Sports and You: Finding Your Identity as an Athlete
We have made a lot of assumptions about student-athletes. There are negative stereotypes like “jock” and positive ones like the popular high school quarterback. We might take it for granted that our student understands the value of sports, or that every member of a team is equally motivated.
It’s easy, in other words, to assume that we know what role sports play in athletes’ lives. But there’s a huge range of relationships that students can have with their teams, coaches, and athletic careers. The strength of those relationships affects everything from how well they play and how hard they practice to their long-term mental health, the effort they invest in academics, and even how happy they are.
Our Deep Dive on athletic identity gets into the details of the connection between students and their sports. It also offers guidance for parents, coaches, and trainers on how they can support their students in developing a healthy, sustainable relationship with athletics. Download now:
Top Mental Barriers: Atheltic Identity
WHAT IT IS
Athletic identity is about how closely a person’s sense of self is linked to their sport.
That sounds pretty jargony, but think of it this way: if being part of the team and feeling capable during play is really important to a student, then anything involving the sport is going to carry a lot more emotional weight. Wins and losses will matter more. Criticism from a coach will hit harder. An injury might feel like the end of the world.
By contrast, if you just play pickup games with friends every now and then, but define yourself mostly in terms of your hobbies, job, or family, none of that matters much.
So athletic identity combines how much we care with who we think we are. For student-athletes in their teens and twenties, when our personal identities are only just evolving, a relationship can sports can be one of the most stable, long-lasting, and important parts of life. It’s important for that relationship to be a healthy one.
Why it Matters for Athletic Performance
There are basically three reasons to focus on athletic identity. For one thing, it’s the bedrock supporting many of the other core mental skills that athletes need—skills like mental toughness, confidence, and motivation.
For another, thinking of yourself as an athlete helps you stay engaged with skills development, teammate bonds, and your on-the-field success.
Just as importantly, athletic identity has huge social benefits. It’s critical for good teamwork, for camaraderie, for trust and companionship and coordination.
How to Improve
A sense of self isn’t something you can train—and you don’t necessarily want to. Instead, building strong, healthy athletic identity is about learning to balance your sport with the other things that matter to you, shaping how it affects both you and your friends, family, and teammates. We get into those topics in much more detail here:
Get the Ultimate Guide to Building Exceptional Student-Athletes! This essential document is designed for parents, coaches, teachers, and trainers who want to help their athletes reach their full potential.