On Jan. 17-19, a group from UNC joined more than 220 other student-athletes, athletic trainers, coaches and administrators representing 40 NCAA-member colleges and universities at the annual NCAA APPLE Conference, a national training symposium on substance abuse prevention and health for student-athletes and administrators. The conference was hosted by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., and featured keynote speakers, breakout sessions, panel discussions and group activities.
Jarrod James (Football), Allen Champagne (Football), Chaniel Nelson (Volleyball), Kati Causey (Softball) and Elly Wagner (Softball), along with Assistant Athletic Director of Student-Athlete Development Cricket Lane, represented UNC at the conference.
The APPLE (Athletic Prevention Programming and Leadership Education) model was created in 1991 by the Virginia Athletics Department and the Gordie Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and identifies seven areas in which athletics departments can impact substance abuse among student-athletes: recruitment, expectations and attitudes, policies, education, drug testing, sanctioning and counseling and referral.
For James, the biggest takeaway from the 2014 APPLE conference was learning how to effectively communicate with others through "motivational interviewing."
"Motivational interviewing encourages one to talk to their peers in order to give them ideas of why choosing a healthier lifestyle in accordance to one's sport - not drinking 24 to 48 hours before games, avoiding recreational drugs - would be better for them and the team as opposed to verbally reprimanding them," James said. "This way, one's peers are more open to listen, and less likely to rebel against the idea of choosing positive, healthier choices."
At the conference, UNC student-athletes had the chance to share ideas and resources with student-athletes from other schools at APPLE and to learn about ideas that other schools have put into practice.
"So many colleges are working towards the same things as we are here at UNC, creating an open understanding amongst athletes and the athletic department about various issues while also informing athletes," Wagner said.
The APPLE Conference also allowed UNC student-athletes to assess the athletics department's strengths and weaknesses in substance abuse prevention, and develop an action plan they will implement in the future. At last year's conference, UNC student-athletes designed an action plan to create an organization of student-athletes teaching other student-athletes about good health and well-being. That group, now known as UNC SWAG (Something We Athletes Got), has had tremendous success since the last APPLE conference. The group now gives presentations to all first-year UNC student-athletes.
"I believe that champions are made not only while playing their sport but outside of their sport as well," Nelson said. "It's a ripple effect that I believe many do not think about. Since we are all a part of a team and wanting the same things (national championships, ACC championships, personal records, etc.) something that one person does affects the other person, whether it's directly or indirectly. In SWAG we want to be positive role models for not just fans, but for one another. We want to be able to hold everyone to a higher standard because we are such an amazing university that has the star power to do so."
For Champagne, APPLE was a great opportunity to get together as members of SWAG and be proactive in terms of their "game plan" for the upcoming semester, which includes more education for coaches, and looking at differences between alcohol policies amongst teams.
"We are all a family as Tar Heels and we all have a duty to take care of each other," Champagne said.