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Life Lessons

Mark McGwire and Peer Pressure

“There’s one advantage to being 102. There’s no peer pressure.” — Comedian Dennis Wolfberg

Mark McGwire gave in to peer pressure.

Not the kind that came from other players taking steroids.

The kind that came from teammates walking past his locker and saying that he was injured again.

In other words, like many of your players, McGwire cared too much what others were thinking.

Back in my sports writing days, my boss, Hall of Fame columnist Milton Richman, who had played pro ball, once told me, “No matter how much you study this game, you will never know what it is like to put on a uniform and play for your living.”

McGwire’s case just confirms this. As fans and even media observing sports, we relate to injuries in certain ways: We see that a player is injured. We discuss what it means for the team, how long the absence will be, etc. But we never can imagine what it’s like for an injured player and his peers. Are they disappointed by his injury? Do they think he gets hurt too much? Do they think he is letting them down? Do they think he is enjoying his vacation just a little too much?

McGwire specifically cited this issue in yesterday’s admission that he had taken steroids. He mentioned the feeling he got when people said, “He’s hurt again.” McGwire says he took steroids because he heard they helped the body heal faster. Like teenagers, he didn’t like the feeling of being different — hurt and unabl to play while his teammates were healthy and playing.

If nothing else, McGwire’s words confirm what coaches should already know: That peer pressure, and what others think, is a powerful motivator.

“No child is immune to peer pressure,” said author Kathi Hudson.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a strong leader, then you’ll see other players on the team care what the leader thinks. But peer pressure can be a bad thing, bringing out the weakness in others. That apparently is what happened in McGwire’s case.


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