January 1, 2015

Self-Narratives and Emotional Health among Elite Athletes

Ben Houltberg and scholars examine the role of self-narrative profiles in elite athletes' wellbeing.

Project Dates

January 2015—December 2018

Thrive Research Team

  • Benjamin Houltberg, Principal Investigator
  • Kenneth Wang, Co-Investigator (Fuller Theological Seminary)
  • Sarah Schnitker, Co-Investigator
  • Amanda Williams, Co-Investigator (University of Arkansas)
  • Christa Nelson, Student Researcher
  • Rachel Falco, Student Researcher
  • Gabriel Qi, Student Researcher
  • Nanyamka Redmond, Student Researcher

Funded By

This study was made possible through a seed grant by the Travis Research Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Project Overview

In this project, we are examining the role of self-narrative profiles of elite athletes as it relates to mental health and wellbeing. 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 data’s. 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 wellbeing. 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.

Related Publications

  • Houltberg, Benjamin, Wang, Kenneth, Qi, Wei & Nelson, Christina S. (2018): Self-Narrative Profiles of Elite Athletes and Comparisons on Psychological Wellbeing. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport89(3), 354-360. doi: 10.1080/02701367.2018.1481919
  • Houltberg, Benjamin & Wang, Kenneth & Schnitker, Sarah. (2017). Religiousness and Perceived God Perfectionism Among Elite Athletes. Journal of the Christian Society for Kinesiology, Leisure and Sport Studies4(1), 29-46. Available at
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