High School Coaches' Perceptions of and Actual Knowledge about Issues Related to Nutrition and Weight Control

By Overdorf, V. G.; Silgailis, K. S. | Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

High School Coaches' Perceptions of and Actual Knowledge about Issues Related to Nutrition and Weight Control


Overdorf, V. G., Silgailis, K. S., Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal


Abstract

Psychologists' narrations have identified how difficult it is to treat individuals with eating disorders. Moreover, the further the illness has progressed, the greater is the resistance to treatment. Therefore, prevention is critical in reducing the prevalence of these disorders among female athletes. The individuals having the most contact with athletes, and thus constituting the first line of defense against this problem, are coaches. Yet, information about nutrition and proper weight control and how these topics should be properly communicated to athletes is frequently not part of a coach's training, and consequently may not be part of a coach's knowledge base. This study was designed to evaluate the perceived versus actual knowledge about nutrition and weight control held by high school coaches of girls' teams (n = 42). Two questionnaires, designed by the investigators, were administered sequentially. The first requested perceptions on various nutritional and weight control issues. The second was a quiz on actual knowledge of nutrition and weight control. Ninety-one percent of the coaches rated their nutrition knowledge as average or above, while only 40 percent had taken any formal classes in nutrition. On the actual quiz, only 14 percent of the coaches knew what percentage of simple carbohydrates should constitute athletes' diets, while less than half (40%) were able to identify sources of complex carbohydrates. Eleven percent of the coaches thought athletes should have a high protein diet, while almost all of them (80%) believed that muscle is gained by eating proteins. Furthermore, only eight percent were able to identify sources of low fat protein. In regard to issues of weight control, 40 percent of the coaches thought athletes would improve performance by losing weight, 33 percent had impressed on their team the need to lose several times, and 28 percent had spoken to individual athletes about the need to lose weight several times. The predominant method for monitoring weight loss in athletes was visual inspection (37%) rather than actual measurement. Moreover, 77 percent of the coaches thought weight loss had to exceed 15 percent to reflect an anorectic condition, suggesting a possible need for earlier intervention by coaches. Since 82 percent of the coaches incorrectly thought body image distortions occur equally among male and female adolescents, it seems they are unaware of the greater risk for eating disorders among female athletes. While this study represents a small sampling of coaches, the observed lack of congruence between perceived and actual knowledge regarding nutrition and weight control must be addressed if prevention of eating disorders among athletes is to become a reality.

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Research has indicated an inordinately high prevalence of eating disordered behavior in athletes, especially women and girls, over the last two decades (Halmi, Falk, & Schwartz, 1981; Johnson, Powers, & Dick, 1999; Levenkron, 1982; Mitchell & Eckert, 1987; Sundgot-Borgen, 1994). In fact, a 1988 study (Burckes-Miller & Black) suggested that male athletes are up to 15 times and female athletes 40 times more likely to have an eating disorder than the general American public. More recently, 48 percent of college coaches reported coaching an athlete with an eating disorder in the past five years (Heffner, Ogles, Gold, Marsden, & Johnson, 2003) while 26 percent of college coaches encountered one or two athletes with eating disorders, and 10 percent encountered three or more eating disordered athletes during the last year (Rockwell, Nickols-Richardson, & Thye, 2001). This high prevalence may be related to the pressures associated with modern sports competition and the desire to gain any possible competitive edge.

In order for athletes to understand important principles of weight control and nutrition, it is reasonable to assume that they must be educated in these concepts. …

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