I am an Athlete

Brendan L.

Children learn a lot about each other throughout grade school.  They figure out how to develop relationships on different levels, discover which types of people they interact best with, and learn the socialization skills necessary to actually interact with them.  While these are very important for the kids to develop, arguably more important is what they are learning about themselves.  Throughout all levels of schooling, children struggle with the concept of identity.  They try to sort out both who they are, and who they want to be.  Forming an identity is an important part of growth and development in children, and can often be one of the most confusing for them.

Sports can play a big role in the identity a child develops.  Kids who take part in school sports will often define themselves by them in part: “I’m a soccer player” or “I’m on the basketball team” are very common ways for those kids to describe themselves.  The identity is formed around this idea of being an athlete, and the children in turn identify themselves as athletes, instead of just people who like athletics.  This is a very important distinction, because it shows how much power we really put behind sports.  There is a culture that sport has surrounding it, and involvement in that culture provides a sense of inclusion that is attractive to people of all ages.  We all want to feel included in something, and during a child’s formative years, that culture and inclusion can provide a strong support upon which to build their identity.

This can be very good for those children.  Involvement in sport and identification as an athlete can have very positive results for a child’s socialization.  In 2011, a study led by Sohaila Shakib focused on youth and their perception of themselves through sports.  Looking at students in grades 3 through 12, the researchers looked at how involvement in sports changed their social status (or how they perceived their social status to be, at the very least).  The responses they received were almost unanimously great. Across all differing genders, grades, and socioeconomic statuses, the study found that kids who were taking part in sports were more likely to consider themselves popular among their peers.  Whether the athletes were actually more popular than non-athletes or not is up for debate, but the fact is that the kids taking part in sports at least believe that they are popular.  How the children perceive themselves has a big impact on how they choose to identify themselves, and with the positive social benefits that the students see from being an athlete, it is no wonder that they hold being an athlete in such high regards.  In fact, the male youth in that study considered sports to be the most important criterion for popularity, with female youth ranking it second.  It is clear that sports can play a big role in the social development of children.

However, it is always important to think about potential barriers for youth looking to take part in that socialization of sport.  Male youth with a lower socioeconomic status (SES) were found to be more likely than those with a higher SES to consider sports to be the most important source of social status.  These kids hold sports in the highest regard, but studies show that they are also the least likely to be able to get involved in those sports.  One such study from Philip White and William McTeer showed that the time when involvement is most affected by SES is actually ages 6-9 in children.  Public- and school-funded sports programs at these ages are a good way to help children get involved in sports without having to worry about the risk of costs inhibiting them.

With all of this being said, it’s no wonder that sports are considered such a massive part of life for school-age children.  It provides them with a chance to work and grow through their formative years, a feeling of popularity and acceptance among their peers, and, arguably most importantly, an opportunity to learn things about who they are and who they want to be.  With all of those things involved, it’s no wonder that those kids take so much pride in saying “I am an athlete”.

Journal Articles Mentioned:

Shakib, S., Veliz, P., Dunbar M.D., Sabo, D.  (2001).  Athletics as a source for social status among youth:  Examining variation by gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.  Sociology of Sport Journal, 28, 303-328.

White, P., McTeer, W.  (2012).  Socioeconomic status and sport participation at different developmental stages during childhood and youth:  Multivariate analyses using Canadian national survey data.  Sociology of Sport Journal, 29, 186-209.

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6 Responses to I am an Athlete

  1. s30c5 says:

    I agree completely with you Brendan that children are trying to find their identity and it can be a challenge for them in their developing years. WelI… actually think we even as adults are always trying to find out who we are and where we fit in. I think this is only because our society likes to clump people into groups. For me growing up with sport was definitely something that helped me find who I wanted to be friends with and it was able to challenge me to my limits. I think all children should have the opportunities to be involved in sport along with Brendan as it does provide them with the skills to interact with other children and build social skills. Sport is also a character builder for children if they are not exposed to anything else. My parents encouraged me to try a lot different sports and activities. I was playing high school basketball and was in band, but with our society stereotyping so much I was never quite sure if I was a band geek or an athlete. I was just generally confident in who I was as a person and what I had to offer to the world. Yes, I was an athlete and it was something I could identify myself by but it was not the only thing I would want to identify myself by.

    I think it is important for children to be involved in sports as much as possible for their overall health, relationship building, leadership skills, and it helps to develop their developmental assets. However, I think children defining themselves as just an “athlete” may cause some issues. Yes it is important to feel included and have a lot of friends, but being using “I’m an athlete” will not work for children when they become adults. If a child only is accepted by their peers because they are an “athlete”, what happens when they fail or stop playing that sport? Sport and developmental programs need to recognize that some of these children will not be athletes, a dancer, or a musician for the rest of their lives. I think it is important for children to learn to be themselves and know that at the end of the day it is not about if you are this or that, it is about how you feel about yourself and what you have learned from experiences to be who you are. If you think about it now how would you identify yourself now?

