LTTE: Sports don’t determine the value of a student-athlete

Guest Author

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To the Editor,

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Would you consider more valuable the smile of an Olympic gold medalist who used their sport merely as a tool to improve their athletic performance or the smile of an individual who has been an average athlete but used their sport as a tool to grow and to reach their best potential?

If you were asking me this question a couple of years ago, I would have opted for the Olympic golden medalist, intrinsically self-identified as an athlete. Today, instead, I would opt for the average athlete but well-rounded individual.

Nowadays, many see competitive sport merely as a tool for fame, entertainment and pride and sport psychology merely as a tool for improving athletic performance. Unfortunately, very few consider sport as an opportunity for self-growth and sport psychology as a scientific discipline aimed to help individuals to improve personal characteristics and skills (self-confidence, perseverance, determination, organizational skills, etc.) and to evaluate themselves as a more complex person than an athlete.

This rooted misconception is the source of athletes’ unhealthy self-concept, self-doubt and life unsatisfaction. As an ex-athlete, I know how painful it is when, by looking at the mirror, you only recognize an athlete and when your performance determines your self-esteem and self-evaluation.

Times, places, points and scores become your only scale of measurement, and you forget to be much more than a time on a board or a place in the ranking. Your mind is so rooted in being an athlete that no other identities can compete or even exist for you.

Moreover, at least from your viewpoint, everyone seems to categorize you as “the athlete,” and this confirms your fragile and unhealthy self-concept. Is it not indeed true that your coaches brought a sport psychologist on your team to improve performance? Or that your parents judged your performance after a meet?

All the athletes who are dealing with this nightmare of unhealthy self-concept, self-evaluation, self-doubt can find the courage to step out from the safe and familiar athlete identity and discover their other selves.”

This was my life until I transferred to Colorado State University as a student-athlete. Here for the first time, I met a coach and a support team who did not consider me a machine but as a person with a value independent from the time on a board.

My self-concept was so rooted in being an athlete, and my self-evaluation was so dependent on performance that my coach and support team removed competitive sport from my life; they wanted me to learn evaluating myself in a healthier way and develop self-worth.

At first, it was a disaster; my world broke apart. If I was not an athlete, who was I? My identities as student, daughter, sister, good friend, etc. were cast out by my unhealthy athletic self-concept. I dealt with rough times, but with the support of amazing people and through hard work, I learned to value myself as more than an athlete.

All the athletes who are dealing with this nightmare of unhealthy self-concept, self-evaluation, self-doubt can find the courage to step out from the safe and familiar athlete identity and discover their other selves. However, they need to be helped, and sport psychology is the main player in this.

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Unfortunately, this problem begins earlier than one might think. As pointed out by Marika Lindholm, evaluating a person on the base of sport performance is particularly damaging among young athletes because it might largely influence the development of the kid’s self-concept.

For the purpose of preventing and reducing the risk of unhealthy self-concept, I would like to stress the importance of reframing the significance of sport as an opportunity for self-growth and skill learning, rather than a tool for performance and fame.

Additionally, I would like to support the use of sport psychology in helping individuals to develop a healthy and well-rounded self-concept. Finally, I would like to stress the importance of sport psychology during child development.

Sports don’t determine the value of a person, and sport psychology should promote the idea of sport as an opportunity for self-growth. This is important for professional athletes but even more imperative for young athletes.

Therefore, we need to educate children to evaluate themselves on the base of strengths and personal characteristics (sensitiveness, empathy, altruism, determination, etc.). Make them mindful to be valuable independently from athletic performance and capable of becoming wonderful humans.

Sincerely,

Silvia Guerra
 
CSU senior psychology major
 

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