Athletic Identity And Involvement On Campus
Participation in NCAA sports contributed to a strong and positive identity Student-athletes said being part of an organized team taught them the importance of cooperation, helped them learn to build on each others’ strengths, accept each others’ weaknesses, provide physical and emotional support to others and develop respect for self and teammates. These attributes carried a powerful sense of commitment to “having your teammates’ backs,” both on and off the field.
“My personal pride comes from being in athletics. It makes me feel rooted with my teammates, and other people are looking out for me. That’s what I value most. I am an athlete, not just a student.”
Student-athletes felt connected with teammates and the sports system but structurally isolated from campus
Although some (mostly male) student-athletes said the ongoing sense of alliance and loyalty among teammates fostered feelings of “belonging” on campus, the overwhelming majority described a large divide between their academic and athletic lives. Most athletes spent all their time with other athletes and felt isolated from the larger campus community. Some even felt disconnected from the overarching athletic system, explaining they only had close ties with athletes from their own sports team.
“I’m more connected with my team than the Triton community as a whole because we spend so much time together and also have the same schedule. We hang out outside of practice a lot. But – as a whole (campus) community – it’s not like we do a lot.”
Student-athletes face many stressors on campus
NCAA athletes are constantly trying to balance a highly competitive sports career with full-time enrollment at an academically competitive university. Many students we interviewed said dedication to their sport came at the expense of enjoying the “fun” parts of college such as relaxing, sharing time with friends, and attending social events. On top of this particular tension, student-athletes’ perceived isolation from the larger campus community and distance from friends and families at home, left many feeling alone and socially unsupported, often leading to depression. Several student-athletes narrated anxiety due to pressure to excel in their sport in order to maintain financial scholarships and please their coaches and parents. This pressure often led athletes to play through pain or injury and/or not get adequate sleep so they would have enough time to complete homework and do well in classes.