Athletic Identity & Athlete Retirement

I spend a lot of time thinking about the transition that occurs when individuals end their athletic careers. Things like: What happens during the transition…what it means emotionally for the person...how it affects the individual’s lifestyle…what we can be doing more of to support people as they go through the process, etc.  Despite the fact that I’ve personally experienced this transition (and currently work with individuals as they go through it) there is still much that I don’t know.

I would argue that biggest portion of this entire process deals with the concept of athletic identity and how a person manages the changes related to it. I’ve written briefly on this before and think it’s quite critical to paint a better picture of the emotions, thoughts and feelings a person experiences as they go through this change in their life.

“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). It is a type of self-schema or how an individual perceives themselves.” 

How a person “perceives themselves?”  In my opinion, that’s everything. Your self-perception affects how you show up for life on a daily basis. And if you only perceive yourself as an athlete and then one day that part of your life is suddenly gone, then you are most assuredly going to have a tough time dealing with that change.

That’s why I think we need to look more specifically at athletic identity as something to be addressed proactively throughout the course of a person’s athletic career.

One of the best ways to better understand athletic identity and the possible experiences, thoughts, feelings and issues associated with it, is through stories.

Here are a few that impacted me from the last few months.

  • Clare: The story of a former volleyball player’s transition with thoughts on how to survive it.
  • Ebony: Brave writing and honest insight. Check out the comments as well – so heartfelt and supportive.
  • Allison: An Olympic Swimmer (who is actually still competing today to vie for another Olympic team position in 2016).
  • Madison: This one is a little different but well worth the read (this article also highlights issues beyond athletic identity as well).
  • UPDATE: Nick - a former NFL player's first-hand account of his transition.
  • This is an older one that highlights a variety of personal experiences and pinpoints the struggles that can come after a life of football and playing in the NFL.

These individuals are so courageous and brave to share their stories in such a personal way. By sharing, it can help others to better understand, and to feel more understood.

Now I leave you with this: what are your experiences with this transition? How did athletic identity specifically play a role in it?