Alcohol consumption in british student sports teams
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Alcohol consumption in British student sports teams. Mattia Rossi University of Florence, Italy Robert C. Dempsey & John McAlaney University of Bradford, UK. 3rd European Symposium on Substance Use in University Students 7 th June 2012, University of Bradford. Background.

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Alcohol consumption in british student sports teams

Alcohol consumption in British student sports teams

Mattia Rossi

University of Florence, Italy

Robert C. Dempsey & John McAlaney

University of Bradford, UK

3rd European Symposium on Substance Use in University Students

7th June 2012, University of Bradford


  • Social processes can have a significant impact on alcohol consumption amongst university students

  • Misperceptions that student peers drink heavy amounts of alcohol can increase personal alcohol consumption in university student groups (e.g., Neighbors et al., 2006)

  • Behaviour change interventions which address these social norms misperceptions use appear to be effective in reducing alcohol consumption (Moreira, Smith & Foxcroft, 2009)


  • University student athletes are a high-risk group for heavy alcohol consumption (Turrisi et al., 2007; Yusko et al., 2008)

  • Student sports teams may form particularly close social groups whose members are heavily influenced by each other

    • Particularly for students with strong athletic identities (Grossbard et al., 2009)

  • However, research into social norms and alcohol consumption in student athletes has primarily been limited to the USA

Current study s objectives
Current Study’s Objectives

To investigate social norm perceptions of alcohol use and the role of alcohol consumption in sports team identity and team formation amongst British student athletes

What role does alcohol play in the formation of a team identity and the social processes amongst team members in UK students?

Several cultural and legislative differences between the US and UK in relation to alcohol availability and usage.


  • Phase 1

  • Quantitative self-report survey of student athletes’ alcohol use and their perceptions of alcohol use behaviours amongst students

  • Phase 2

  • Thematic analysis of a series of focus groups exploring the role of alcohol in student sport teams’ social functioning

Two phase study:

Phase 1
Phase 1

  • 61 student athletes surveyed on alcohol use

  • Student athletes perceived their teammates to drink more frequently than themselves and other students to drink more frequently and more heavily on a night out than themselves and their teammates

  • However student athletes do not perceive their teammates to have more drinks on a night out than themselves

Phase 2 thematic analysis results
Phase 2 – Thematic Analysis Results

Health Focus

Team Identity

Individual Decision Making

Team Membership

Personal Feelings

Team Reputation

Inter-team differences

Drinking Restrictions

Social Facilitation


Drinking Processes

Drinking Environment

Drinking Style

Theme 1 team identity
Theme 1 – Team Identity

Team Reputation - the history and reputation of the team in terms of their alcohol consumption

“they’re [the rugby team] the ones that are renowned  for being the big drinkers, so obviously they’ve got to keep up that kind of name”

Alcohol consumption in british student sports teams

Theme 1 – Team Identity

  • Inter-team differences – sport/team characteristics which distinguishes between different sports teams

    • Casual versus competitive nature of the sport

      “… in badminton you don't have to have…like as in a group. Like you don't have to join the team with the paperwork and stuff ….you just need to show up”

    • Norms of the sport

  • “I know some guys in the cycling team who are really focused on getting very fit and they don't drink or smoke or at least they try do avoid it”

  • Alcohol consumption in british student sports teams

    Theme 1 – Team Identity

    • Team Membership – social factors which influence the team’s functioning and which signify membership to the team

      • Initiation to the team on socials through drinking games:

  • “it seems that they [the football team] have a pretty tough initiation … and there's a lot of peer pressure that goes along with it”

  • “I’ve heard that sometimes you have to go and get five bras from five difficult girls and bring them back to your [captain/president]”

  • Theme 2 drinking processes
    Theme 2 – Drinking Processes

    Drinking style

    “and then you look at the hockey guys and some of them are tiny … really like thin… yet they're drinking like champions, they're drinking so much for their size and they have to do a yard … it’s 4 pints in this huge… It's literally like four foot high and they’ve got to down it in a special technique…”

    Drinking environment – characteristics of the university, local city and local outlets serving alcohol which facilitate heavy consumption

    “I would say it's not the size of the city but the size of the University, because take for example … Warwick. Well, the whole University campus it's a small town on its’ own, there's nothing around it for three or four miles, but the University itself is very big and they have loads of students  and therefore... the whole night life and everything is just centered inside that campus”

