Oprah got Lance Armstrong to admit what most of us already knew: he had used steroids and other banned performance supplements to win seven Tour de France races. Even though we knew it was coming, it was a shocking revelation. Armstrong is not the first or the only athlete to have cheated. A growing list of elite-level athletes from several sports have used PEDs or illegally modified sports equipment to give themselves an unfair advantage. But Armstrong's on-camera confession was still disturbing.
Some athletes claim they break the rules to maximize their athletic abilities, while others declare they cheat only to keep up with their opponents, who are also suspected of cheating. Regardless of how you look at it, cheating compromises the integrity of our games and creates severe problems for the dishonest athletes who engage in it. (See Character Counts: Questions Coaches Ask to Evaluate Integrity.)
"Integrity" can be casually defined as the things we do when nobody is looking. Athletes will always have opportunities to cheat by using banned supplements, modifying equipment or breaking league rules to gain an edge. But although the short-term payoff may seem worth it—it might be a great game or even an undeserved championship—the long-term consequences can be quite damaging. In addition to serious health concerns, athletes who use steroids will always have their guilt to deal with. Could you still perform, knowing that your competitive advantage was based largely on an illegal substance? (See Supplements and Athletes: A Collegiate-Compliant Combination?) From the standpoint of sport psychology, that would be very difficult for cheating athletes, especially when they think about how hard their opponents trained, only to lose to someone who broke the rules.
When competing in sports, playing fair is always the way to go—for many good reasons. It's the safest way, both in terms of your health and your legal status. But also, with hard work, mental toughness and respect for the rules, you'll inevitably learn more about your true capabilities. By training clean and right, you'll take pride in your efforts and improvements—unlike other athletes who might "win" but who know in their hearts they had to cheat to do it.
Play hard, play safe and play clean. Only when you compete with this mindset will you reach your full human potential. Instead of regretting it, you will be able to use your experience in sports to trampoline into an even more exciting future in your career and your life.
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