Peeling the onion – Identity in youth sport

Story Courtesy of Balance Is Better

Rarely do we take a moment to ponder our identity. That is, what are the x’s and o’s that have gone into making us who we are, what we are, and how we label ourselves. Our memories, our experiences, our relationships, our values – these ‘things’ that all provide formative ground for our sense of self. 


Identity /ʌɪˈdɛntɪti/


the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.
“he knows the identity of the bombers”


In the context of youth sport, the concept of identity pops up from time to time. And while to some extent, discussion about identity in youth sport can be a little abstract, at the heart of it, the question is about who am I…

…as an athlete?

…as a coach?

…as a team?

This question (and its various subsets) is an important question for adults who take an active role in supporting young people in sport to reflect on. And for such adults, we would encourage you to spend a little bit of time ‘peeling the onion’ so to speak, i.e. reflecting on your own identity/ies in youth sport.

Below, we take a look at some of the ‘flavours’ of identity in youth sport (and provide some links to suggested further readings and watching).

Athlete identity

Athlete identity is how an individual perceives themselves with the ‘role of athlete’ (note it’s likely ‘athlete’ is replaced by a specific sport label, e.g. rugby player, basketballer, footballer, high jumper). There are benefits and risks to developing a strong athlete identity that athletes, parents and coaches should be aware of. A strong athlete identity can support a strong sense of self-worth and self-confidence. And it is tied to high valuing of health and fitness (and therefore being more motivated and prioritiseing exercise and (some behaviours) that align with positive wellbeing).

The counter-side of strong athletic identity is sometimes a foregoing or neglect of other elements of an individual’s life. And individuals with very strong athlete identity may have issues adjusting to sudden transitions (such as resulting from injury and retirement from sport).

Read: What’s Next? A Perspective of Athlete Identity

Watch: Understanding Identity with Dr. Suze Brown

Watch: Setting our kids up for success and what it takes to be a Good Sports parent

Coaching identity

Every coach has a coaching identity  — some just don’t realize it.

Coaches who reflect on “what is their coaching identity?” are better placed to identify the qualities that assist or obstruct them in being an effective coach.

Exploring the notion of coaching identity a little further, we know that it:

  • underpins the culture and standards we set for our athletes and teams;
  • impacts how we help young people develop their  character
  • lays the foundation for creating and developing a team culture

Read: Developing Your Coaching Identity

Watch: Preparing for a successful season – What do coaches need to know?

Team identity

A team’s identity is the set of characteristics that make it unique and recognizable, and which differentiate it from other teams. In sport, a team’s identity is often linked to its culture, values, traditions, and history. These elements can play an important role in shaping how players see themselves and their team, as well as how others perceive the team.