This week, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio came to a conclusion. Bringing with it the final competition of a season for many athletes. In some cases, the final competition EVER, ending what is most likely a lifetime and career focused almost exclusively on their sport.Read More
I’ve talked about athletic identity in a number of my previous posts (also here and here), so I thought, now might be a good time to explore it in more detail. Athletic identity is something that is critical to discuss with all athletes early on in their careers and through retirement.
Athletic identity is “the degree to which an individual identifies with the athlete role” (Brewer, Van Raalte, & Linder, 1993). This is something that starts to develop from the first moment an athlete begins to play a sport. And how that develops ultimately shapes how an athlete, thinks, feels and acts – on and off the field. Experiences that shape this? Initial successes and wins, accolades, encouragement, attention from peers and media, and rewards for effort or competition.
Athletes spend so much time training and playing their particular sport, that it becomes a significant part of who they are. By understanding athletic identity, we can all have a better understanding of the degree in which an individual really identifies as an athlete (versus a person). For example, there is a difference between saying "I am a baseball player" and “I play baseball.” While it’s subtle, the language we use can make an impact on how we think, act and feel.
An athlete with a high degree of athletic identity is a super-star in the eyes of most coaches because it means that the athlete tends to prioritize their athletic demands above other responsibilities in life (Winning at the College Level, NiiLampti & Tyrance, 2014). However, there can also be a downside to a having a high degree of athletic identity. While not well researched, information suggests that those with high athletic identity may be more likely to use performance enhancing drugs, and that it may be associated with overtraining. In addition, this strong association may also influence how an athlete responds to or reacts to external factors like injuries (NiiLampti & Tyrance, 2014). And these are just a few of the considerations for current athletes.
Additionally, all of this impacts the athlete even more at the time of retirement. With such a limited worldview and experiences outside of athletics, there are undoubtedly concerns when it comes to removing that element from an athlete’s life. Without an understanding of who they are without their sport, it can lead to difficulties. Questions about who they are, what their purpose is, where to go from here, where they belong and what’s a fit for them… all leads toward a period of uncertainty – and often difficulty. This uncertainty can then potentially lead to issues like depression, substance abuse, isolation, loneliness, anxiety and frustration.
As coaches and athlete development professionals, we all play an important role in creating a new awareness around this topic for every athlete we work with. Adolescence and emerging adulthood are critical time periods for a person’s development. It's also a time where many athletes are obsessively and sometimes exclusively devoted to their athletics, making it all that much more important to teach the importance of balance.
Coaches, as well as parents, play a key role in supporting athletes to learn about balance, prioritization and perspective – all elements that if fully realized can better aid the athlete throughout their current athletic career and through the transition into retirement.
In the past year, we’ve seen a lot of changes in college sports. Some good. And some not so good. The changes I’m most interested, had to do with the increase and attention around athlete development, career development and the athlete's transition from sports into the workforce. We saw a lot of great work around financial literacy programming, career planning and services, as well as thoughtfulness and attention to the emotions and the experiences that come from retiring from sports.
Here’s what I think we’ll see in 2016:
1. A deeper integration across department and campus resources.
We’re already seeing university athletic departments working on programs to help their student-athletes transition out of athletics, but what I think we’ll see more of is a formalized specialty in this area and dedicated positions. We will see schools bringing career coaches into the fold regularly and a focus on developing a comprehensive program that puts the student-athlete benefits first. I also think we’ll see more integration of services throughout the athletic department and less of the segmented workshop and presentation approach. This means key players in the athletic department will be involved in the process of developing the student-athlete from the time they step on campus their freshman year.
2. A big emphasis on financial planning and financial literacy for athletes.
I think we’ve seen foreshadowing of this (as a number of institutions have already started testing this programming), but with the amount of funds being given to student-athletes for cost of attendance, I think we’ll see nearly every school get on board with some type of financial literacy program or workshop. This is an important detail that athletes must get a handle on as it’s a skill everyone needs in life. Frankly, I think this is one of the easier “issues” to tackle from an athletic department programming and support perspective. It’s an entry point for schools to provide more comprehensive, personal development for their student-athletes.
