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What Every Athlete Should Know About Athletic Identity

Harry How / Staff

What Is Athletic Identity?

Let's be real, most athletes will always be known only for what they've done on the playing field.

Athletes like Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, & Derek Jeter will forever be recognized for their accomplishments, accolades, and awards that were won through their professional career.

Despite what they do in life after sports, or how successful they are in their business ventures, no one will acknowledge those feats as much as they do their game and with good reason.

Their athletic celebrity has become their brand and what they will be known for it whether they like it or not.

But one thing is for certain. What they did in sports should never become who they are.

And this goes for every athlete, currently playing or retired. Your ability as an athlete and the success you used to have should never overshadow your other abilities as a person.

Your ability as an athlete and the success you used to have should never overshadow your other abilities as a person.

When an athlete sees themselves as just an athlete and they let their sport makeup who they are, that's when athletes fall victim to athletic identity, which can lead to a life of misery and depression after their athletic career is over.

Athletic identity is the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role and looks to others for acknowledgement of that role (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993)

 

Why Do Athletes Get Athletic Identity?

A lot of the time, athletes let their sport become the end all be all.

They spend so much time playing the game, and it becomes their only focus in life. This is detrimental for two main reasons:

1. It doesn't allow them to explore other things they might be good at

2. It prevents them from preparing for life after sports

By understanding athletic identity, athletes can all have a better understanding of the degree in which they identify as an athlete versus a regular person.

For example, there is a difference between saying "I am a basketball player" and “I play basketball.” While it’s subtle, the language they use can change how they think, act and feel.

I've said it plenty of times before and I'll say it again. As an athlete, there will come a day when you have to give up your sport and transition into something else in life no matter what.

As an athlete, there will come a day when you have to give up your sport and transition into something else in life no matter what.

Even the greatest athletes had to do it and a lot of them struggled because what they did for so long, essentially became all they knew and who they thought they were.

Athletic identity can lead an athlete to neglect other areas of life. Things such as family, friends, and school work for student-athletes.

These things are just as, if not more important than sports, but athletes won't know how to prioritize their life because of their tunnel vision for the game.

But there also can be some potential positive things that come along with athletic identity.

Things such as:

1. Increased self-esteem, self-confidence, and other intangibles associated with sports

2. Elevated performance in the sport

I think it can all depend on the athlete and how much emphasis they place on the sport they play. All in all, athletes have to see themselves as an individual who is made of many different things.

 

How Do You Deal With It?

To me, life is all about balance. There is no rule or law that states you have to only play your sport and that you can't do anything else.

There have been athletes who have focused more on their outside interests and fell behind in the game. Or like I stated before, athletes who focused on just their sport and failed in every other area of life.

On the other hand, there have also been athletes who have succeeded on and off the playing at the same time. Athletes who have been able to give their all in their sports and still transitioned effectively into life after sports.

It really comes down to self-awareness. Knowing who you are as an athlete, as a person and what will make you the happiest in the long run. Also realizing where your self-worth lies and not tying it to one thing or attribute.

If you always lead your life with happiness then you will never go wrong in life.

Dealing with athletic identity starts there and ends with cultivating every area of your life at some point despite how long you might play your sport.

Retirement might come today or it might come 20 years from now, but after your athletic career is over, you still have a hell of a lot of life to live.

The reality is that you won't be considered to be an athlete forever. You might always be respected, recognized and revered for the things you did as an athlete, but that won't ever be who you are the rest of your life.

It's up to you to decide and define who you are outside of the game, and the sooner you start the better off you might be.

Retirement might come today or it might come 20 years from now, but after your athletic career is over, you still have a hell of a lot of life to live.