How to Grow Your Identity Outside of Sports

mindfulness personal development professional development Apr 05, 2021

Reflections from our TWN Summit on Athlete Identity & Mental Health

Many times the hardest part of the journey to life after the game is the loss of identity. If your identity is wrapped up in the sport you play, the numbers and the fans cheering you on, it will be a tough shift when those things end. But there are things we all can do to make that transition just a little bit easier. 

Our Athlete Identity and Mental Health Summit took this topic on in two different conversations with some incredible speakers. Here are some of the lessons we learned from them. 



Whether you start preparing for what’s next on the first day of your athletic career or your last day, it’s still going to be a hard transition. It’s important to understand that it’s a journey and you’ll need that same kind of effort you’ve put into your sports career as you move into what’s next. 

“Can you really ever be prepared to step away from the game? Prepared or not, the transition from stepping away from the game is going to be hard.” - Dior Ginyard, Director of Player Affairs, NFLPA

“Make bridges, don’t burn bridges along the way. Utilize your time wisely, there needs to be a balance in your life. Building up your education or networking in any way. You might not know more than someone else but the hiring decision is based on first impressions.” 
- Tully Bevilaqua, Basketball Commentator, Former WNBA Player & Olympic Silver Medalist

“I’ve done so much more after playing than when I was playing. As a former player you have more accessibility than when you were playing if you just know how to leverage your access.”  - Andre Fluellen, Co-Founder of Beyond the Game Network, Former NFL Player

“Especially important for college athletes: Are you using the game or is the game using you?” 
- Sivonnia DeBarros, Protector of Athletes, Host of What Are You Sporting About Podcast



It’s hard to separate yourself from your sport, but that’s the key to avoiding identity loss. You are so much more than your sport - it’s a stepping stone to the next great thing in your life. That mindset can take time to develop, but it’s so important. 

“If you’re an athlete, let it enhance you, not define you. You are not defined by your athletic status.” - Michael Willett, Founder of WalkOn Nation

“As athletes, we go through that phase where our identity revolves around the sport we’re playing. I think that’s natural but it’s separating that along the way and knowing when to do that and what you bring outside of sport.”
- Tully Bevilaqua, Basketball Commentator, Former WNBA Player & Olympic Silver Medalist

“I had to take a step back and look at why I started to swim to begin with. At first I thought I loved the medals and accolades so I went into sales after school. It wasn’t until I took a step back and looked and realized I loved connecting with people. It is what I loved so much about the sport.” - Cory Camp, Host of The Athletic Mindset Podcast

“With sports, everything is mindset. The way the subconscious mind works is by repetition. So if I had to change my mindset, I’d change the term ‘professional athlete’ and ‘student athlete’ to ‘athletic professional’ and ‘athletic student’” - Andre Fluellen, Co-Founder of Beyond the Game Network, Former NFL Player



While it’s important for athletes to prepare and start growing their mindset and identity now, it’s not just on athletes. The sports industry and leadership structures around athletes need to start focusing on the person behind the jersey. We need to educate those young people interested in athletics all the way to those in the pros about the importance of being a well rounded individual who knows who they are. 

“Sport shaped our values and identities. I didn’t have time to figure out who I was because I couldn’t do extra-curricular activities. I couldn't really figure out who I was, because the football team did it for me.” - Michael Willett, Founder of WalkOn Nation

“It’s important for leadership in sports, so coaching and parents and authority figures to have an awareness of all the things we are discussing because athletes who go pro or go to the olympics are so focused on that that people need to be aware that there is a full spectrum and they need to coach the full person and not just the sport.” 
- Erika Fay, Founder, Maximum Achievement Coaching



You will not be perfect as you enter your next chapter, and it will not all be smooth sailing. This is the real world - mistakes will be made, you will fail and you will learn from those failures. That’s what it is all about. So don’t be too hard on yourself to be perfect or transition into the next thing without any bumps in the road. 

“As you think about transition and your identity. It takes time, so give yourself grace. There are going to be up and down days, be okay with that.” - Dior Ginyard, Director of Player Affairs, NFLPA

“You don’t need more money or more people - you need you and once you find you the world is your oyster” - Andre Fluellen, Co-Founder of Beyond the Game Network, Former NFL Player

What we can all remember is that figuring out what’s next is going to take a lot of effort and hard work. But you can start to prepare for what’s next right now, simply by prioritizing YOU. Take some time, even if it’s just a few minutes to think about what YOU want, and why. 

“I ask these 3 questions to everyone I work with: 1. Who are you, as a person not as an athlete? 2. What do you want to do in life? and 3. Why do you want to do it?” - Michael Willett, Founder of WalkOn Nation


Thank you to our incredible speakers who joined us to speak about the importance of reshaping Athlete Identity, and thanks to all of those who joined us live. Don’t miss next week’s blog which will highlight takeaways from Day 2 of our TWN Summit on Athlete Identity & Mental Health, focused all about the importance of mental health for athletes.