Seeing yourself as an athlete is often one of the biggest challenges facing student athletes. Learn how to develop the winning mindset by clicking

Even professional athletes struggle with their image as a sportsperson from time to time. For student athletes, though, there is the additional challenge of how you view yourself, Athletic identity, and the ability to proudly say “I am an athlete” is often one of the key psychological breakthroughs that will catalyze your ongoing triumphs.

Resilience, confidence, and emotional intelligence are all key ingredients in the recipe for sporting success, but their influence on your sporting performance will be greatly restricted if you do not learn to identify as an athlete from within.

basketball player in wheelchair


As per Sports Digest: “Athlete identity is the extent to which a person aligns with the role of athlete within their life”. In a sense, then, everyone has an athletic identity. However, student athletes fall into a category where it plays a particularly significant role – or at least it should.

Identifying as an athlete isn’t just a mantra, it’s a mindset. In the same way that you may identify as belonging to a particular gender, religion, or social class, your athletic identity says a lot about you as a person and can influence your approach to sport or life as a whole.

It is a metric that can be monitored by The Athletic Identity Measurement Scale (AIMS), which is a 10-question form devised by Brewer & Cornelius. Students should analyze three main factors – social identity, exclusivity, and negative affectivity. Seeing yourself as an athlete allows you to finally establish a sense of belonging in the gym, on the court, or in the pool.

Studies into groups of elite, recreational, and non-participation athletes have highlighted that both men and women score lower on all three factors when they fall into the non-participant category. While contrasts between athletes and recreational athletes on social identity and exclusivity, both social identity and AIMS scores are higher in professional athletes.

Not only does it prove that athletic identity is a measurable psychological element, but it shows that student athletes who start to view themselves as elite athletes will begin to act more like them, too.


Athletic identity is often an overlooked metric of sporting psychology, as it does not tend to impact elite athletes. After all, they are professionals and identify as athletes in the same way that an accountant, graphic designer, or banker identifies with their job. For student athletes, seeing yourself as an athlete rather than just someone that sometimes plays sports provides a significant edge.

basketball player in wheelchair

It is a key component that can deliver a range of benefits for student athletes, including but not limited to

  • Identifying as an athlete will encourage you to develop the other key mental attributes to succeed in sport, such as resilience and mental toughness. This can subsequently help you “find the zone ” and avoid nerves in high-pressure moments.
  • Athletic identity encourages greater levels of trust and teamwork with other people who identify this way. This naturally can aid team performances and make on-field decisions and coordination come more naturally.
  • Identifying as an athlete also feeds into motivation and commitment. BelievePerform explains individuals who highly value the athletic component of the self are more likely to engage in exercise behavior than those who place less value on it.
  • Athletic identity can promote self-assurance and self-confidence to spearhead success in other aspects of life and help you become a more rounded individual for life – regardless of whether you become a pro athlete or not.
  • Identifying as an athlete encourages you to take notice of other responsibilities, ranging from sleep to nutrition. This can subsequently protect you from distractions that would hinder your progress

In short, you cannot expect to throw yourself into your favorite sport with 100% commitment if you have self-doubt about whether you belong there. When you can proudly say “I am an athlete”, it will be one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal.


While the benefits of athletic identity are clear, it’s not an issue where you can adopt the “make it until you fake it” strategy. It is ultimately a psychological state of mind in which authentic internal feelings are the only way to see the on-field benefits.

Parents and coaches can help young children by focusing on a balance of activities that make sports a fundamental part of their life without being everything. This helps them avoid placing too much pressure on results and can remove the fear of parental pressure, which is a leading cause of why young athletes give up. On a similar note, praising performance levels, rather than focusing solely on results, can have a telling impact.

As an athlete, you need to remind yourself that you belong on the court and see sporting activities as an opportunity to do what you love. The positive relationship with exercise, combined with increased performance, should help you grow in confidence, comfort, and athletic performance.

And once you start to truly believe that you are an athlete, you’ll act like one. When those two aspects run parallel to each other, you’ll be far better positioned to unlock your full sporting potential.

“I just want people to see me as a hard-working footballer and someone who is passionate about the game.”

David Beckham

Former soccer superstar