    Theme 2 drinking processes1
    Theme 2 – Drinking Processes

    • Social Facilitation – external social factors which promote alcohol consumption in the team (e.g., local pub sponsorship)

      “They [the pub] want to sell the alcohol so they want to sell more and more they don't care if it's a team… they want more people to come”

    • Consequences – student athletes’ knowledge of the effects of alcohol consumption upon team membership

      “I think it really alienates some kids…especially the initiation stuff, … you’re part of the team only if you do the initiation, then what if … you don’t drink and then you’re left out of that whole club.”

    Theme 3 individual decision making
    Theme 3 – Individual Decision Making

    • Personal Feelings – individual differences, beliefs and feelings associated with alcohol consumption

      • E.g., mood and team performance-related drinking:

        “they probably get equally drunk if you lose or win, but obviously if you win you its much more …much more happy and they get drunk quicker”

    • HealthFocus – healthy attitudes and behaviours which may inhibit excessive drinking

      “I think really healthy people they don't ever go to the socials…”

      “I choose not to get drunk”

    Theme 3 individual decision making1
    Theme 3 – Individual Decision Making

    • Drinking Restrictions – other factors limiting or prohibiting alcohol consumption

      • Economic Factors

        “Bradford is quite cheap as a city, so you tend to drink more because you know it’s cheaper drinks”

        “I don't think that price keeps people from drinking.”

        “one of the reasons why some of us are here in Bradford it's because the city is cheap and there fore it automatically goes to the assumption that we don't have much money for drinking. Which would be my case”

    Theme 3 individual decision making2
    Theme 3 – Individual Decision Making

    • Drinking Restrictions – other factors limiting or prohibiting alcohol consumption

      • Religious Beliefs

        “[some students] they don't drink as much alcohol because maybe they're quite strict [to] their faith”

        “[we are] not allowed drink alcohol in our religion… Yeah that's why I tend to not drink… ”


    • In keeping with previous research students were found to perceive their peers to drink more heavily and frequently than themselves

    • However they did not appear to think that student sports teams drank more alcohol than other students

    • Alcohol is cited as being an important part of team membership and especially socialisation

    • However this appears to be a more complex process, as students are also accepting of those who do not drink, e.g. for religious reasons


    • Economic factors were also cited as a limiting factor on alcohol consumption

    • Despite these protective factors alcohol use still seen to be a widespread and common part of university life

    • However there was some contradiction evident in that students simultaneously described Bradford as a unique university setting whilst also appearing to think that alcohol consumption on campus is typical for a UK university and wider British culture

    • Students commented that they thought alcohol played a different role in UK teams as opposed to USA ones


    Grossbard, J. R., Geisner, I. M., Mastroleo, N. R., Kilmer, J. R., Turrisi, R., & Larimer, M. E. (2009). Athletic identity, descriptive norms, and drinking among athletes transitioning to college. Addictive Behaviors, 34(4), 352-359.

    Moreira, M. T., Smith, L. A., & Foxcroft, D. (2009). Social norms interventions to reduce alcohol misuse in university or college students. Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews, 8(3):CD006748.

    Neighbors, C., Dillard, A. J., Lewis, M. A., Bergstrom, R. L., & Neil, T. A. (2006). Normative misperceptions and temporal precedence of perceived norms and drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 290–299.

    Perkins, H.W., & Berkowitz, A.D. (1986). Perceiving the community norms of alcohol use among students: Some research implications for campus alcohol education programming. International Journal of the Addictions, 21, 971-976.

    Rossi, M., Dempsey, R. C., & McAlaney, J. (in prep). Alcohol consumption in British student sports teams.

    Turrisi, R., Mastroleo, N. R., Mallett, K. A., Larimer, M. E., & Kilner, J. (2007). Examination of the mediational influences of peer norms, environmental Influences, and parent communications on heavy drinking in athletes and non-athletes. Psychology of Addictive Behaviours, 21(4): 453–461.

    Yusko, D. A., Buckman, J. F., White, H. R., & Pandina, R. J. (2008) Risk for excessive alcohol use and drinking-related problems in college student athletes. Addictive Behaviors, 33(12), 1546-1556.