“I’m more than my sport”: Exploring the dynamic processes of identity change in athletic retirement

Catherine Haslam*, Chloe McAulay, Dean Cooper, Neils Mertens, Pete Coffee, Chris Hartley, Tarli Young, Crystal La Rue, S. Alexander Haslam, Niklas K. Steffens, Tegan Cruwys, Sarah Bentley, C. J. Mallett, Matthew McGregor, David Williams, Katrien Fransen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Retirement is one of the most impactful career transitions athletes face. Researchers recognise the role that athletic identity plays in this, but analysis of identity content and change processes is limited. Addressing this gap, we conducted a qualitative study exploring the experience of identity change in 21 competitive and successful elite athletes who had retired from sport. All participated in a one-session psychoeducational program that explored the challenges of transitioning out of sport before being interviewed about their understanding of identity in sport, and their experiences negotiating identity loss and change in retirement. Using reflexive thematic analysis, we identified three themes: (i) the role of identity and self-categorizations in shaping sport performance, (ii) adjusting to identity loss (with subthemes indicating that this experience varied depending on the extent to which a person had multiple or exclusive identities), and (iii) attempts to remoor identity in the transition (with subthemes of searching for a new identity and actively repurposing identity). We interpret these themes through the lens of the Social Identity Model of Identity Change and show that this provides a framework for extending our understanding the complexities of identity change associated with retirement from elite sport.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102640
JournalPsychology of Sport and Exercise
Early online date5 Apr 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Apr 2024


  • Athletic identity
  • Elite sport retirement
  • Identity management
  • Social identity model of identity change

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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