Emotional Health in Elite Athletes

Identity in Elite Athletes

Project: Self-Narratives and Emotional Health among Elite Athletes

Project Dates: January 2015 – December 2018

Principal Investigator: Dr. Ben Houltberg

Co-Investigators: Dr. Kenneth Wang, Dr. Amanda Williams, and Dr. Sarah Schnitker 

Student Researchers:  Christa Nelson, Rachel Falco, and Gabriel Qi

Funded By: Travis Research Institute


Project Summary

In this project, we are examining the role of self-narrative profiles of elite athletes as it relates to mental health and well-being. Very little research has examined the factors related to emotional health of elite athletes. This is the first study to examine whether particular self-narrative profiles exist that might leave elite athletes vulnerable to mental health challenges and difficulties dealing with disappointing performances. We are examining these processes quantitatively through questionnaires and qualitatively through interviews, photo-voice analyses, and social media content.

So far, we have published two papers with the questionnaire dataws. Our study has found that athletes who form their sense of identity around achievement results (e.g. performance-based identity) have the highest level of mental health disruption and shame after failure. Whereas, athletes who have a purpose-based identity have the highest levels of life satisfaction and psychological well-being. Furthermore, we found that religiousness can be a resource by promoting self-worth, which in turn helps athletes deal with disappointing performances and helps them view competition as a challenge or opportunity to grow. However, athletes that view God or the divine in a perfectionistic light fear the social consequences of failure (e.g. perfectionistic concern), which leads to high levels of shame and anger towards God post-failure and threat appraisals of competition. We are continuing to explore social factors related to the narrative identity of athletes and are conducting interviews with athletes.


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