APPLE for the mentor? Program takes peer approach to substance
By Dan Heuchert
must take a comprehensive approach to preventing alcohol and substance
abuse among their athletes, according to Allison Houser, the interim
director of U.Va.'s Center
for Alcohol and Substance Education (formerly the Institute
for Substance Abuse Studies).
co-directs the Athletic Prevention Programming and Leadership
Education program -- APPLE for short -- a twice-yearly conference
that helps colleges and universities around the country assess
their prevention efforts, and suggests strategies for improving
them. In its ninth year, the program receives $120,000 in annual
support from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
a holistic approach, an environmental approach to substance-abuse
education," she said. The idea is to make sure that student-athletes
receive consistent messages from all sources.
"teams" comprised of administrators, coaches and student-athletes
complete a pre-conference questionnaire that seeks information
on their current programs. The survey focuses on seven key areas,
which Houser calls "the slices of the APPLE": recruitment
practices, expectations and attitudes, education programs, policies,
drug testing, discipline, and referral and counseling.
ask questions like, 'Do you have a written policy in that area?
Do you communicate it?' How often is it reviewed?'" Houser
organizers review the responses and suggest areas for the teams
to concentrate on during the conference. The teams then use the
time to develop action plans to address their weaknesses. "It's
been rewarding to see what the schools have done," said Joe
Gieck, director of sports medicine at U.Va., who designed the
APPLE program with the late Susan Grossman.
is hosting two conferences this year, the second of which will
be held Feb. 11-13. Generally, 30 to 40 schools are represented
at each conference. As the sponsor, the NCAA prefers to have new
schools represented each time, but "A lot of schools want
to come back and work on a different area," Houser said.
The program for the most recent conference, held Jan. 21-23, included
lectures, workshops and times for the teams to meet on their own.
education and leadership is at the heart of the APPLE approach.
Houser and Gieck encourage student-athlete mentoring, in which
athletic teams choose "SAMs," who are in turn trained
as resources for their peers.
ask them to select students they already trust and respect,² Houser
said. "If they have problems, this should be the person they already
SAMs are asked to lead or arrange at least one program per semester
for their teams. Although the mentors originally focused on drug
and alcohol education, their responsibilities have since stretched
to include personal development, wellness, nutrition and other
lifestyle areas, Houser said.
SAMs are consulted in drawing up new athletic department-wide
policies, as well as in setting guidelines for their own teams,
Gieck said. For instance, the SAMs on Virginia's men's lacrosse
team helped formulate the strict alcohol policy the team adopted
last spring, which they believe was instrumental in their successful
run at the national championship.
the message doesn't always get through -- Gieck noted that one
U.Va. team proposed "limiting" members to six beers
on the night before a game, a proposition their coach promptly
nixed -- the athletes are more often stricter than coaches or
administrators would have been.
At U.Va., athlete representatives proposed immediately dismissing
anyone who failed a drug test from his or her team, Gieck said;
administrators felt an obligation to help the athlete work through
The APPLE approach gets consistently positive evaluations, and
there were waiting lists for both conferences this year, Houser
think most [athletic] departments before this started would do
the minimum of what the NCAA required -- one big 'alcohol talk'
at the beginning of a semester, which would usually put everyone
to sleep," she said.