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UK Coaching Team

Exploring Identity Through an Individual’s Sporting Lifecycle: Students

In the third resource in this mini-series, Sport Psychologist Rebecca Chidley and UK Coaching’s Chris Chapman explore identity and the student-athlete

This guide considers the significant transition that takes place when student-athletes become young adults, take on additional responsibilities, and often move away from home, living away from family for the first time.

Identity development

Identity development will be something that many student-athletes don’t think about but their time at university will play a part in shaping theirs.

This includes:

  • their social life: athletes with a strong athletic identity might tend to neglect other aspects of student life to fulfil their athlete role. This may increase the potential risk of social challenges; depending on their performance level/sport, all their social activities may be restricted to training groups and teammates.
  • their career plans: individuals may go into university attracted by the training facilities and environment. Even with vague or non-existent career aspirations, they then invest heavily in their athletic role. They will be constantly juggling dual-role identities of being a full-time athlete and a full-time student and may find that they may not see the value in effectively balancing both.

Identity foreclosure

Some student-athletes may experience athletic identity foreclosure, which occurs when their self-worth and identity are linked almost exclusively with their athletic accomplishments. When this occurs, student-athletes may react without emotion or even negatively to any suggestion of a career outside sport (and therefore lose focus on their academic studies).

This ‘athlete identity’ can lead them to minimise time spent on activities outside of their sport, but a failure to successfully integrate identities is not limited to student-athletes.

Many students head to university fixated on their potential careers and professional identities. Several factors may contribute to this, including financial considerations and the belief that this is essential for success, unduly narrowing their identity development.

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UK Coaching Team