• Jess Haviland

Stepping out of the Spotlight

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

We’ve all fielded this question. Growing up, there’s a good chance you had teachers, coaches, mentors, friends, or family members setting out to help you meet your potential by defining goals and providing guidance. If you have been fortunate enough to realize a goal or “purpose,” you are often filled with pride, fulfillment, and joy. But what happens when the moment fades and you have to set a new objective?

Shifting the Athletic Identity Mindset

Being an Olympian is one of the greatest accomplishments an athlete can achieve. Countless hours are dedicated to training both physically and mentally, and sacrifices are par for the course. Naturally, this journey becomes a big part of the athlete’s identity and increases the pressure to succeed. Graham Betchart, sports psychologist for professional athletes and founder of Lucid, a mental training app, encourages his athletes to remember that, “the sport they’re playing is not who they are — it’s what they do.” Although not a simple fix, this mindset can help athletes who have crafted their identity around their sport to alleviate some pressure away from feelings of failure. It can also be the beginning of defining an identity outside of sport.

Now what… ?

Now that the 2021 Summer Olympics have ended, many athletes may be faced with a haunting emptiness: “Now what?” Some will continue to train if their season is still underway, while others will view the completion of the Games as the chance to begin new adventures. For those who are no longer competing, be it due to injury, retirement, etc., there can be a substantial loss of identity. This heaviness is often mentally difficult to navigate, and it can be tough to avoid putting all of your worth into something you have done for, essentially, your entire life. And it’s not exclusive to Olympic athletes.

The Next Step

So, how do you overcome this loss of identity? While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, there are some ways to alleviate the uncertainties of the transition. Unraveling what really makes your sport feel like your only identity. For instance, Anne Martin, former Team USA Olympic Rower ’88, illustrates certain athlete characteristics that can be used in other forms of life like having a competitive edge and willingness to learn and receive feedback. These traits, among others, make up who you are, outside of being an athlete. This is just one example athletes can use to dive deeper into their search for a new identity to include (not replace) their old one. The key is to gain self-awareness and realize you are more than just an athlete and are not limited to those accomplishments. Walking away with that knowledge will be the greatest accomplishment you can achieve.




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