Basic 10

Inspire Balance

Promote a sense of balance between sport participation and life outside of sport.

"…when you got home at night and you’d had a bad session that dictated the mood you took home, and even through the weekend. It didn't matter that you might have had a good day at school. Who cares if you got an 'A', you still fell off the beam five times and couldn’t stick any routines…"
-Elite gymnast in Developing Decision Makers (Kidman, Innovative Print Communications, 2001)

As an elite competitor in one of the country's top tennis academies, Sam had quickly gained the reputation of being a "rising star". Training several hours a day and keeping up with school through a tutor, Sam enjoyed tremendous success in his sport. But around age 13, Sam hit puberty and grew taller and heavier. His performance suffered as he tried to adjust to his growing body. Desperate to change his body back to the way it was before, he began dieting, exercising and sometimes vomited after meals, but none of it worked. Life without his sport scared him. All of his friends, social events and memorable accomplishments were related to tennis. "Who am I if I'm not good at tennis?" he thought. Sam was devastated and not sure where to turn.

BodySense Connection:

"Athletic identity" is the degree to which an individual thinks of themself as an athlete, the importance that "being an athlete" has in their life, and the impact that athletic performance has on their feelings of self-worth.

Participation in competitive sport can be a great way for an athlete to develop self-esteem and a love of physical activity while meeting new friends. However, when an athlete begins to view themself only as an athlete or rely on athletic achievements to make them feel good about themself, the many positive benefits of sport can be lost.

When sport plays an over-important role in an athlete's life and self worth is determined by performance, they may be willing to do anything to improve at sport and succeed, even if it means harming their body in the process.

Athletic identity may be too strong if the athlete…

  • Considers themself an athlete first and foremost.
  • Most goals are related to sport.
  • Most friends are athletes.
  • Sport is the most important or only important thing in their life.
  • Spends more time thinking about sport than anything else.
  • Needs to participate in sport to feel good about themself.
  • Other people see them mainly as an athlete.
  • Feels bad when they do poorly in sport.
  • Would be very upset if they wereinjured and could not compete in sport.

(Adapted from the AIMS Scale. Brewer, B. W., Raalte, J.L., Linder, D.E., (1993). Athletic Identity: Hercules’ Muscles or Achilles Heel? International Journal of Sport Psychology, 24: 237-254.)

What coaches and parents can do:

Teach a healthy approach to sport. Encourage participation for health, enjoyment, a love of movement, a chance to meet new friends and to explore new challenges. Emphasize the many life skills that sport can teach, such as time-management, goal setting, teamwork, and dealing positively with both failure and success.

Help each athlete develop interests in areas outside of sport so that their sense of self-worth comes from a variety of relationships and activities. It is important, especially for younger athletes, to experience enjoyment and success in more than just one area. Encourage athletes to participate in extra-curricular activities at school, learn to play a musical instrument, or attend summer camp.

Emphasize sport as a way to build life-skills. Athletes seldom build life-skills in a "win-at-all-costs" atmosphere. An athlete who focuses on the process of sport has a more enjoyable athletic career and learns to work towards meaningful goals. The athlete develops positive coping and problem-solving skills and is more likely to view themself as capable in areas outside of sport.

Taking Action:

Develop the whole person. Start an annual award at your club that recognizes excellence and involvement in areas outside of sport. For example, honour athletes (and coaches) that demonstrate a commitment to exploring opportunities outside sport or personal growth (such as through volunteering or academic improvements).

Show your athletes well rounded sports role models. Athletes like Olympic diver Anne Montminy, who scaled back her training to focus on medical school, are excellent role models of success in sport and life. Or better yet, introduce former athletes from your own club who demonstrated a balanced commitment to sport, education, community involvement or other activities.

Encourage balanced involvement in outside activities and be sure athletes are not trying to be the best at everything. An athlete may take an unbalanced approach to sport and apply this approach to other areas of life-like school or work. Ensure that interests, both within and outside sport, are being approached in a balanced and realistic way.