  2. philippejpd says:

    That is such a great point that Brandon has brought up about sports really developing youth’s perception of themselves as an athlete. I can take that in my own way as when I grew up I was playing on every sport team my schedule possibly let me play. I never thought of myself as anything other then an athlete and it had given me something to feel good about in a confident way. To be honest at this point in my life I would not know what else I would use to explain myself as a child growing up. The athlete perception in parents allows them to all have a secure feeling of their kids being safe around the right friends and learning the skills to develop there social and leadership skills by playing on a team.
    How could you argue about putting youth in sports and in the school sport programs when there seems to be no downfalls from it?
    But looking at the point that s30c5 said about how some youth may perceive their sporting experience a little too into depth and exclude all other aspects of life and use I am an athlete as a way to prove they will become something without having the total package is not something you want them to develop. It is important for coaches provide the importance of school, time management and people skills at the same time as developing the love of the sport. Allowing youth a chance to use their perception of themselves as an advantage over the others to work harder in other aspects in life as well. I see that as the main reason some athletes are failing in school, it is because they think as an athlete they have all it takes and why should they need to work hard as a student. I personally had that mentality throughout high school and coming to University the following year after graduating I had not at all prepared myself for what was ahead. I was focused on playing on the university men’s soccer team and did not pay any attention to my classes. And it cost me greatly as the University had sent me a letter in the mail to voluntarily withdraw from the program I was taking part in. I had to figure out a way to now get back into school to play the sport I had been playing my whole life. And from that day it really hit me that you need to make sure you place a lot of focus on academics and develop great work ethic in every day life and to bring how hard you work on the field into the class room and you can achieve great things.
    As an athlete at a university they remind you that in Student-Athlete, the word Student comes first. And that is something till this day has never left my mind and I try and develop that mentality every year a new recruit comes on the team.

  3. c4956 says:

    Being associated with sport throughout my whole life, I sometimes wonder what kind of person I would be, had I not been involved in any form of competitive sport. For those who are a part of a sporting lifestyle, it’s difficult to imagine such a thing because, to some people, sport is as much a part of who they are as is their name or the color of their hair.

    While I agree that being an athlete can be a powerful identifier for youth, I hope that it isn’t the only one they would use. The social aspect of school can be sensitive territory for some youth and there will always be issues in schools when the term “popularity” comes up. So I hope that youth who identify themselves with sport don’t use it as a crutch for better self-perception. Youth should still be taught that other skills or characteristics (being good in math, speaking another language, volunteering in the community etc.) should be held in high esteem.

    Nice post, I pretty much did the same thing as a kid!

  4. How children identify themselves throughout grade school is a determinant for their popularity status. Youth have come to form cliques, which can sometimes create discrimination and negative emotional consequences. Looking back on my middle and high school years, there were many titles that went with each clique, most common were – jocks, geeks, musicians, art students and the preps. The only time cliques had to separate and socialize with one another was during gym class. Sport, when organized correctly and has an emphasis on “team winning” as appose to individual effort, can bring youth together. It can teach kids the values of cooperation and working as a team to accomplish goals.
    It is human nature to identify ourselves with a trademark, we as a society often use symbols to clarify who we are and find common ground with other individuals. Growing up, sports taught me many things, what I have valued the most are the friendships I made and role models I looked up to. It is important to get kids involved in activities that they are interested in and that emphasis fun. Once an activity becomes competitive and practice hours get longer, kids can sometimes get burnt out, therefore youth should see the value in identifying themselves with different things rather then focusing to much on one theme.
    Personally, I only participated in one sport, mainly due to the demanding hours and the level of competition. It worked for me until I finished in grade twelve and realized that eighty percent of the people I associated myself with were my teammates. I had a hard time discovering other things I was interested in, and trying to integrate myself into other cliques was a struggle. Due to my experience, I would encourage youth to try various things, sport, music, arts, and outdoor activities. This can increase the probability that diverse skills will be taught and a larger social network will be obtained.
    This blog is an eye opener to any one who has kids or works with kids, really gets people thinking about the severity and positive outcomes of focusing all their attention on one activity.
    Kaitlyn Willis

  5. r3cwk says:

    It’s funny how that identity changes when you stop a sport. I remember when I stopped synchronized swimming, I didn’t say that I quit, or that I gave up…I retired from swimming. For a period after I quit, I felt very lost. People knew me as an athlete and swimmer, and I struggled with the fact I had to say “I don’t swim anymore”. It was a very large part of me, it was what made me different than other people in school. It was also proof that I had mastered a skill. Shortly after I tried other sports to fill that missing void. I feel better with myself now that I have another activity that identifies me and makes me unique.
    Is that a healthy behaviour to have? Sports can play vital roles in learning values, building friendships, acquiring skills, but should it really define someone? It’s understandable that some feel that it does since they’ve been involved in sports since they felt comfortable enough to run, swim,or skate. I think our society has put a lot more emphasis on sports than it needs to be, but if it really has had such a huge impact in our life, are we wrong to think it isn’t part of us? I just hope that there are other apsects of the youth’s life that attribute to that child’s identity. Even personality I think should take up a larger amount of identity, and should be emphasized more.
    -Amelie R

  6. s33ue says:

    I think that this post offers a lot of reflection upon those who were athletes as youth. When I was growing up I participated in all of the sports offered at our school, as well as local teams, not associated with school. In doing so, I always imagined myself playing sports. Now, a university student, not participating on a sports team, reading this article made me remember those times of calling myself an “athlete”. I think that as a youth, you are trying to find your place. Determine what it is you enjoy and are passionate about. Sport can be one of those places for youth. It is an avenue where youth are able to express themselves and interact with other youth. They are active and also amongst a group of youth who share common interests. This is something that then the youth identify themselves as.

    I think that there are many opportunities for youth to be able to identify themselves. Whether it be through sport as an “athlete”, band as a “musician” or drama as an “actor/actress”, activities such as these offer youth the opportunity to identify themselves with a title. Not that this is always the way youth will express themselves, but it is a way in which they can feel accepted among their peers.

    I think that youth identifying themselves as an athlete or any kind of title surrounding an interest is a positive thing. It does not necessarily mean that this is the title they are going to hold throughout their lives, but at the present time it is something that they can relate to as individuals. This post offers a lot of insight for youth and also parents who are involved in sport to have the opportunity to express themselves.

    Gina R.

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