3. Research and awareness around the emotional and personal process that occurs during athletic retirement transition.
I’ve spent a good amount of time digging in on this particular area as I’m most passionate about this element of the athletic career. Here, we’ll see athletic departments focus more on proactive development work as they look for how to best address the emotional and personal needs of an athletic career. I also think we'll see athletic departments make an effort differentiate themselves from other institutions in this particular area. This will happen for two reasons: first, it’s essential to be addressed for athletic well-being and if a school can say they work with athletes on this particular challenge (and also track it), it can help their recruiting efforts. Second, it can help with alumni donations and engagement (more to come on that in a future post).
4. We’ll see more accountability and measurement.
Right now, we don’t see much ownership for the actual personal / professional development or placement of student-athletes within athletics administration. There is a lot of discussion over who is ultimately responsible, but in 2016, schools are going to take some risks and take on a bigger role by putting compensation and metrics around this work. Tied to that, we’ll see a start to standardized measurement of these efforts -- as this will be needed to substantiate funds for the programming and staffing.
5. Technology and personalization.
Technology has obviously changed how athletic administrators manage their student-athletes (for the most part making it easier). We’re going to continue to see technology implemented across the board at athletic departments, allowing for deeper levels of integration and management of student-athletes and their progress. This will allow for a more personalized approach when working with each individual. Imagine if you could assess, educate, train, monitor and track the personal and professional development of every athlete in an online platform that easily integrates into the programs you already have in place? And then, also add a layer of customized support to meet the athletes wherever they are in the process. All from freshman year through securing a job after college….Sign me up, right? I don't exactly know what shape this will take, but believe it can be done and that some folks are getting close to figuring this out.
I’m excited for 2016. There’s a lot of great work to be done to support athletes actively involved in their careers and as they retire from sports. I think we’ll make some real progress towards further defining what success looks like in this arena and learn lots from the collective effort of everyone working in the industry.
What do you think? What am I missing? Where else will we see changes in student-athlete development next year?
I recently read an article that was shared with the NCAA former student-athlete group on LinkedIn and it has since sparked some decent conversation on the topic. The original Washington Post article covers the challenges athletes may face trying to exercise again after their athletic careers have ended.
This rings true for me, as I'm sure it does with many other former student-athletes. It took me about 5 years post-college to really start exercising again. Until recently (almost 10 years later), I really couldn’t put my finger on why I was so damn unmotivated to exercise. And not even exercise, but challenge myself in any area of my life. I found that this quote in the article articulates the challenge perfectly:Read More
As I’m sure many of you have heard by now, Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball last week. I loved everything about the way he did it. While it’s hard to say there is a “good example” to something so personal, this was a thoughtful and mature way to announce his retirement. Not only does he seem entirely at peace with his decision, he has completely balanced his emotions during a time that is undoubtedly one of the most emotional moments an athlete can experience.Read More
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.Read More
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post sharing some of my advice for recent college graduates as they enter the “real world.” In writing that, I realized that I have more to say on the topic of building a solid support network and its importance. I hold this concept as a priority in my life and think that we all need to feel like we are a part of something bigger and a part of a community in order to thrive in whatever it is we do each day.
Times of transition, like graduating from college, finishing your athletic career or starting a new job can cause your network and ties to community to be in flux. This leaves you vulnerable to little support at a time when you need it most. For many athletes, the lack of community is one of the biggest issues that can surface during the transition out of athletics.
In February, former NHL hockey player Steve Montador was found dead in his home. He was 35 years old.
There has been quite a bit of chatter around his passing and the issue of mental health support in professional sports. In the last week, Olympic medalist and hockey player, Hayley Wickenheiser, published an extremely well-written and thoughtful article on this issue in The Players’ Tribune. I also watched a very courageous and emotional video interview with current Chicago Blackhawk Daniel Carcillo on Montador's passing and the need for more support for the athletes in the National Hockey League.
Both pieces moved me to respond, though I must admit that I’ve had a really hard time writing this post. So much so, that I have put off publishing it. I have such a hard time reading stories like Montador's and not getting emotionally charged. There is just no reason for something like this to happen — over and over again, especially when we have the tools to assist them.Read More
Last week, renowned swim star Michael Phelps returned to competition after a six-months suspension from competition with USA Swimming. The New York Times published this great article on his initial jump back into the water. In the article, Phelps is quoted about his career and where he’s at now on his new path in life.
As a retired swimmer, I wonder what got him back in the water. Was it the love of the sport? Did he feel he had something more to prove or accomplish? Or was something just missing? Was swimming the only way to help fill that void?Read More