Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS)

Program Goals

Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS) is designed to reduce or stop adolescent male athletes’ use of anabolic steroids, sport supplements, alcohol, and illegal drugs, while improving healthy nutrition and exercise practices. ATLAS promotes healthy nutrition and exercise behaviors as alternatives to substance use (alcohol, illegal drugs, anabolic steroids, and unhealthy sport supplements).


Target Population/Eligibility or Target Sites

ATLAS is a multicomponent school-based drug and alcohol prevention program for male high school athletes. It is delivered in a classroom to an entire school sports team at once.


Program Components

Students are divided into small social learning groups of 5-6 students, with a peer (squad) leader for each group. ATLAS’s team-centered approach works to exert positive peer pressure and promote positive role modeling. It is highly scripted with explicit instructions and brief 12-15 minute instructional videos for squad leaders and coaches. Each of the program’s ten 45-minute sessions consists of the following interactive activities:


  • Educational games
  • Building skills (resistance, goal setting, nutrition, strength training)
  • Role-playing exercises
  • The creation of mock public service campaigns
  • Friendly competition between squads

Athletes learn how to achieve their athletic goals by using state-of-the-art sports nutrition and strength training and how to avoid using harmful substances that will impair their physical and athletic abilities. Team workbooks, sports menus, and training guides complement the instructional materials.


Key Personnel

Instruction is led by student–athlete peers and facilitated by coaches. Successful replication of ATLAS requires a highly committed coach–facilitator.


Program Theory

The program concentrates on potential immediate consequences, because of their significance for adolescents, rather than on the future adverse effects of substance use.

Intervention ID: 
14 to 17

Study 1

Goldberg and colleagues (1996), in a randomized prospective trial, compared a comprehensive school-based anabolic–androgenic steroid (AAS) intervention (Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids, or ATLAS) with a control condition that provided only a commercially produced antisteroid informational pamphlet. Thirty-four schools in the Portland, Ore., area were matched in pairs on the basis of demographic characteristics such as school size, family socioeconomic status, school attendance, student participation in a free-lunch program, number of students attending college, and the football team’s win–loss record for the season before participation. Seventeen schools were then randomized to the experimental condition and 17 to the control condition. Three experimental schools ultimately withdrew from the study owing to lack of time and local control over curricular components. Thus, two of the unpaired control schools were matched on demographics, and one of these was randomized to the experimental condition.


The final sample consisted of students at 15 experimental schools (n= 702) and 16 control schools (n= 804). All participants were male high school football players. The majority of students (81 percent of the control group and 77 percent of the experimental group) were white, with the remaining students from other racial/ethnic groups (including Asian, Native American, Hispanic, African American, and mixed heritage). Control subjects were slightly younger (a mean difference of roughly 7 weeks), had a somewhat higher mean grade point average (3.12 versus 3.02), had fathers who were slightly more educated, and had higher family incomes.


The main outcome measures consisted of self-report questionnaires administered before and after the intervention and at 9- or 12-month follow-up. The questionnaires assessed AAS and other drug use, knowledge of drug effects, attitudes toward and behavioral intent to use AAS, nutrition, exercise knowledge, perceived normative drug use behaviors, belief in media messages, impulsivity, drug refusal skills, body image, feelings of athletic competence, and beliefs about parents’ and coaches’ AAS attitudes. Regression analyses were used for both school- and individual-level data.


Study 1

Substance Use

The study by Goldberg and colleagues (1996) found that Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS)–trained students experienced distinct advantages, compared with students in the control group. The intervention was associated with significant reductions in adolescent intent to use anabolic–androgenic steroid (AAS), greater knowledge of AAS and other drug effects, greater belief in personal vulnerability to the harmful effects of AAS use, more negative attitudes about AAS users, reduced impulsivity, improved feeling of athletic abilities, higher self-esteem, stronger belief that coaches and parents were against AAS use, more competent drug refusal skills, less belief in media messages, increased belief in the football team as an information source, increased knowledge about advertised “ergogenic” supplements, and improved nutrition and exercise behaviors. In addition, students in the intervention group were more likely to increase their strength-training practice in the school environment rather than in local gyms, which is important because local gyms are the Nation’s greatest reported source for acquiring AAS. Many of these positive results, including a reduced intent to use AAS, persisted at the long-term follow-up (9- or 12-months’ postintervention), despite students’ being away from the football team setting.