Athletic Identity

Who am I?

Answering this question isn’t always easy for we all have numerous roles that identify who we are as individuals. Whether that means you are a sister, brother, teacher, dancer, or friend, the roles that you fulfill encompass the way you interact with the world and how you portray yourself to others.

Think for a second about the way that you introduce yourself to a stranger. Most people will begin with their name and follow it with what/whom they are associated with. For example, you will frequently hear an athlete say something to the effect of “I am a swimmer.” Or “I am on the hockey team.” This tells others that they value their identity as an athlete and want to be recognized as one. (Symes, 2010)

Pride in one’s identity as an athlete is understandable and should be encouraged.  Athletes are typically healthy individuals who value teamwork and determination, traits that are valued in our society. The danger, though, occurs when there is too much association given to one’s athletic identity at the cost of the other roles one plays. Over-identification causes the individual to see himself exclusively as an athlete. The reason why this can be harmful to the athlete is because it can cause them to lose sense of the person that they are outside of their sport. They limit themselves to believing that their highest value in the world is solely as an athlete.

Although the athlete may be very successful within their sport, such over-identification may lead to serious emotional consequences. One consequence is losing enjoyment in other areas of life. Some athletes become so wrapped up in the game that they eliminate other priorities to keep their sport as their main focus. They end up neglecting things such as relationships, academics, or past hobbies in order to enhance their performance as an athlete.

What athletes often fail to consider is how long their athletic career will last. Many athletes find that the dreams they once had of playing in college or reaching the professional level become unreachable due to one circumstance or another. Whether that is because of a season ending injury, or getting cut from the team, the truth of the matter is that “only about 5% of high school athletes are able to play at the college level, and less than 2% of all college athletes are talented enough to play professionally.” (Stankovich, 2011) Is that discouraging or what?! For someone who has unknowingly been setting themselves up for an unreachable goal such as this, it can be extremely difficult to rediscover who they are after their sport is over and retirement has set in. This is why it is important for athletes to begin thinking about what they want to do after their athletic career is over before they reach the end of it. Being able to develop values and relationships that are independent of their team’s values will help with self-growth and identification. So that in the event that they are unable to continue forward in their sport, they can still have peace in knowing who they are and the things that remain important in their life.

According to Drew Mackenzie, a coach and athletic coordinator, here are four additional guidelines that one should stick to in order to maintain life-balance around sports.

  1. “Identify your top five priorities”. It is okay for sports to fall within that list, but ultimately it should encompass all areas of your life that are most valuable/important to you. It may consist of things such as: relationships, academics, or religion.
  2. “Drop unnecessary activities”. Achieving life balance means having equilibrium among all of the priorities of your life” (Mackenzie). This means that the time spent on each of these priorities should be split accordingly. An example of this would be dropping an hour of your workout in order to spend quality time with a friend. This doesn’t mean that you have to drop your workout altogether, it just means that you take a little time to balance your priority groups.
  3. “Protect your private time”. Carve out time in your day to adhere to your own personal wants and needs. After an overwhelming day of submitting to other people’s needs, this one will come in handy. It is important that you protect this time by getting rid of other distractions that draw away your attention.
  4. “Plan fun and relaxation”. This one goes hand in hand with protecting your private time. Do something special for yourself such as planning a trip or activity that you’ve always wanted to do. you are in charge of your own schedule, make it enjoyable for yourself!

As you continue to pursue athletics, I encourage you to be proud of who you are as an athlete, but also be proud of the person you are continually discovering outside of the game.

-Katie Lubben

References:

Mackenzie, D. Beyond Sport: Life Balance. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from http://www.csipacific.ca/wp-content/pdfs/pp/performance-point-0909-life-balance.pdf

Stankovich, C. (2011, June 1). The Importance of Understanding Athletic Identity. Retrieved February 16, 2017, from https://www.premiersportpsychology.com/sport-psychology/return-to-sport-post-injury/

Symes, R. (2010, May 24). Understanding Athletic Identity: “Who Am I?” Retrieved February 16, 2017, from http://www.podiumsportsjournal.com/2010/05/24/understanding-athletic-identity-who-am-i/

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