Modern culture seems to be shifting towards a state where we idolize athletics more and more with each passing year.  If you ask any kid who their hero is, chances are they will respond with their favorite athlete.  There are charities that allow terminally ill children to “grant their wish,” essentially letting them meet their hero or attending any event they want.  In many cases these wishes involve meeting professional athletes or going to a sporting event.  I am by no means implying that this is a bad thing–I think these charities give people a world of inspiration and hope.  I also believe that it is a good thing for professional athletes to strive to be role models for younger generations.  On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there may be a point when our culture is going too far by pressuring athletes by putting them on a pedestal.  One of the potential negative effects our culture has on the psychology of professional athletes is applying the pressure to perform while they are healthy and in their prime because of the extent of competition that now exists.  To use an extreme example of athletes reacting to this stressful situation adversely is turning to illegal performance enhancing drugs, despite knowing the implications of consuming them.  The pressure to perform well in the short average career-span is at an all-time high, making products such as steroids and human growth hormone appear acceptable.

All of the factors of our culture tying in with the competitive nature of sports, it is easy for an


athlete to get caught up in all of the hype, including the feeling that the sport is their entire life.  Athletic identity can be defined as the degree to which a person identifies with the role of an athlete (Symes, 2010).  A strong sense of athletic identity can either cause the athlete to thrive in the sport they identify with, or send them into a long road of regret and disappointment if they are injured, benched, or eventually retired.  Many elite athletes experience this when they become so immersed in their sport that they don’t know what to do without it. Prime examples of athletes in this category include Brett Favre and Michael Jordan who both came back out of retirement multiple times.  I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is to give up doing what you love at the highest possible level, so I commend these athletes for having the strength and determination to pursue their dreams with as much success and longevity they can.  On the other side of things, it is a shame that the athletes had to seek fulfillment by returning to what they are good at because they lacked a holistic quality of life.

In order to completely understand the degree of each individual’s athletic identity, there has been research about a model that will quantify and predict this phenomenon.  The largest study with this program in recent history is a Greek sample looking at a 7-item 3-factor model out of all the data that was collected.  This particular study included 305 participants who participated in competitive sport and recreational activities.  The author of the research article states his clear description of what it means to have the self-identity,

The notion of self-understanding encompasses all that an individual can articulate about his or her self. Our self-definitions tell us who we are, as well as how to think and act — it provides the teleological values that inform goal-directed behavior and the deontological guidelines that regulate interpersonal relationships. It is in this way that self-understanding enters the moral domain (Proios, 2012).

The first article that I referenced describes the same thing in a way most people are inclined to understand more than the scholarly description.  This description  emphasizes the difference between being an athlete and playing a sport (Symes, 2010).  This apparent disconnect can be applied and detected by closely listening to the phrasing used by a speaker while talking about their sport.  Someone with a higher athletic identity for the example sport of running is more likely to say the statement “I am a runner,” whereas someone who runs and enjoys it, but does not identify with it is more likely to say “I enjoy running.” Both of these sides of athletic identity have the ability to make the athlete better or worse depending on how they react to it.  This kind of psychological outlook definitely has the ability to make or break an athlete’s career (Symes, 2010).

Since the most fundamental aspect of science as a whole is the fact that it is evidence based, experimental research is vital to the advancement of our general base of knowledge.  Due to this, I felt it was important to read one of the more comprehensive research designs looking at perceived determinants of athletic identity.  Although there was not much concrete evidence of what determines such strong cases of athletic identity, especially because the research was qualitative with a very small sample size, this research design sets up the future of researching this topic by laying the foundation and presenting more questions to be looked at.  Some of the findings that were found include the increased risk of sport injury or career termination in athletes with higher athletic identity, (Stephan and Brewer, 2007).  Some statements that

(Proios, 2010)
(Proios, 2012)

athletes had to consider when taking the Athlete Identity Measurement Scale are pictured at the right.  These topics should be addressed by all athletes, just to see where their baseline is.  Further research could potentially be built upon these findings as well.

Athletes experience an increased sense of identity when they devote their time and effort to competing at the highest possible level.  When they get to this level, it is a matter of responding to the pressure that is placed on you by friends, family, coaches, fans, and all of society in general.  In order to use this phenomenon to the athlete’s advantage, athletes must find separate interests outside of the sport, as well as channel their positive energy at the optimal time.  Athletes need an overall well-balanced approach to the topic in order to remain on the positive side of things.  In the future, there should be more research on this specific topic in order to accurately prescribe mental exercises to maintain the athlete’s state.


Proios, M. (2012). Factor validity of the athletic identity measurement scale in a greek sample. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10 (4), 305-313

Stephan, Y., Brewer, B.W. (2007). Perceived Determinants of Identification with the Athlete Role Among Elite Competitors.  Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 19 (1), doi: 10.1080/10413200600944090

Symes, R. (2010).  Understanding Athletic Identity: ‘Who am I?’  Podium Sports Journal, Retrieved from: