Identity and Sport: A Deeper Dive Into Identity Diversification
Losing the sport you love or a cherished vocation can be profoundly challenging, particularly when it defines your identity. A concept I’ve firmly believed in for years now is the power of identity diversification. I want to set the record straight. When it comes to being all in, you can still be all in and have a diversified identity. You can train your mind to give everything it has to what you love to do while separating it from your identity. When you have your identity tied to things that can easily be stripped away, you’ll never have a true sense of self.
This narrative encapsulates my life. I only identified as an athlete or football player. I took great pride in being that person. Being a high-level athlete was a badge of honor to me. Then, one morning, it was gone in the snap of a finger. Just like that, my playing career was over. More importantly, my identity was stripped, and I no longer knew who or what my purpose was. It’s always in the back of your head that your playing career is finite, but you never truly realize it until it smacks you in the face. I wasn’t prepared, and it hit me hard. I was devastated. Of all the adversity I went through, overcoming this was by far the hardest. In some ways, it still is. I’ve been fighting this identity battle for over 4 years.
Some of the things I have learned along the way:
Recognize the Reason Behind Your Passion: Why did I love sports and football so much? It took me a long time to recognize I simply love a physical and mental challenge. Football can be taken away from me, but physical and mental challenges? Those are everlasting. At any phase in life, I can challenge myself both physically and mentally.
Ignore the Noise: Playing in front of screaming fans is amazing. Being recognized in newspapers, the media, and around town is great — you should enjoy it! However, don’t let it consume you because it’s fleeting. When you leave the game, that recognition goes with it. Train yourself to be so deeply driven, motivated, and disciplined that you’ll never need screaming fans to give you a boost of adrenaline again. Be the person who achieves in silence.
Burn the Boats and Diversify: Some coaches or people might say, “Your focus needs to be 100% on X, and nothing else!” Frankly, they’re mistaken and don’t understand how the brain works. To elaborate, I can have no plan B and still diversify my identity. A recent analogy I’ve come to love is this: “Treat your sport or business like a surgeon treats their patient. They give absolutely everything they have to meeting their patient’s needs. However, their patient isn’t them. It’s not their body. So, while a mistake (or loss) hurts, it doesn’t shatter their identity.” That surgeon will give 100% to that patient, just like I can give 100% to football. But the patient isn’t the surgeon’s identity, just as a sport isn’t the entirety of an athlete’s. That perspective is everything. It creates a plan B without you even focusing on it. If plan A fails, your diverse identity becomes your plan B.
The Benefits of Identity Diversification: When something becomes your identity, you become obsessed with the outcome, putting undue pressure on yourself. If you don’t win, your sense of self suffers. As previously mentioned, when you can shift your focus to the WHY behind your actions, outcomes become less pivotal. This mindset allows you to enter a relaxed, focused state, enabling a flow state where training shines. If you’re overly stressed and outcome-focused, you block cognitive pathways, leading to potential failures. By emphasizing the process and passion, you can perform more consistently. Regardless of the outcome, you’ll come ready to train the next day with the same intensity focus and drive.
Identity is vital to the human psyche because it’s always evolving. It drives our motivation, discipline, and overall happiness. This principle isn’t exclusive to athletics; it’s universal. Understanding the “why” behind your actions enriches life. While the concept is straightforward, its implementation is a daily challenge. As I mentioned earlier, I thrive on physical and mental challenges, so I’m up for it. Are you?
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