Most Valuable Players -- Using Social Norms to Target Athletes as a High-Risk Sub-Population

H. Wesley Perkins, David W. Craig, and David Diana

Hobart & William Smith Colleges


Nationwide survey data have revealed significantly higher rates of heavy drinking among intercollegiate student-athletes than among other undergraduates. This higher risk pattern, likewise, has been documented in recent data collected in multiple surveys at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Nevertheless, athletes and the student body at large hold exaggerated perceptions of athlete drinking norms much like AOD norms in general are misperceived in student populations. This workshop presented model strategies designed to identify and reduce harmful misperceptions about student-athlete alcohol norms. This approach simultaneously included the promotion of more accurate perceptions of positive social behaviors including participation in various forms of community service and academic involvement. Strategies presented included: 1) a rapid and inexpensive protocol to anonymously survey an entire college sub-population (athletes) using a web-based instrument, 2) print and electronic media communication strategies promoting positive norms about athletes for the entire campus, 3) print and electronic media strategies to more directly reach the target student-athlete and athletic staff sub-populations, 4) student-athlete peer educators delivering targeted messages. Survey results after the first year of implementation of this U.S. Department of Education supported project demonstrated substantial student-athlete exposure to print and electronic media as well as peer workshops. Statistically significant reductions were found in student-ahtletes' misperceptions of the frequency of peer drinking and the permissiveness of peer attitudes. Significant reductions were also found in the percentage of male and female student-athletes personally drinking two or more days per week and in several negative consequences due to drinking including poor academic work (all student-athletes), injuries to self and others and memory impairment (females), and unintended sexual activity (males). Mandatory workshop referrals for alcohol violations also dropped after the first year of the project intervention. See for a detailed description of the program along with social norms campaign examples. (slides)