If you want to feel what it’s like to experience great leaps of joy in your heart, anticipation that brings full life to your mind and comfort through the struggles you face but then have it ripped out of your life completely, join sports. This is the inescapable end to sports, or so athletes say.

Who am I if I’m not an athlete?” says the ex-athlete.

There are many athletes who end their time in sports only to experience debilitating psychological issues at the end of their sporting career.

But there are some who would say, ‘how can someone miss the blurry scent of a locker room’? I think they mean dank. Anyway. What those people don’t recognize is the identity that has been formed through sports participation. Did you know that there is an actual term called NARP (Non-athletic regular person)? This is one of the reasons sport athletes fear leaving sports – “I don’t want to be a regular person!” Check out two blurb pieces from ‘ex-athletes’ that explain it here AND here.

Terms like these are created through the main element of identity formation – distinctiveness.

Has the way that modern day sports defined “athlete” created an unintentional mental hardship when it’s time to leave? My answer? Yes.

I’ve been studying the Psychology Of Sports for over 10 years now (from the classroom to behind the scenes processing within athletic programs). The recognized general definition of athletic identity is the degree to which a athlete’s self-concept is realized from their sporting role and the extent they look to others to acknowledge that role.

Notice how we automatically interchange the term athlete with sports-person. I believe, from a psychological pov, that that is one of the reasons athletes feel a loss of identity when leaving sports. I’m not saying that redefining the term athlete will change the real psycho-physiological effects of leaving sports. I understand that chemical imbalances do happen often because of the break in camaraderie and lessening of anticipation due to the nature of seasonal activities.

What I am proposing though, from their entrance into sport, is to have athletes rediscover the true meaning of athlete and not merely think that it is “a person who plays sport”.

What is this true definition of athlete? The ancient Greek word from which our term athlete derives means, “to fight, to contest, to struggle for a prize”. And the context in which the ancient Greeks lived out this definition was for the conditioning of both body and mind through exercise and mind awareness (ie. logic, rationale, personal philosophy, virtue). In ancient Greek times the term athlete wasn’t only found in literature to represent people in sports, it was shown to represent any person who struggles toward a goal (as witnessed with theologian Tertullian who penned the phrase “athletes for Christ“.)

Until we bring back into world discussion, the original definition of athlete, along with the conditioning of our minds, athletes will continue to flap in the wind of this major life transition.

What if athletes self-identified as a people who fight, contest and struggle for a prize? Doesn’t humanity’s journey of existence also find life in this identity? We fought, contested and struggled towards our mom’s egg, and did the same to be birthed. We’ve done the same to learn language, walking and reading faces. We’ve done the same for achieving grades in school, connecting within a relationship and playing our back yard games.

You did the same when you decided to join sports. And you’ll be doing that afterwards, you athlete you!

The expression of a full athlete is one who conditions their mind & body so that they (mind & body) can express themselves at their best for the chasing of the chosen prize! There is no such thing as an ex-athlete according to the original definition. You’re not an athlete because you’re on a sports team, you’re an athlete when you decide to fight, struggle and contest for revealing your very best. You’re an athlete when you allow your coach/teacher/mentor to guide you there.

If you don’t like what I’ve said here, then it could be that you aren’t an athlete.

Here’s an exercise you can do! Google athlete’s identity after sports and read some articles and whenever you see the word athlete put in the definition you’ve read here and notice how you respond to the statements.

So to answer the question, “Who am I if I’m not an athlete?” My answer? Dead…Literally. WE are always Athletes – fighting, contesting and struggling towards a goal! We only choose the arena.


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