Embracing athletic identity in the face of threat

Alex J. Benson, M. Blair Evans, Mark Surya, Luc J. Martin, Mark A. Eys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


When reminded of the impending end to their athletic career, it may benefit athletes to prioritize other identities and goals that will be more important in the future. However, by applying a general process model of psychological threat and defense (Jonas et al., 2014), we conducted 2 studies to test the idea that individuals may actually report stronger identification as an athlete to counter goal-discrepant perceptions aroused by a sport career threat. Both studies used a between-subjects design, where participants were assigned to a condition in which they either envisioned the end of their athletic career, a control condition, their own mortality (i.e., a universal goal-discrepant threat, Study 1 only), or the end of their student career (Study 2 only). In Study 1, with a sample of interuniversity sport athletes (n = 81), participants in the universal goal-discrepant threat and the end of athletic career threat conditions reported greater identification as an athlete relative to a control condition. Study 2 (n = 85) replicated these findings, and also revealed that reflecting on the end of their athletic career elicited a distinct pattern of identification when contrasted with a condition where participants imagined the end of their student career. These studies provide novel evidence of how a mere reminder about the end of an athletic career can influence athletic identity exclusivity. Consistent with theories of psychological threat and defense, university sport participants may turn toward their athletic identity as a way to counter goal-discrepant thoughts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-315
Number of pages13
JournalSport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Applied Psychology


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