For many athletes, whether they are amateur or elite, their chosen sport is one of, if not the most prominent parts of their self-identity. This athletic identity, the extent to which one identifies to the sport and in-part defines themselves as an athlete, is one part of our self-concept which allows people to define who they are through multiple aspects of life (e.g. work, family, religion; 6).
Athletes invest a lot of time and effort into their sport, right the way up from amateur to the very elite, and it is a major part of people's lives starting from when they are very young until they are much older (2). So what happens when I can no longer play the sport I love? What happens now I have been forced to stop playing? What and who am I without sport?
Following the recent outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown these may of been some questions you have been asking yourself, possibly whilst sat on the sofa watching daytime tv. It is possible the current lack of sport may be causing some form of 'hole' in who you believe you are as a person. This feeling of identity loss is not a new phenomenon within sport, and is particularly common during transitions (i.e. retirement, injury, & dropping out of youth sport; 5). However, one significant difference is that identity loss due to COVID-19 is likely to be temporary until we can all return to sport, whilst retirement or dropping out of sport is likely to be a more permanent identity change, yet we still need to cope with the current situation, but how do we do that?
Firstly, it is important to recognise this situation is out of your control and only temporary. COVID-19 is something no one has dealt with before so is immediately putting a lot of people out of their comfort zones, so you will not be alone in feeling a little lost until we are able to return to normal. It is important to understand and accept the fact this is out of our control, once we are able to accept this, we will be able to move forward and use this extra time available to us to change what we can control. What have you used this extra time at your disposal for?
The late great basketball player Kobe Bryant once said "The question needs to be, 'what is my passion?' Not where can I generate the most value... when you find that next passion, everything else will make sense."(4).
Can you translate the skills, time, effort, emotion, & passion you put into your sport into something new?
For example, why don't you try some of these?
Learn a new skill, for example could you learn to juggle?
Learn a new language, I tried to learn Greek although that didn't go to well.
Take up baking or cooking, we have now perfected the art of the lemon drizzle cake here at Maiden Psych.
If none of these three take your fancy could you use the time to set new exercise goals and get fitter in preparation for the new season.
If you have done something completely different to any of these suggestions but it has helped you fill the void of sport during lockdown, let us know!
These ideas are not designed to replace your sport, but to help you find other avenue's to facilitate enjoyment and new learnings, whilst showing you that your sport doesn't define you; even at the highest level many players complete degree's alongside their sporting exploits (e.g. Vincent Kompany whilst at Manchester City). For many athletes retirement is not always the end of their sporting career, for example; Matt Le Tissier (pictured left) & Alex Scott, are ex-football pro's turned football pundits, & Andrew Strauss, an England Cricket Legend is now the Director of Cricket at the ECB. Whilst, for some retirement may lead to different paths like; Freddie Flintoff, 2005 ashes hero and cricket legend turned tv show presenter and Jacamo ambassador, George Weah (pictured below), ex footballer and Ballon D'or winner whom became the President of Liberia in 2018. I recognise these are all very high profile examples but they show the importance of having something else to turn too once your athletic career is over.
However, if you are really struggling without your sport, why not reach out to your teammates? They might be feeling the same and you'll have someone who can relate to how you are feeling. Most importantly having a strong support network such as your teammates, can help to counter poor well-being and improve resilience (1, 3, 7), two areas that may prove important during lockdown. Therefore, a strong support network may prove fruitful in filling the void caused by the temporary loss of sport and temporary feelings of identity loss. So why not reach out to those old friends, current teammates, or possible new friends that have common interests, what have you got to lose?
Fundamentally, you are not solely defined by your sport and what you do or don't do within the sporting domain, there is so much more to you as a person than just your sporting exploits (5). Why don't you use the remainder of this time away from sport to set yourself new and exciting goals. Choose goals where you can apply your sporting attributes to achieve them and use this period to further enhance your own identity as an individual away from sport.
Thankyou for reading, stay safe.
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Chidley, R. (2019, July 4). Who Are You? – Identity and Well-being in Sport. Retrieved from: https://www.psychreg.org/identity-sport/.
Cruwys, T., Steffens, N. K., Haslam, S. A., Haslam, C., Jetten, J., & Dingle, G. A. (2016). Social Identity Mapping: A procedure for visual representation and assessment of subjective multiple group memberships. British Journal of Social Psychology, 55(4), 613-642.
Elkins, K. (2017, August 24). Kobe Bryant and ex-NFL player agree on what pro athletes should do after retiring. Retrieved from: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/24/kobe-bryant-heres-what-pro-athletes-should-do-after-retiring.html.
RAG. (2017, May 17). Athlete Identity Loss: Retirement. Retrieved from: http://undefeatedsportpsych.com/athlete-identity-loss-retirement/.
Tasiemski, T., & Brewer, B. W. (2011). Athletic identity, sport participation, and psychological adjustment in people with spinal cord injury. Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly, 28(3), 233-250.
White, C. A., Slater, M. J., Turner, M. J., & Barker, J. B. (2020). More positive group memberships are associated with greater resilience in Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel. British Journal of Social Psychology.