Part of living in any society demands an individual to adhere to social standards of that particular culture. Upon developing from an adolescent to an adult in society, people must use different forms of socialization to prosper in their given culture. In many modern western societies, the socialization of an individual can be rooted in sports due to the highly competitive and structured nature of the activities. Despite common trends, this socialization through sports cannot be completely generalized as each athlete has their own reason why they started playing a particular sport, what their motivation is to become an elite person or participant in that sport, and why athletes quit the sport they have invested so many years of their lives creating an identity for themselves in. An article from the African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation and Dance and a recent post from The Brown and White newspaper of LeHigh University support that socialization amongst athletes is directly affected by what part of their personal lives they are involved in while competing in sports.

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To begin with, it is important to note that both articles suggest athletes begin playing the sport they have chosen to identify with in college because of an original passion and enjoyment of the game at some stage of their youth. It is understood by most who study socialization of athletes that part of their personal identity is attached to the sport they play. Also, the articles suggest that the athlete is particularly guided by where s/he is at on the timeline of his/her life. With these factors being understood, one can better appreciate how the impacts of life experiences and personal identification can influence how one creates such an identity, is motivated to preserve it, and eventually ends up abandoning it for other life experiences.

Ordinarily, the reason for young athletes to begin specializing in a particular sport is from their particular level of enjoyment and success in that sport as a younger child. (Burnett). This causes them to commit to a deeper level of improvement in the sport; this deeper demand typically happens during their adolescent years where, “major transitions… [occur] and coaches and peers become main influences in the lives of talented sports participants.” (Burnett, 193). These changes are beyond the physical puberty experience children go through in their adolescent years as social skills and interaction techniques are peeked and advanced when these excelled athletes are typically going through this process. As a former three sport high school athlete, I know that I can agree to these findings; I identified with all of my sports, learned how to act by my interactions with others and the way people treated me because of my involvement in these particular sports, and excelled because of my enjoyment and success in sports. This changed as I progressed to the college level and found success less prevalent, my social interactions formed by more than just sports, and how I was treated differently as a student athlete in a small private school as opposed to my large public high school where football ruled the school.

Moving onto more committed athletes and also newly retired athletes, I have found even more similarities. Burnett’s articles showed that the motivations of recently retired college athletes identified with much different factors than those who were still actively involved in sports. The retired athletes showed that their identity was primarily based on current risk factors; these are likely associated with the new responsibilities that college and college athletics brings to the table such as financial burdens. Seanna Smith in her article, College Athletes Choose New Activities, contends a similar position. She found in her interviews that commitment issues, loss of interest, and social experiences of college were more important to athletes who quit at this level. It should be noted that at the same time the sport that these athletes have grown up loving and playing their whole lives became much more demanding while the foregoing opportunities arose in ways they had never before. The crux of this dilemma seems to be the athletes’ identification with the sport; the more deeply involved and committed the athlete the less likely that individual is to detach themselves from the sport they have put uncanny amounts of effort into. On the same token, an athlete who put the same amount of work in may be deterred from participating in sports completely. In my opinion, both authors seem to suggest that this is because of the socialization process; how strongly one identifies themselves with their sport should also be weighed against the new socialization of the college culture and what is important to the individual at the time the commitment is asked to be made by the athlete.

Finally, players detach from their passion, regardless of their reason for playing in the first place or their motivation towards success. Smith indicates that coaches and players disagree on the reasons student-athletes leave their college teams. The players seem to insist that it is based on their lack of interest or involvement where the coaches find that it is usually because a player is not getting as much time as they would like on the field/court. From my experience and personal knowledge as a retired college athlete who has seen many players quite for both reasons I can firmly say that both are causal reasons for athletes to quit their sport in college. Beyond other factors for social change suggested in Smith’s article, Burnett’s findings provide that, “essential support needs to be provided to the student-athlete in order for him or her to succeed in a role other than that of an active competitor… there seems to be a window period in which student-athletes can succeed in a sporting career to meet personal institutional objectives, and socialization and success in the world of work needs to be a parallel process.” This suggests that the timeframe to shift identities from ones specialized sport to the real world likely takes place when the greatest opportunity to identify with something new presents itself. For many student-athletes, this timeframe is in college; this does not mean they do not love the sport as they used to but instead means that those who recognize their identification transition are maturely stepping down from a commitment that will no longer benefit either party.

In conclusion, these articles have shown that the identification of an athlete with a sport is a complex socialization process that takes place from the time an athlete chooses a sport to specialize in, to when s/he is motivated to excel in that sport because of that success, and finally when they choose to hang up their equipment and move onto a different part of life. Identifying one’s self through sport is a common socialization trend in a highly competitive and committed western culture. Despite doing this uncommonly through sport, many retired athletes still seem to function properly in society based on their individual socialization experience.


Burnett, Cora. "Student Versus Athlete: Professional Socialization Influx." African Journal for Physical, Health Education, Recreation, and Dance Supplement (2010): 193-203. SportsDiscus. Valparaiso University. Web.

Smith, Seana. "College Athletes Choose New Activities - Sports." The Brown & White. 04 Dec. 2007. Web. 07 July 2011.

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