for up to four days. Basically you are at practice but the hormones you need to gain training effect and condition are not. You practice but no improvement comes.
The effect of recent heavy drinking lowers your performance potential by 11.4 percent before you even step on the ice.
Lactic acid levels, which fatigue your muscles, increases much earlier and primary muscles that you depend on shut down or are slower and weaker.
You will not be able to catch your breath during breaks in activity. Your breathing rate will be very high and you will hyperventilate or lose control of your breathing. Your lungs are trying to get oxygen to your working muscles and clear carbon dioxide from your system but they cannot.
Your heart rate will be much higher and over time your cardiac output will decrease.
The oxygen rich blood will not reach your working muscles. The lactic acid will build up in the muscles and you will slow down and be weaker.
Normally we can reload our muscles with fuels (glycogen) in 8-12 hours, but after drinking it can be 16-24 hours.
Normal recovery from maximal stress is 24 hours, but after drinking, it can be 48-96 hours.
Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it makes you urinate.
When we train muscle is damaged. We repair it by making protein into new fibers. Drinking slows down this repair process. It is in your speed muscles that this process is most reduced.
Alcohol affects reaction time and hand-eye coordination, which are two of the most important functions in most sport.
Alcohol is a metabolic poison, clear and simple. It affects the entire body and all body systems, especially those that control high performance. No serious athlete should use alcohol.