Sports psychology is the study of the psychological aspects of human performance, with my job being to help athletes maneuver through the various psychological demands that naturally come up. One of those psychological aspects, especially when an athlete becomes very good at a sport at a young age, is how much their sport becomes their identity. It is known as identity foreclosure. With this every success, mistake or failure is felt at the deepest level and forms who they are. I work with many young athletes with this issue, and know it all to well myself having struggled with it as a young athlete.
When you become good at something at a very young age, you get a lot of attention and admiration and it is very easy for how you perform to be tied to who you are as a person. I remember how much my confidence and self worth was linked to how well I had performed in my game, I was lucky that my good performances were far more frequent than my bad, but it didn’t make for a very fun experience at times. While my identity was wrapped up in a game, there was one thing that I know helped me to manage it, and something I see lacking today for young athletes. That one thing was diversity. While hockey was my primary sport of choice and the one I went the furthest with, I played many different sports and got to experience 3-4 months away from hockey each year, to experience life as just a kid.
Today kids play their sport all year round, and only that sport, with very little time spent on doing other things, focusing on other things. Not realizing that diversity will actually make them better as a player for their sport of choice. We can learn so much by removing ourselves from one thing we do, and it can help us to realize there is more to us than just one thing. Everything you do is an extension of who you are, but does not define who you are. When we experience other things it is easier to see this and helps remove our sense of identity from the sport we play and how we perform. I often tell parents to talk to their kids about everything except their sport in the car or at the dinner table. One of the things that makes it hard is that when an athlete is good, everyone asks first how that person is doing in their sport, rather then how they are doing as a person. It is important to create conversations that are separate from how the person is doing in one thing in their life, no matter how big and how much time they spend on it.
So go and experience life away from the sport you have chosen to play. Whether it is experiencing another sport, a musical instrument or something else, allow yourself to see that you are more than just a sport.