Here's What Every Athlete Needs To Understand About Athletic Identity

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 careers.

Despite what they do in life after sports, or how successful they are in their business ventures, no one will acknowledge those accomplishments as much as they do their athletic ability which makes sense in some regards.

Their athletic celebrity has become their "brand" and what they will continue to be known for.

But one thing is for certain. What they did in sports should never be the only thing they ever see themselves as.

And this goes for every athlete that's currently playing or retired. Your ability as an athlete and the success you used to have should never overshadow your other skills as an individual.

When an athlete sees themselves as just an athlete and they let their sport make up who they are, that's when athletes fall victim to athletic identity which can lead to 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. 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 to 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 a subtle difference, the language you use can change how you think, act and feel.

Every single athlete knows there will come a day when you have to give up the sport and transition into something else in life. 

Even the greatest athletes had to do it and a lot of them also 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 their life as well. Things such as family, friends, and school work for student-athletes might fall to the wayside and become a drain mentally.

These things are just as, if not more important than sports, but becoming a victim of athletic identity will prevent athletes from knowing how to prioritize their life because of the tunnel vision on the game.

At the same time, 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. Elevates performance in the sport

Ultimately, I personally believe it can all depend on the athlete and how much emphasis they place on the sport they play. In the end, all athletes have to see themselves as individuals who are made of many different things.

How Do You Deal With It?

Life is all about balance. What athletes have to understand is that they can still be super successful as an athlete and pursue other things in life. There isn't a one-size-fits-all for becoming "more than an athlete" or even not wanting to pursue things outside of sport. All in all, the choice is always up to you. 

There have been athletes who have focused more on their outside interests and fell behind in the game. Or like I said 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. It's all about knowing who you are as an athlete, as a person and what will make you the happiest in the long run. Realizing where your self-worth lies and not tying it to one thing or attribute about yourself is the quickest path to true success.

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

Dealing with athletic identity starts and ends with cultivating every area of your life no matter how long you play your sport.

Retirement might come today or it might come 20 years from now, but no matter when your athletic career is over, you're still going to have a hell of a lot of life to live.

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.

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