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10 practical ways to get your identity in sport sorted

It’s really natural for us to base our identity and self-worth on our performance (see Identity in Sport – you are more than your performance), so how can we avoid this trap? How then can you get your identity in sport sorted?


1. List your positive characteristics

Dr Patrick Cohn asks ‘if you take away the part of you who is an athlete, how would you describe yourself? What are your personal characteristics that describe you?’
So go ahead, write them down. What admirable qualities do you have, apart from being good at sport? If you’re struggling here, ask one of your ‘true friends’ (see point 3). They will be able to think of a few.


2. Reject perfectionism

No one is going to get it all right all of the time, so why are you so hard on yourself when you make a mistake or fail? You are not a loser, you are a human. Give up trying to be perfect. Remember, mistakes are good, because that’s how we learn.


3. Know who your true friends are and make time for them

Your true friends are those who want to be with you even when you lose, when you are injured, when you don’t make the team, and when you make that mistake that costs you the championship. Many of your true friends are the people who loved you before you became so good at sport. They can help you get your identity in sport sorted. Make sure you invest time in these relationships.


4. Refuse to compare

Here’s what we do: we compare all the stuff we know about ourselves (quite a lot), with the public face of others (a small part of who they really are). And of course they are wanting to portray the best parts of themselves, so that’s usually what you see. It’s just not a fair comparison. It’s like feeling bad because all your friends on Facebook are so happy and doing amazing things. But that’s only on Facebook. So don’t do it. I promise you, they are better than you at some stuff, and you are better than them at some stuff. You just can’t always see it.

5. Keep things in perspective

We hate to hear ‘It’s only a game’; it just feels so much more important than that. But step back and think about it. Manchester United manager, Jose Mourinho, was once asked about pressure:

Pressure? Pressure is millions of people in the world, parents, no money to buy food for their children. Not in football. 

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark recently reflected on her unsuccessful bid to become United Nations Secretary General (I know it’s not sport, but it was definitely highly competitive). Her thoughts:

There’s worse things in life than losing an election. You haven’t been struck down by cancer or a heart attack, so let’s put this in perspective: it’s no more than you lost an election. But actually you’ve got your health, you’ve got your dignity, you’ve got other things to look forward to. 

They are right you know.


6. Connect with the spiritual

Many people find that reading ancient texts such as the Bible, praying, meditating, and attending a place of worship, provides them a strong sense of identity and purpose beyond sport. 


7. Balance your sport with other areas of life

Make sure sport isn’t all you are about. By having more balance in your life, you will be a healthier person. How about trying something completely different?


8. Help others

One of the best ways to get balance and perspective in your life is to reach out and help someone else. There are plenty of opportunities, which can help you get your identity in sport sorted. Maybe you could coach younger players in your sport, or maybe you could do something outside sport, like volunteering in a food bank. You will gain much from the experience. This is one of the reasons a lot of professional sports teams get their players to volunteer in the community. Check out http://www.volunteeringnz.org.nz to find ways you can serve others.


9. Practise a sabbath

The idea of taking one day a week for rest is thousands of years old. These days the trend is towards being able to work, shop and party 24/7, but being turned to ‘on’ all the time just isn’t healthy. Research is clear: taking time off reduces stress, restores you physically, mentally and emotionally, and makes you more productive overall.
How about taking one day a week where you don’t do anything related to your sport? I think  you will find that you become a more balanced, healthier person, with a better perspective on your identity in sport.


10. Focus on process not results

Sports psychologist Dr Rob Bell studied Super Bowl winning teams, and found that many players and coaches actually experienced a significant feeling of let-down almost immediately after their win, in what should have been their greatest moment. He believes that it is actually the process of getting to the top, which is more satisfying than the achievement itself. What we really find satisfying is  the journey we go on, the obstacles we overcome, and the relationships we form. Too often we undervalue these things in our pursuit of being number one, only to find that being number one isn’t really all that we had hoped for. So think about what you’ve got that’s good right now. Enjoy the process and appreciate the people you have around you. If and when success does come, it will be the icing on the cake. 

There’s my ten tips to help you get your identity in sport sorted, and be happier and more successful in your sport and beyond.


Your turn. What will you do to get your identity in sport sorted? Which of these do you want to begin practising in your life? Or do you have another suggestion to share?

Please share your thoughts below or contact us in confidence.

Author Info

Rebecca Hawkins

Rebecca is the Communications and IT Manager for Sports Chaplaincy NZ. In her younger days she played cricket and football with great enthusiasm but very little skill. Now she spends a lot of time supporting her four sons in their sport. She especially loves scoring their cricket matches, which she insists on doing the old fashioned way, with pen and paper.

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