As the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games draw to a close, all eyes are focused on the medal tally, and the media is abuzz with inspirational stories about how athletes have triumphed over adversity to win medals. These stories are perfectly fine, except that the focus here is on the fact that they have won medals,and any challenges along the way are justified only by the outcome. Specifically, we are evaluating an athlete’s progress and abilities based entirely on their achievement of a medal.
What about the athletes who faced and overcame challenges and gave their all during the games but did not end up with any medals? Are their efforts still justifiable?
An athlete who prioritizes training and recovery even over essential social obligations.
A weekend golfer who is so upset about not playing well that it is affecting his performance at work during the week.
A rugby player decides to play through his injuries for the sake of his team’s performance.
In what ways are the abovementioned athletes similar?
Athletes who exhibit such behaviors are often described as having a strong athletic identity. They tend to devote the most energy to sports compared to the other roles they play in life (Brewer et al., 1993). A strong athletic identity is advantageous since such athletes tend to be more motivated and determined. On the flip side, such athletes may prioritize winning above all else, leading to intense pressure and a fear of failure. Consequently, they are also more likely to train through pain, suffer from burnout and even exhibit unhealthy behaviors such as taking performance-enhancement drugs (Hughes & Coakley, 1991).
While having a strong athletic identity can be advantageous, athletes need to learn how to minimize the risks and tap into the benefits. A good place to start would be to have a better understanding of self-concept and how it relates to self-esteem and performance.